A Pakistani artist’s gift to Gulzar
Pakistani artist Shahid Rassam has embarked on an ambitious series of artworks to visualise the poetry of Ghalib and Gulzar
Internationally known Pakistani artist Shahid Rassam is currently working on a major series of artworks based on the works of the great Urdu poets Ghalib and Gulzar. The series is a novel way of expressing the hope for peace and better relations between India and Pakistan.
The series includes murals, sculptures and installations, to be exhibited in India and Pakistan as well as in the UK, UAE, France, Canada, and USA, says Rassam. He hopes the first pieces will be exhibited by the end of this year.”
His earlier works include the giant (25 feet high, 5000 kg) bronze and gunmetal sculpture “Insaan” (Human) be placed in Karachi and New Delhi as a monumental symbol of Aman ki Asha (hope for peace).
Rassam has contributed his work for good causes before. His mixed media mural “Worshippers” was auctioned off for a million rupees that he donated to the survivors of Pakistan’s floods. He plans to donate part of the income generated by the current series to Being Human, the NGO started by Bollywood star Salman Khan to improve health and education for children from low-income backgrounds.
The Ghalib and Gulzar series is “not about selling or buying but trying to do something different which has never been done,” he says. “As an artist I feel it is my duty to raise questions in society to start a thought process. I always say my art is for the people and for the betterment of people.”
Rassam had his first major solo exhibit in 1994 at the Arts Council of Karachi. In 1998 he visited India and exhibited his work in Mumbai and Hyderabad, Deccan, attended conferences and met great Indian painters M.F. Husain, Satish Gujral, Jatin Das and the sculptor professor Yadagairi Rao.
Through his art Rassam strives to reflect world realities and also motivate people to make it a better place for our future generations. He has won awards for his work but decided some years ago to stop entering competitions because, as he says, “no one person can judge an artist’s subconscious”.
On his recent visit to Mumbai, he presented the portraits he painted of Gulzar – in which the poet’s trademark crisp white cotton kurta looks tangibly real — and the famous Indian actress Rakhi to Gulzar.
Rassam’s gesture of love brought tears to Gulzar’s eyes, says the artist, talking to this writer on his return to Karachi.
For Rassam, visiting India and staying with “a great poet and more that that, a great, humble human being” was an intensely memorable experience.
Gulzar overwhelmingly endorsed his idea of a series of artworks based on his own and Ghalib’s verses, terming Rassam as “a great artist who is doing great work”. At a dinner he hosted for Rassam, they discussed this project about a great poet working with a great painter.
“When I write poetry, I am painting with words; when Rassam paints he is making poetry with colours. I find his idea of visualising Ghalib’s work so appealing,” Gulzar said at the occasion, recalls Rassam.
“Ghalib always gives me something new, and I hope this time he will give me something more unique and memorable. Working with Shahid Rassam will not only be a great fusion but is in fact an honour for me,” said Gulzar.
Rassam has been working on Ghalib for many years now. And he has found no one other than Gulzar, he says, with “such a great understanding of Ghalib”. Gulzar is selecting Ghalib’s poetry for Rassam, while well-known writer Shakil Adil Zada is selecting Gulzar`s works.
As a surrealist painter, Rassam adds that he found surrealist imagery in Ghalib`s poetry and shared it with Gulzar. An example:
Manzar ek bulandi per or hum bana saktay–arsh say paray hota kash kay makan apna.
Parastish barq ki kerta huN or afsoas hasil kiya
(I can paint a scene of the sky – I wish my house was a bit further from the sky
I worship the light but get regret in return)
“Gulzar said this has never been written about or discussed. So to paint about it would be really a new visual dimension of Ghalib`s poetry. Similarly Gulzar Bhai`s poetry has always given me new ideas, for example about relationships or the question of time,” adds Rassam. He gives an example:
Mujh ko bhi tarkeeb sikha meray yaar jolahay
Waqt kalaee pay bandh rakha hay
Roaz ata hay yeh behroopya roop badal ker
Roaz aata hai jagata hay boht logoN ko
Aaj kee raat ufaq say koee
Chand niklay to giraftar hee ker luN uss ko
(Please teach me the art of relationship my friend Weaver
I have been wearing time on my wrist
Every day the masquerader comes with a new face
Comes every day, wakes up people)
Tonight if someone comes from the sky
If the moon comes from the sky I would arrest him)
Rassam sees this ongoing series of work as “a humble tribute to Gulzar, a great lover of Ghalib, and a man who has been lighting candles for last fifty years just for the love of art and people. This would be a gift from a Pakistani artist to Gulzar sahib.”
Another couple that he likes to quote is Ahmed Faraz’s:
Shikwa-e-zulmat-e-shab say toa kahiN behter tha
Apnay hissay kee koee shamma jalatay jatay
(Rather than complain about the cruelty of the dark night
To leave having lit your own candle)
Asked how the Indian media responded to his work, Rassam says that both the print and electronic media received it very well. “They greatly appreciated the idea, this unique collaboration with poetry and colours, Ghalib and Gulzar by Rassam. Gulzar sahab has often collaborated with musicians and others, but this is first time that he is collaborating with a painter. It is really an honour for me to work with this great legend.”
Can peace be brought through art and culture rather than strategic dialogues or opening trade routes?
“In this world we live in today, we have only one common bridge between nations, and that is art and culture, because all art forms — music, poetry or dance — are about love and peace, not differences. While other aspects, like political dialogue or opening routes or trade, are important they will not work if people don’t meet. Let them meet first, let them enjoy the fragrance of art, music, poetry, dance and sports as well.”
He quotes the late great Urdu poet Jigar Muradabadi:
Unn ka jo kaam hai woh ehlay siasat janay– mera paygham mohabbat hai jahaN takk pohnchay
(Let politicians do what they do – my message is love, whereever it may reach).
The writer is a poet and editor at jang.com.pk