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urdu digest illustrated

13 April, 2013

Through their illustrations, these artists try to revive the magic of Urdu digests

Published: January 4, 2013

Shaista Momin’s artwork for Rs15,000.

KARACHI: For the most part, the cover of Urdu digests reveal tales of forbidden love, but a group of six artists used the same illustrations to do more.

At ‘Urdu Digests Illustrated’, which opened at ArtChowk on Thursday, artists Imran Zaib, Inam Raja, Shahid Hussain, Shaista Momin, Zakir Hasan Chishti and Zulfiqar Azeen used the covers of Urdu digests to reflect upon the characteristics of Pakistani society – through the themes of feudalism, Bollywood, and the ‘feminine ideal’.

Inam Raja’s artwork for Rs30,000

Inam Raja’s artwork for Rs30,000

With the use of air brush, water colours and pastels, the artists claimed they were trying to revive a forgotten art. “My father grew up reading Urdu digests and we had stacks of them at home,” recalled Shahana Rajani, the curator of the exhibition. “I decided to contact the artists and put it all together.”

Rajani, who majored in art history at Cambridge is currently completing a Master’s in Curatorial Studies from the University of British Columbia. She explained that she had always been intrigued by the possibility of putting together covers of the illustrated Urdu digests.

“I was an art major in school and it was during my A’ levels that I realised that I was better at critiquing art than making it,” she said with a shy smile.

Zulfiqar Azeen’s artwork for Rs20,000

Zulfiqar Azeen’s artwork for Rs20,000

Shakira Masood, the director of ArtChowk Gallery, told The Express Tribune, that the purpose of the exhibition is to save a form of art that had been increasingly sidelined over time. Another organiser, Bushra Hussain, added that the inspiration behind the exhibition was to bring to the fore art forms that were daring and unique. “At ArtChowk, we try to take on projects that mean something special even though there is an element of risk,” she added.

“Putting together a picture that would go as the cover of the digest is a difficult business,” she explained. “A lot needs to be said, without using words, in a very limited space.”

The organisers were worried that the decline in the readership of Urdu digests has caused the incomes of these artists to take a dip, as well. “These artists are very nostalgic about the old times when their work would be noticed and appreciated,” said Rajani.

Shahana Rajani

Most of the illustrations on display were made by artists born in the 1950s and 1960s, and had spent more than two decades in the profession. Some of them were also present at the opening.

Artist Zulfiqar Azeen said that more exhibitions need to be held that catalogue older art forms so that the younger generations can be introduced to them. Born in 1950, Azeen initially worked as an engraver till 1973. After that, he began working as an illustrator for various digests and magazines, such as Raabta, Jasoosi, Suspense and Subrang. Since 1990, he has been working for Akhbar-e-Jahan.

The exhibition will run everyday, excluding Sundays, between 11am and 7pm till January 12.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2013.