Blending Islamic Motif with the Contemporary
By Arif Merchant

Dr. Sirhandi
CG Syed Ibne Abbas
Atiya Khan

The 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.

A group of art lovers
CG Ibne Abbas with Arif and Rubina Merchant
Qutubuddin Aziz, Lubna Agha, Anila Ali
& Sadaf Abbas
PAC Board members with CG Abbas, Lubna Agha and guests

Dr. 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 University.
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 in Pakistan.

Lubna’s 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

Points of Reference-Book Cover

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.


Food for thought; a sumptuous array of Pakistani Treats



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.