Abid Shah in The National:
In the early 1990s in Pakistan, qawalli was one of those entertainments that one watched on television just because there was only one channel. A repetitious musical form that involved a bunch of men sitting cross legged, clapping and singing Sufi songs, qawalli never gripped young Pakistanis or the Westward-looking upper middle class.
Then Peter Gabriel jammed with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. A beautiful voice in an unfashionable art, Nusrat was a heavyset, obscure qawalli singer until a round of introductions put him onstage with the British pop star and world music maven. Suddenly, Nusrat was big. Young Pakistani men in ties started attending his concerts. Then young Pakistani men in ties started dancing at his concerts.
And so, after the age of Nusrat, it became fashionable to listen to qawalli – a whole art form made hip by the touch of the West.
Ten years later, I can’t stop thinking about Nusrat and qawalli as Pakistan’s art community is gripped by talk of the “contemporary miniature art movement”. The movement, which has reinvented the ancient courtly art of Mughal manuscript illustration as a modern form, has become Pakistan’s calling card in the art world. Its artists have exhibited in Manchester, Tokyo, Dhaka, Dubai, San Francisco and New York, and at auctions the artists have started fetching $40,000 (Dh 147,000) or more for their work. The effect on the psyche and style of Pakistani art has been tremendous.
With a growing list of shows abroad, the names of a few major miniaturists have become famous. There is Shazia Sikander, who became, in 1997, one of the first citizens of an Asian country to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in New York, with a show that launched the contemporary interest in miniatures.