Perceptions: A Tribute to Imran Mir

Breathing sculpture

Imran Mir. Untitled. 2014.

Photo sent to me by the artist in March 2014.

Imran Mir, pre-eminent Pakistani graphic designer; serious, inspired, thoughtful, whimsical, prolific artist; a man of great heart, and an immensely generous soul; died on October 28, 2014.

At Bentota

Photo taken by Sughra Raza in Bentota, Sri Lanka, Jan 2010.

When I joined the Central Institute of the Arts Council in Karachi as a first year student, Imran, a senior student, immediately became a friend and an inspiration. For the next forty plus years while I moved to the US and took a different path, Imran never for a moment faltered in his encouragement and insistence that I continue to be an artist. Because of Imran, my Karachi identity was forever as an artist rather than a doctor and I loved that respite!

The thought of Karachi without Imran feels painfully hollow. His incredible loyalty, generosity, thoughtfulness, creativity, sense of humor, and passionate joie de vivre is etched in his wife and sons, and will continue to be deeply cherished by family and countless friends.

With deepest appreciation for the very fine human being you were, and for your love of music, Imran, I offer this most sublime lament, Beethoven's Opus 131, string quartet #14:

The following is from Imran's forthcoming memoir (printed here with permission from Nighat Mir and Noorjehan Bilgrami). Imran had planned the book launch for November 22nd, 2014.

FOREWORD (by Noorjehan Bilgrami)

what you see is what you see

‘At the centre of your being

you have the answer;

you know who you are

and you know what you want.’

– Lao Tzu

Philosopher Lao Tzu’s words of ancient Chinese wisdom, sum up Imran Mir’s journey in the world of creativity.

I first met Imran Mir in 1970, at a time when we were both students at the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts (CIAC), Karachi. He was a Graphic Design student, while I was in the Fine Art Department.

My memory of Imran forty-three years ago is of a lanky, shy teenager with doleful yet twinkling eyes, leaning on the iron balustrade of the Arts Council’s cemented stairway. Then and to this day, with his mischievous grin, Imran would quietly slip in a punchy line full of wit, almost inaudible- yet it was heard by all present, and would make everyone double up in laughter.

At the time, CIAC had a dynamic, energized and charged environment. It was a modest place, one long corridor flanked by classrooms on either side, equipped with only the basics, yet it brought out the best from its students.

The principal, Ali Imam, had recently returned from the UK, he would be seen hovering in a yellow shirt and corduroy pants, exuding an air of no-nonsense, the aroma from his pipe preceding his towering personality. He exposed students to the work of artists from all over the country–in fact the region. Ahmed Pervez, Sadequain, Bashir Mirza, Shakir Ali, MF Hussain were among regular visitors to the Institute. Artists like Nahid Ali, Anjum Saeed, Imran Mir, Rumana Hussain, Seema Tahir and art critic Niilofer Farrukh are all CIAC graduates.

Born in Karachi, Imran is the youngest amongst seven brothers and two sisters. His father died when Imran was very young and he grew up sheltered amidst the love of his family – to the extent of being very spoiled! Nighat, his wife, says the influence continues till this day. He studied in many different schools, including one in Murree. Imran was not good at academics, but always wanted to study art. After his Intermediate, his brothers wanted him to become a doctor, but Imran’s mother supported his desires and he joined CIAC.

Since childhood, Imran had longed to be an artist, to live in the realm of form and colour. He was enamoured by the glamour of Indian films and practiced drawing their actors along with his comic book heroes. When he showed his portfolio for admission at CIAC, Ali Imam brusquely dismissed his efforts, suggesting he should sell his sketches of Tarzan, actors and actresses on the footpath at Saddar! It was Imran’s will power alone that ensured him admission at CIAC.

Most memorable are Imran’s drawings of the time – mainly caricatures of his colleagues and teachers. With one continuous, strong individualistic graphite line, he captured the essentials of the person on paper. With single-mindedness and determination, Imran pursued and explored the power and control of the graphite line, from the dot to the infinite circle.

Imran steadfastly and tirelessly pursued his goals. In 1976 he passed his Masters in Communication Design from the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, Canada, with honours. Being very organized and methodical, he has a logical approach to life. Very consciously, he chartered his career path towards a profession that would be economically viable, in order to have the freedom to paint and pursue other inner desires.

He returned to Pakistan to work at Asiatic Advertising, a leading advertising agency, where he met his life partner, Nighat. She recalls with great amusement how, once he had had decided to marry her he had no desire to waste any time by waiting and wanted the ceremony immediately. He later joined the Dawn Group and the Herald as their Creative Editor. In1987, he set up his own advertising firm, Circuit, as a one-room operation, and in no time it expanded into one of the foremost, vibrant advertising agencies in the country.

Imran’s gentle demeanour masks a steely determination and with clarity of vision he slowly sculpted his way in life as a Designer, Illustrator, Painter and Sculptor! His signature is in itself a work of art.

In 1989, stemming from discussions amongst a group of artists, architects and designers, the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture was founded in Karachi. Imran and myself were among its founders. The motivation behind the founding of this not-for-profit institution began with a modest dream, to give something back to the city for what it had given us. When concepts and ideas were consolidated, doors opened for the dream to start taking shape and become a reality. All those who were approached helped relentlessly in every conceivable way. IVS has gone way beyond the initial vision.

Imran’s passion for plants and a desire to acquire and nurture exotic species and make them grow prolifically is yet another facet of his unusual personality. He spotted a house once while taking a walk and decided that he would live in it one day. Twelve years later, he managed to not only move in, but to transform it into the house of his dreams, with the input of two talented architects. One was his friend, Shahid Abdulla and the other, the well known architect Anjalendran from Sri Lanka. His wife and business partner Nighat generously concedes that every inch of the re-modelled space reflects Imran’s decisions. It embodies all that he cherishes…it is undoubtedly the most exceptional home, nestled in verdant, luxuriant foliage – another one of his art works!

Imran’s advertising firm has now completed its ‘Circuit’ as Gibran Mir, his eldest son, took over the mantle of CEO after having graduated in Economics from University of Oregon. The creative genes from parents are evident in both his children. Kenan Mir, the younger son graduated from Northwestern University in Economics and Communication. He is winning laurels in the renowned firm of Oglivy and Mather, an international advertising, marketing and public relations agency based in New York City. Gibran’s vibrant, fresh input has given Imran time to pursue his inner, personal creative goals.

This book is yet another of Imran’s epic works of art. It is his personal journey, and the reader is led through 200 pages to get glimpses of Imran’s life, images of his monumental works of art, his stunning house, garden and studio.

Imran did not wish to compartmentalize this book into any structured format; he has selected his personal friends to pen their thoughts about him and his work, rather than art critics. For me, it is like taking a walk through a minimalistic Zen garden that may appear as a natural happening by the Creator, yet it was only made possible by years of disciplined experience and knowledge for it to become so very simple.

I will leave you to dip in visually and experience the dictum-

what you see is what you see.’

Noorjehan Bilgrami