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Pakistan's National Art Gallery opens with exhibit featuring 600 works

Pakistan's National Art Gallery opens with exhibit featuring 600 works

Pakistan's painstakingly built National Art Gallery has overcome decades of political turbulence to become an eye-catching symbol of modernity and creativity in a nation more often associated with Islamic conservatism.
The four-story gallery opened to the public Tuesday with an expansive exhibit of 600 works _ from Persian-style miniature paintings with a modern twist to large-scale sculpture created specially for the site.
Pakistan has long had a vibrant if small art scene, but the gallery took more than a quarter-century from conception to completion due mainly to the changing priorities of a series of military leaders and short-lived elected governments.
"It's a wonderful feeling to have a home for all the work _ a place to house the work of three generations of artists," said Naiza Khan, a curator of the inaugural show and a Karachi-based artist whose female metal body armor is also on display.
Featuring work from 126 Pakistani artists, some of the pieces in the "Moving Ahead" show have a distinctly South Asian or Islamic flavor _ Arabic calligraphy, a painting with Bollywood actors or a throne made of white plastic ablution buckets that Muslims use to wash before prayer.
The works in the show are owned by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts or on loan from private collectors.
There are miniature paintings with a globalized twist. One work by Waseem Ahmed, entitled "Burqa," transforms a classical European odalisque into this classical Persian form. The reclining Venus is draped in a gauzy, transparent burqa _ an all-covering Islamic veil _ and gazes into a mirror that reflects apples, the classic Christian symbol of temptation.
One of the 132,000-square-foot (12,000-square-meter) gallery's two grand halls holds several sculptures, including one that artist Khalil Chishtee created using white plastic bags _ a life-size woman walking a tightrope, with a man below with his head turned up toward her, apparently held in position by a thread tugging his nose skyward. The tightrope is the braided hair of an elderly woman sitting in a wheelchair.
"There's a lot of stuff that you wouldn't expect to be here, in a museum in Pakistan," said Sana Raza, a 27-year-old consultant from Karachi who visited the gallery on opening day.
She gestured toward sculptures criticizing society and the political system and said, "In the National Art Gallery, you would expect censorship ... more toned down stuff, but they've been pretty open about open expression."
The interior space is white with warm accents such as a brick-paved ramp leading to the mezzanine, and a few areas with wood detailing on the ceiling. An auditorium and a rooftop courtyard are surrounded by delicate arches.
The exterior is made almost entirely of brick _ a rare choice in an era of new museums around the world constructed with large concrete or stone slabs.
"Brick has a humility. It has a scale that is so intimate," said the architect, Naeem Pasha.
A sentry of seven large black statues of burqa-clad figures, haunting and anonymous, stands outside the gallery entrance.
Some spaces, such as the room showing the calligraphy, are one-story high, while others are two stories high or even larger, including a room that can be viewed from two little balconies on the second floor to give the viewer a different perspective.
The room of miniatures on Tuesday was leaking a murky gray water through the ceiling, and many of the works had to be removed from the walls to protect them.
Jamal Shah, the executive director of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts, called the leaking "teething" problems that were being addressed.
Pasha won the first competition to choose an architect in 1981, but there were many hiccups thereafter, including a site switch when the original location was used for the prime minister's secretariat.
The foundation stone was laid in March 1996, but funding was then diverted to construct a convention center, he said.
Some officials even wanted to shelve the project and demolish the unfinished structure because they worried it could be a hiding place for snipers targeting President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, whose office is nearby, he said.
The 542 million rupees (US$8.9 million;


Updated : 2021-05-09 01:43 GMT+08:00