CONTEMPORARY ART MARKET SOUTH ASIA
Like many Asian countries, Pakistan has seen a wave of international interest in its contemporary artists. Some critics remain sceptical about this popularity, however, and cite the absence of local support as evidence that the Pakistani art industry is still immature.
As artist Seraj Ahmed told The Express Tribune,
People are so unaware of art that when you sketch using pencil as the sole medium, they ask, “Would you colour it?”
Despite attention from abroad, many artists have become frustrated by their obscurity within Pakistan. Lack of recognition has also forced some artists to choose between continuing to practise in poverty or moving on to more lucrative careers. One artist even complains of dishonest business practices by their international representatives.
Fraudulent people have entered the field just to make money out of this business of ours. They fetch paintings from here, tell us we are on contract for five years and sell our paintings abroad for thousands of dollars while we only get a measly amount.
On the international stage, Pakistan has a reputation for religious extremism that is sometimes hostile to the contemporary arts. Apart from the chilling effect this may have on artists, it also plays a role in determining how Pakistani art is covered in international media platforms. Many of the country’s most successful artists, such as Rashid Rana, have lived and worked abroad, and their work maintains a critical distance from Pakistani society. Yet this trend also has consequences for the local art scene. As noted in the New York Times, Pakistani artist and critic Quddus Mirza believes that the work of diaspora Pakistani artists is “slowly drifting away from the local art scene.” Artists that are popular abroad risk losing their public appeal within Pakistan, a trend that could limit the potential for the development of its contemporary art world.
There are signs of progress, however. 2011 saw the launch of Pakistan’s first and only bilingual online magazine for contemporary art, ArtNow. With editions in both English and Urdu, the magazine has the potential to make contemporary art more accessible to a local audience. While they remain relatively few in number, Pakistani collectors are also becoming a mainstay in Dubai galleries. Whether this will lead to a grass-roots enthusiasm for the arts remains to be seen.
- South Asian contemporary art scene: Five artists to watch – January 2011 – a profile of five rising South Asian artists, including two from Pakistan
- Critics can’t fault Pakistani artist Rashid Rana’s Guimet show – November 2010 – a roundup of critics responding to a Pakistani artist’s exhibition
- Rashid Rana show proof of Musée Guimet new contemporary acquisition policy – interview with curators – August 2010 – a behind the scenes look at Rana’s landmark retrospective
- Pakistani American artist Shahzia Sikander impresses judges of SCMP|ART FUTURES at ART HK 10 – June 2010 – a Pakistani miniaturist makes waves at the international fair
- Asia Society brings historic show of Pakistani art to US Sep 2009 – August 2009 – a watershed exhibition of Pakistani contemporary art in America
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