An Architectural Archive of Genealogies and Memories
Text | Hammad Ali Visuals Courtesy | Jamil Naqsh Museum
Buildings stand about as a motionless society; while they do not speak, we, nevertheless, interpret their meaning and intent. Their interiors impose reassuring images upon us; patterns emerging in their specific physical settings resist the urge to change them. This resistance points towards the impression spatial imagery leaves on our collective memory, imagery linked with, but not limited to, nostalgia and wistfulness.
Situated on the Commercial Avenue in Phase 7, DHA, Karachi, the Jamil Naqsh Museum houses a trove of the country’s art historical nostalgia and collective familial memory in a visceral juxtaposition. Jamil Naqsh was born on 25th December, 1939, in Kairana, India. Growing up, Naqsh took an immense interest in the field of art and, as a young art student, was enamored by miniature painting. The dedicated miniaturist, Ustad Sharif, was delighted with his impassioned, thriving disciple. He instilled in Naqsh the discipline that he was seeking, which eventually became etched in his psyche and influenced his works through the decades to follow.
As a full time apprentice of Ustad Sharif, Naqsh credited him with the development of his aesthetic sensibilities.
Naqsh achieved the status of one of the country’s leading artists. His work ethos was unique and his inner strength underpinned his conviction. Being able to differentiate between his desire to paint and to create solely for exhibitions, he was unwilling to accept the pressures of gallery deadlines; his years of discipline stood him in good stead. One of his constant concerns was the preservation of his work for generations to come. To archive and exhibit his paintings, in 1999, friends and family of Jamil Naqsh decided to set up a museum for the artist. To materialize this idea, a humble space was acquired, a small floor space, in a commercial building at Shahrah-e-Faisal, Karachi. In 2013, the artist and the family envisaged that it was imperative to preserve the vast array of the eminent artist’s work, donating his work to his museum, a space that was worthy of the work was required. Designing and co founding the new museum, was the artist’s son, Cezanne Naqsh.
In 2017, Senator Aitazaz Ahsan formally inaugurated the museum. Jamil Naqsh Museum has not only preserved six decades of the master’s work and all the publications to his name, but has also preserved the personal belongings of the artist, which includes relics, books, and his collection of his Ustad and contemporaries like Zahoor ul Ikhlaq, Shakir Ali, Maqsood Ali, Mansur Aye, Ali Imam, Kohari, and Bashir Mirza. From an architect’s perspective, the transformation of a space into a place is a two-way process. Creating a structure enables the space to contain memories, and the installation of memories turns that structure into a place. However, for Cezanne Naqsh, this formulaic implementation was vain. Naqsh treated the process of building and furnishing in a fluid and an organic fashion. Connected to the artist in a very intimate manner, Naqsh’s design process was critiqued by the perfectionist eyes of his father, Jamil Naqsh. As they enter the museum, the visitor faces a jarring, bare white wall – an element that separates the experience of being in the museum from the commercialized hustle of the locality. This separation adds opacity to the layers in Naqsh’s attempt to palimpsest the meanings and experiences that divulge the visitor into them. As one walks through the pathway laundered with plants, they receive an active visual relief from the passive entrance. A central openair courtyard acts as a connecting tissue to the three main activities of the property: a beautiful residential space, Cezanne Naqsh’s studio and office, and the museum. The courtyard acts as a space for socializing and hosting family and museum events, keeping an intimate amount of space with the artist while maintaining privacy from the visitors. Cezanne Naqsh recalled his conversations with the artist of how he considered the drawing pivotal to any composition. Jamil Naqsh’s exceptional command over line drawing has translated well into the museum his son has designed. Throughout the space, Cezanne Naqsh has drawn parallels between the expression of the built form of the museum and the art of his father, which was never about decorative elements, but rather about unfolding the unity of order and his mastery of line. Taking cues from his father’s ink drawings, Naqsh’s visual vocabulary is anything but verbose. Ali Iman, founder of Indus Gallery commented,“his linear dynamics emerge from active planes against passive blanks. The rhythm of vertical, horizontal, diagonal, cursive, and linear division has a magnetic and mobile inner essence that is distinguished from the outer form of the apparent subject’’.
