The first comprehensive book on Meher Afroz, one of the most significant artists of Pakistan, which has been conceptualised and edited by Niilofur Farrukh, an eminent art critic and curator, was launched on Saturday. It has been titled ‘A Beautiful Despair — The Art and Life of Meher Afroz’.
Sixteen writers comprising art critics, curators, art historians, artists, a film-maker, an anthropologist and a poet have examined Meher’s practice, which spans across vital periods of Pakistan’s art history.
The authors are Fehmida Riaz, Salima Hashmi, Aquila Ismail, Aisha Gazdar, Savita Apte, Salman Asif, Waheeda Baloch, Anoli Perera, Laila Rehman, Shazia Zuberi, Amra Ali, Aasim Akhtar, Romila Kareem, Atteqa Ali, Zehra Hamdani Mirza and the editor herself.
“She entered the scene in the early 1970s at the peak of modernism. In the 1980s she became a part of the wave of women artists who dominated the art scene,” read a statement issued by the organisers of the launch.
“Her work, while relevant to the historical moment she occupies, also goes beyond it, and despite its cultural specificity, speaks to a global audience with a gripping power that emanates from all art of substance.”
The launch was held online in which art historian Savita, who specialises in modern and contemporary South Asian art, spoke to Meher and Niilofur about their five-decade-long artistic and personal relationship that granted the latter unprecedented access to the former’s work and progress.
Savita, who is the founder director of Art Dubai and a renowned commentator on the linkages between contemporary art and colonialism, explored how critical readings of practices like Meher’s art connect cultural practices in South Asia.
It contextualises the artistic milieu of Karachi as well as the changes over the decades that have shaped the artist’s work, analysing its richness and complexities.
Meher said she went through a personal struggle in adjusting to the multicultural Karachi after her family migrated from Lucknow. She said her maternal and paternal grandmothers had dearly influenced her upbringing as they imparted to her their specialisations in the fields of home crafts and education.
She said Ali Imam, founder of the Indus Gallery, gave her a breakthrough in the field of arts, and she became famous overnight after her first exhibition.
She complimented Karachi as the city where artwork gets recognition. She also pointed out that although becoming famous was not a big deal, keeping up with the art was. The book, which can be pre-ordered online at meherafrozthebook.com, will be available at selected galleries in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.