Sunday, March 3, 2013

Anwar Saeed- by Ruqayya Diwan

Anwar Saeed

Anwar Saeed was born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1955. He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the National College of Arts in Lahore in 1978 and went on to complete his post-graduate studies at the Royal College of Arts in London in 1985. He has had countless solo exhibitions in Pakistan, starting with his first exhibition in Rohtas Gallery in Islamabad in 1984. Anwar has also participated in group shows in Dubai, India, England, the United States of America and several other countries. He claims to have been He currently lives in Lahore where he has been working as an Associate Professor at the National College of Arts for the past 30 years.

Anwar’s work has developed over the years with poetic idioms. He is particularly known for his symbols of windows and birds used to depict times of political suppression. Additionally, he has explored the language of art history in great depth throughout his work; his inspirations range from Greek to medieval iconography and from Buddhist to calligraphic imagery.

Exercises in Imagining the Other, 2012

Ever since I visited one of Anwar Saeed’s exhibitions at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi last year, I have been fascinated by his work. He was quoted as saying that the symbols he employs are “about what is, not what should be.” This idea appeals to me and allows me to view his paintings as his commentary on the state of being as is. The painting above was displayed at the exhibition and was part of the series named ‘Exercises in Imagining the Other.’ The painting depicts 10 blue bodies, seated in pairs and with their faces covered by their underwear. The painting displays Anwar’s penchant for the human figure; he often uses the human figure to express his feelings about life and existence. A newspaper article covering the show explored the idea that the bodies are the same person, where Anwar is using them to explore the various facets of one’s identity. That interpretation makes the most sense to me and the fact that the bodies are blindfolded seems to be a reflection of the fact that they cannot see each other and are therefore unaware of each other’s existence. However, the uniform blue coloring, made stark by a plain black background, is what unites them.

Different Possible Endings of a Story, 1993

The painting above is another piece of Anwar Saeed’s that I am drawn to. It resembles the previous one in that it portrays several different faceless bodies. The title of the painting, ‘Different Possible Ending of a Story’ gives the viewer a clue as to what Anwar is trying to convey. The figures change from one adorned in jewelry to one covered in darkness, highlighting the positive and negative ways in which individual lives can end. The various symbols of time scattered throughout the painting, such as a images from a calendar and a fading crescent build upon the idea of a developing story. Anwar often uses transparent silhouettes and shadows to allow the images to float through the screen; this effect is heightened by the minimum use of color.

A Book of Imaginary Companions, 2008

This last painting is a depiction of the male condition, several male figures in different forms and sizes, combined through the medium of collage. Anwar often uses texture in his paintings; the image develops from layer to layer. There is a similarity to the first painting, in that the largest yellow figure stands out against a black and white background. Text from a book can also be seen within the collage, giving the viewer an idea of the story that Anwar is trying to highlight.


Hashmi, Salima, and Naazish Ata-Ullah. Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan. New York: Asia Society Museum, 2009. N. pag. Print.

Hashmi, Salima, and Quddus Mirza. 50 Years of Visual Arts in Pakistan. Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1997. Print.

Naqvi, Zehra. "Anwar Saeed's Exercises in Imagining the Other." DAWN. N.p., 29 Sept. 2012. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

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