We are living in a globalized world where the migration of people, ideas and cultures has incrementally increased and impacted the way we think about identity and our place in the world. Art, too, has recognized these seismic shifts and is attempting to engage with this new worldview. Structures and institutions that had previously recognized and privileged Western artists and art movements now give diversity precedence. Art historical discourse has also given way to debates about representation in a global art market; as to why certain artistic concerns from different parts of the world should be considered equally important is a key concern.
All That Art by Suljuk Mustansar Tarar is a book that foregrounds itself in this complex scenario. Most survey-based books on art adopt a standard approach where they focus on maintaining chronological order and analyze art with respect to key developments in historical style and content. In contrast to this somewhat limiting
approach, All That Art reads like a critical appraisal of contemporary Pakistani art in light of growing global interest. It adopts an all-encompassing approach that also covers the contribution of Architecture and Printmaking as disciplines. The crux of many essays, though, is the exciting debates that they generate about the trajectory of contemporary Pakistani art in recent years. All that Art is also replete with insightful observations and intimate anecdotes about artists and their lives. In the Author’s note, Tarar discusses how the book is an attempt to counter orientalist views generated about Pakistani art in a post 9/11 scenario and validate international recognition of contemporary Pakistani artists within the discipline of critical writing on Pakistani art. This argument is also reflected in the format and opening of the book. Part one commences with discussion on diasporic artists, their reception in the international art community and the the Biennales held in Lahore.
Although the book is divided into two parts, the titles of the chapters narrate the complexity and diversity in art production that has defined the recent decades of Pakistani art. The first part covers thematic issues while the second part focuses on individual artists. Short but insightful chapter headings such as “Local Goes Global”, “The Old Guards,” “Breaking New Boundaries,” and “Breaking Miniature Glass Ceiling” not only pique the reader’s interest but also allow them to effortlessly segue into the various debates generated by artists’ works and the various disciplines discussed in each section. Not only are the topics relevant to discourse on Pakistani art and architecture, but they are undergirded by a sort of acknowledgement of the role of the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, which happens to be the writer’s alma mater.
All That Art reads like a critical appraisal of contemporary Pakistani art in light of growing global interest. It adopts an all-encompassing approach
Suljuk Tarar graduated from NCA with a major in Architecture in 1995 but went on to join the Foreign Service instead. He remained in New York for many years, which might explain why the last portion of the book consists of his detailed reviews of the retrospectives that he visited at famous museums there.
Owing perhaps to his personal affiliation with NCA, many of the author’s meticulously researched essays acknowledge the role and contribution of his alma mater to the development of contemporary Pakistani art. For instance, an essay on the Bauhaus considers the influence of this movement on the pedagogical approach adopted by NCA for its Foundation Year students – and also discusses its limited influence in the spheres of art and design. An entire section is devoted to distinguished architects who graduated from NCA and have left an indelible mark in the field of Architecture both nationally and internationally. Discussion on Printmaking is often neglected, and so an essay on the Printmaking Department at NCA helps shed light on the development of the discipline in Pakistani art.
Although Tarar adopts a more personal and anecdotal writing style in parts where the artists discussed are contemporaries or teachers, it is always balanced by a critical analysis that is both informative and impartial. Whether it is accounts of Khalid Iqbal’s plein air painting expeditions or the author’s own admiration of Farida Batool’s social and political awareness as a student, the writing remains consistently embedded in a detailed discussion on medium, content and its wider ramifications in the discourse on Pakistani art.
It is worth mentioning that Suljuk Tarar is the son of the renowned writer Mustansar Hussain Tarar. The works of many famous artists such as Saeed Akhtar and Ali Kazim have had the honour of gracing the covers of Mustansar Hussain Tarar’s books. The design of these book covers and the link between art and literature is discussed at length in certain essays by the writer.
All that Art ruminates on a plethora of ideas – some of which have not been covered by other publications on art. The lucid writing is accompanied by immaculately printed colour plates of various artists’ works. With its reasonable price and unique approach, the book is a valuable addition to writing on Pakistani art.
All that Art is available for sale at Sang-e-Meel Publications. Suljuk Tarar is currently serving as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands