Through the looking-glass of Kausar Iqbal
PESHAWAR: After Kausar Iqbal lost several members of his family during the 2005 earthquake he channelled his grief into his work, making large statements about resilience through intricate miniature paintings.
Originally from Sakhakot, Malakand and with a master’s degree from National College of Arts in Lahore, Iqbal, ever mindful of the conservative nature of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, soldiered on with his work. “Through art, I try to highlight issues and subtly depict the solutions.”
Make no mistake, Malakand has produced a number of progressive creative people, including poets Rahmat Shah Sail and Amjid Shahzad.
Iqbal’s work has been received with high acclaim at galleries across Pakistan and he currently is a faculty member at the Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design in Lahore. His work features both neem rung and gudrang (semi-opaque and opaque) techniques of water colour on both wasli and board.
Iqbal’s Burqa series is almost playful on the surface, with nostalgic pottery motifs and kaleidoscopic designs based around women in burqas. However, as Iqbal said, his work highlights the more pertinent issues surrounding women in his society.
This series, like his others, also reflects fortitude; the fortitude of Pakistani women, said Iqbal. “Some people see the burqa as a form of oppression whereas for many women it affords a sense of security in a male-dominated society.”
Though the security Iqbal speaks of seems to choke the women depicted in his work. The burqa-clad women on wasli are bound—some in a noose-like grip, some with their feet bound and at least one dangling like a string puppet from the edge of the veil.
Even more suffocating visuals emerge as gaggles of women covered from head to toe are shown surrounded by men replete with facial features.
In the Elephant series, Iqbal’s technique leaves the giant, magnificent creature light on its feet and light on the canvas. Elephants whose physique makes them less agile than humans but whose intelligence is sometimes comparable to the human intellect are known to be mostly gentle. Their sheer force emanates from their gait and the capacity to destroy. And Iqbal’s Elephant series projects all that.
“They represent our nation,” said Iqbal. The gentle giants hold a central position in the work amidst other elements, such as the ropes shown connecting them to people.
“The rope joins the past and the present; it binds us through religions, ethnicities and symbolises the connection between a brilliant past and a bright future as a nation.”
The artist explained the coloured circles in the Elephant series are a plea to avoid creating separations or boundaries along any line—cultural, sectarian or ethnic.
While the artist has several other evocative series—all on topics dark and heavy and all cluttered with information—there is a lighter side to the work. A focus on aesthetics, on drawing attention to all that is beautiful. Iqbal almost romanticises the beauty in the world around him, a beauty oft ignored in the chaos of current times.
“Flowers, patterns make us idealise the beautiful world which can still be found. The colours reflect nature and form an association with it, with human life; the colour green is active nature and is part of our national and religious association.”
Miniature all around us
“Pakistan is recognised all over the world for its talented miniature artists,” said Iqbal. As an art form, miniature draws from historic Iran and Turkey, he added, but now even in K-P, it is has taken roots.
“Miniature is a medium through which we explain tiny things otherwise invisible to the world,” said the artist. “It can be both a mirror and a remedy,” added Iqbal, whose work might brim over with too much symbolism but keeps optimism right next to what plagues society.