The museum’s façade and interior are crisp and direct, allowing the works and objects inside to speak volumes about the artist’s life and genealogy, encapsulating memories for decades. Jamil Naqsh’s artistic philosophy was vested in the understanding of the relationships of the cosmic and physical reality – a relationship of parts with the whole. As separate elements cannot be different from composition and the composition cannot have anything but love for its elements, the beauty, for him, emerges as a result of a more harmonious relationship among the elements of composition than the elements themselves.
Naqsh is among the very few painters in art history who mastered the art of maintaining a perfect relationship between them, which in turn creates a hypnotic appeal to his art, heightening the visual sensibilities of the viewer. Human memory is not merely cerebral, but embodied, skeletal and physical. Objects have an inextricable physical quality of acquiring significance beyond their functional purposes, gathering layers of histories, memories, sentiments, and experiences, and at times, becoming extensions of the human psyche itself. Jamil Naqsh, in the late 1980s, when building his own house, designed bespoke furniture pieces. Working closely with the artisans, he would insert his principles of aesthetics and design elements.
The entire furniture inside the museum is a testament to Naqsh’s aesthetical bravado. Transported from their family house to the museum, the furniture pieces are purveyors of ideas, memories, and histories. From low-height chairs to the carved coffee tables and bookshelves, these objects have become vessels of transference and transformation; they are emotive, alive, changing, and interactive. Linking the past to the present, creating meanings and evoking nostalgia. Taking cues from the architectural philosophy of preserving memories and linking time and space, Sobia Naqsh, the curator of the museum, has done justice to the interior and the exhibition on display.
The study of the curatorial practice is an investigation of modes of thinking and exhibiting, of meaning-making and assignations, of discourse and display. Trained for almost two decades by the master himself, Sobia Naqsh has spent years archiving, collecting the works, and thinking of new ways of displaying and meaningmaking. On the central wall of the museum, hangs the last unfinished painting of Naqsh, an overwhelming experience, with layers upon layers of impasto and agitated strokes of paint – redolent of pointillism – the pigeons are palimpsest, one over one another just like the layers of histories and memories that the museum houses, alongside hues of cadmium yellow. Lacking Naqsh’s signature and the usual earthen tones, this canvas marks the ends of a phenomenon that was Naqsh.
The current display links the past to the present; mirroring the last painting, on the opposite wall, hang the smaller pieces of miniature paintings that Naqsh created during his initial days under Ustad Sharif. A walk in the museum grounds the visitor to Naqsh’s development of a visual treatise. From his initial miniatures to the modernist era where he added cubist elements in his work inspired by his contemporary Shakir Ali, one experiences large-scale nudes, pigeons, horses, and flowers – everchanging, evolving, and undulating with the figure of a woman. Currently installed in the museum are his bigger pieces, among all his dominant themes from his oeuvre, making one’s visit meaningful and invigorating. The museum also has a quaint shop where one can buy postcards, scarves, coasters, envelopes, and high-quality prints, with the master’s work, as an effort to aid the visitors take a piece of their experience with them as memorabilia.
The museum is free and open to the public; however, since it is connected to the intimate space of the house and is run by the family, the visits are through appointments only, where Sobia or Cezanne are available to give you a detailed tour, tracing histories and sharing memories. Creating a sense of unity between the three activities, the museum contains Cezanne’s conscious attempt to create an architectural language that is contemporary yet timeless.
Hammad Ali, is a graduate of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts from the Institute of Business Administration Karachi with a concentration in Media and Communications. He writes for art, film, cultural events, and environmental concerns. His research interests include masculinities, post colonial queer of color and feminist studies, and visual art/culture. He is currently working at Karachi Biennale as a media and communications coordinator.