A Painter Whose Palette Never Dried Up

Fine Arts Department, which is now the College of Art and Design, has a significant value in the evolution of Pakistani art. When we talk about academic art, this institution is found serving the first ever generation of painters in Pakistan.

Erected on the Mall Road Lahore, the redbrick walls of this structure have seen countless shadows, creeping down with every colourful sunset. This campus has seen the restlessness of Anna Molka Ahmad, who transformed her energy and agony on her expressionistic style canvases, and the smiles of Mrs. Anwar Afzal, who has been a source of peace for the students.

Among these wonderful female painters, we can find Zubeda Javed; a painter with sophisticated and spontaneous colour sense and simplified compositions! Zubeda actually developed a unique style in landscape painting, which was based on memory and imagination, rather than on imitation, that a painter can do by looking at nature. This attitude titled her as “the painter of atmosphere.”

Zubeda Javed, is one of those rare female painters of Pakistan, who adopted modern technique of painting landscapes and cityscapes, in a manner, that was considered by many, as closed to semi-abstract and Impressionistic style. She, with an intuitive colour palette and painterly brush, produced a unique and aesthetically strong display of colours, coming out of deep backgrounds. Her painting style encouraged the modern approach towards colour, composition and light, in Pakistani art.

Zubeda did not have it a pleasant experience when her father took her to Anna Molka, who did not consider Zubeda’s sketchbook a serious effort, which was full of doodles. In fact, Mrs. Ahmad titled them as copy-work, but at that time, nobody might have thought that one day, Zubeda would be among those, who would be renowned and known for their own individual style and signature painting.

Later, after joining the department of fine arts, in the company of Anna Molka, Khalid Iqbal and Mrs. Anwar Afzal, Zubeda Javed observed and adopted western and contemporary aesthetic canon particularly regarding modern composition, dissolving colours and simplified forms of objects.

On the other hand, the shades of Persian miniature painting, are also visible in her canvases, especially where the effect of perspective is created by variation of tonalities rather than the geometrical linearity.

Zubeda comments on this as,
“I had been lecturing on Persian Miniature Painting at the University. At first, I didn’t like them, but then I got involved with that art form, and it might have given me some ideas.”

All these aspects, actually trained and skilled Zubeda to interact with the modern challenges of visual arts, especially in painting, which were not very popular among her contemporaries, who were more inclined towards the realistic school of painting rather than the conceptual approach.

20th-century art in Europe is known for the popularity and preference of concepts, emotions, psychological expressions and elaborations of dreams over the realistic, romantic or new-classic ideology, in the fields of art, literature and music. It encouraged the humanistic and individualistic attitude in art that caused Cubism, Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism to expand the possibilities of expression on canvas by adopting distortion, intense colours, disconcerted brushstrokes and disjointed spaces.

These modern ideas reached Lahore in just before and during the World War – II. There were few wonderful women like Amrita Shergil, Zubeda Agha, and Anna Molka Ahmad who elaborated and adapted this alienated dogma while later in 1950s, a gentleman Shakir Ali took up the task equally. This was the atmosphere around when young Zubeda nocked at the doors of fine arts and got them opened for her.

Zubeda Javed, after exploring herself more inclined towards the modern techniques and ideology of painting, amalgamated her imagination with her sight before giving them any visual idiom.
She describes her technique in these words, “I have seen the picture in my mind, and I have seen the actual spot; then I mix the two with my imagination.”

This technique helped Zubeda Javed to render suggested images rather than painting the evolved form of the objects, but at the same time, she created the contrast of small and large elements, through pictorial simplification.

We can divide Zubeda’s work in three phases.

1. First phase with thick paint impestoed on canvas that is closed to knife work.
2. In Second Phase, Zubeda, assimilated the deep and dark depths of paintings with the dimness of human nature inside and applied pure colours against dark backgrounds.
3. While in the third phase, may be due to her deteriorating health and uneasiness, she painted in a more segregated manner where her brushstrokes seem to depict the non-integral aspect of life.

Apart from an artist, Zubeda has been an activist in an era when sanctions were imposed on the freedom of expression in late 70s till late 80s. She was among those fifteen female artists who developed a manifesto for themselves in 1983.

She also served, in those times, as chairperson of the Fine Arts department where challenging environment and extremist groups were a continuous hurdle in the development of visual art and its understanding.

However, aside from an artist, Zubeda served the best, in the capacity of a teacher. She was a torchbearer in the fine arts department in terms of new technique and style. Therefore, Zubeda inspired a whole generation of novice artists, to experiment in the genre of landscape or cityscape, with a touch of difference. She advocated, with her matchless frames, the doctrine of individual perception that could be earned by seeing nature with half-ajar eyes and by feeling her within an open heart, and not by looking at it with open eyes and closed heart.

When, an art-historian would compile and document the anthology of art in Pakistan, he or she would find wonderful individuals who actually shaped the pathways for new artists to tread on!

That historian would also find Zubeda Javed holding the hand of new-generation artists to lead them the way through the deep-dark alleys of ignorance towards the deep-dark colors of self-recognition; the real essence of modern art.

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