Sadequain’s cacti

From Himal Southasian:


When you walk into the enormous central hall of the Lahore Museum, your eye is quickly drawn to the two rows of miniature paintings displayed along the walls on either side. Women on horseback playing polo; Radha and Krishna consorting under a mango tree. You approach the glass cases to observe the minute details of individual strands of hair, of eyelashes, of fingernails. Perchance, you look up.

And you are transposed. Telescoped from the micro to the macro! There, 11 metres in the air, are the sparkling stars, the whirling planets, the spiralling galaxies, all beaming directly at you. A viewer may not be able to immediately recognise the intricate Kufic calligraphy, the use of the letter noon as a design element, but the dynamism of the geometric shapes, the bold and energetic lines, the feverish cross-hatching, will intrigue and engage any imagination. This is a mammoth, 29×7.8-metre oil painting by the famed Pakistani artist Sadequain, rendered in a genre called ‘calligraphic cubism’, spanning the entire ceiling of the entrance hall. If your vision is sharp and you know Urdu, you will read the line of a poem by Mohammad Iqbal painted on one panel: Sitaaro’n ke aage jaha’n aur bhi hai – Beyond the stars there are still other worlds. Standing there, humbled by the celestial orbs, another poet’s lines echo through this writer’s mind: Aur bhi dukh hai’n zamaane me’n mohabbat ke sivaa/ raahate’n aur bhi hai’n vasl ki raahat ke sivaa. These are Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s immortal words: There are sorrows in this world other than those of love/ joys, other than those of union with one’s beloved.

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