Blending Islamic Motif
with the Contemporary
By Arif Merchant
Syed Ibne Abbas
advent of summer brings a flurry of color to Los Angeles.
In the Chinese garden of the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena,
a glorious sun shines down on a festive scene: a colorful
gathering of Pakistanis under a blue Los Angeles sky.
The occasion is the US launch of Points of Reference, a monograph
about the renowned Pakistani artist Lubna Agha by Dr. Marcella
Sirhandi, on June 9th.
Amidst this symphony of colors, a book launch and an exhibit
of paintings by the reputed artist presented Pakistanis in
the US metropolis to a cultural treat. The paintings were
displayed in the gallery leading to the lecture theater, and
the attendees flowed past them as they made their way to the
museum's lecture theater. The event had an attendance any
organizer would be proud of -- there was not an empty seat
in the house.
As the proceedings gathered momentum museum officials scurried
back and forth bringing in extra chairs as the audience swelled
- soon there was standing room only.
The event opened with an introduction by Atiya Khan, the President
of the Arts Council. Following her, the Executive Director
of the museum Joan Marshall welcomed the guests and talked
about the history of participation of the Pakistani community
in the activities of the museum.
The distinguished Consul General of Pakistan in Los Angeles,
Syed Ibne Abbas is a popular figure in the community and has
made enormous strides in drawing the community together. He
spoke about the patronage of the government in the arts, including
the Pakistan Council of the Arts, with its various divisions.
group of art lovers
Ibne Abbas with Arif and Rubina Merchant
Aziz, Lubna Agha, Anila Ali
& Sadaf Abbas
Board members with CG Abbas, Lubna Agha and guests
Sirhandi’s presentation comprised of a slide presentation
covering Lubna’s career from her early work in Pakistan,
to her exhibitions in the US and abroad, including current
phase of paintings which are based on Islamic motifs.
Dr. Sirhandi is regarded as the authority on South Asian contemporary
art. She is the foremost scholar on the work of Abdul Rahman
Chughtai, and her treatise entitled Contemporary Painters
of Pakistan, was incidentally launched at this very venue
in 1994. The professor teaches art history at Oklahoma State
Lubna’s paintings on display were a sensational collection
of her work exhibited only last month at a solo exhibition
at the American Visions Gallery in Washington DC. In this
series, she paints from experiences she has gathered during
her recent visits to Morocco and Turkey, and the ingrained
feelings that she has grown up with as a child and young adult
paintings on wood and canvas are a fine blend of Islamic motifs
with contemporary style -- a pioneering effort in this realm.
Picking her themes from an already rich palette of colors
adopted by Muslim craftsmen – the zillig of Marakesh,
the tilework of Istanbul, the frescos of Multan, the glimmering
brasswork of Lahore – Lubna adds a new dimension to
contemporary Islamic art. Her works remain abstract, but she
picks and chooses her themes from the broad-based architectural
and artifact forms Muslim craftsmen and artisans have created
over fourteen centuries
After the presentation, the audience was treated to an excellent
array of savory Pakistani delicacies and lavish refreshments
in the Museum’s beautiful courtyard, shaded by trees
and highlighted by Koi fish ponds and traditional Chinese
natural rock formations and flower arrangements.
The event, co-sponsored by the Pacific Asia Museum and Pakistan
Arts Council of Los Angeles, was a boon for the community
for its exposure to contemporary Pakistani art. It was the
brainchild of Atiya Khan, the vibrant and enthusiastic President
of the Pakistan Arts Council, and her active team of directors.
The function was followed by book signing by the author and
artist. The monograph on Lubna Agha is very scholarly written
with references and rare photographs including a gathering
of pioneering Pakistani artists and of the artist with Faiz
Ahmed Faiz. The book, recently reviewed in Dawn and Herald
Magazine, contains 50 plates of paintings and was published
by the Foundation of Museum of Modern Art (FOMMA). Those who
wish to obtain copies can find information at the artist’s
website www.Lubnaagha.com www.Lubnaagha.com.
Points of Reference-Book
Acrylic on Wood-
Window within a window
View of the Audience-
Sitting Left to Right: Dr. Sirhandi, Lubna Agha, Sadaf Abbas,
Syed Ibne Abbas and Ahmed Ali.
thought; a sumptuous array of Pakistani Treats