The cultural heart of Pakistan displays wealth of traditions with contemporary art offerings.
Pakistan’s second largest city abounds with exquisite architecture, select galleries and the world-renowned National College of Arts Lahore. Art Radar explores the best art venues in the city and what makes Lahore so unique.
Lahore’s history is filled with the melding of cultures and spiritual traditions. Originally the capital of Punjab, it has often been considered the cultural capital of the region. Throughout its history, the city has been influenced by Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religions. Due to its location along the Grand Trunk Road, it has been conquered by a variety of different powers – with the Mughal empire (1524-1752) leaving an indelible mark on the city. To this day, many stunning architectural monuments and gardens retain the glory of a time long past.
The city is also known for its top notch arts institution, the National College of Arts Lahore (NCA). The college is considered the birthplace of the neo-miniaturist movement, a contemporary spin on miniature painting techniques dating back several hundred years. The institution’s alumni include celebrated visual artists Humaira Abid, Farida Batool, Faiza Butt, Aisha Khalid, Imran Qureshi and Shazia Sikander.
Museums, galleries and independent art spaces to visit
Fakir Khana Museum
Established in 1901, the Fakir Khana Museum houses one of the largest private collections in South Asia. Found in Lahore’s Old City, the collection was amassed by a family whose descendants worked in the court of Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). The collection of over 13,000 items includes Chinese porcelain, coin collections, Islamic art, miniature paintings, Persian carpets and wood work.
Inside Bhatti Gate, Lahore, Pakistan, +92 335 4072145
Gallery 39K was founded in 2007 by artists Abdullah Qureshi and Rakhshanda Ataway as an inclusive venue where process, experimentation and abstract-thought have brought both artists and those interested in artistic dialogue together. In addition to curated and researched exhibitions, the gallery also offers residencies and mentorship programmes.
Not afraid to take on difficult yet relevant topics, an exhibition curated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Abdullah Qureshi (November 2015) in conjunction with THAAP’s (Trust for History, Art and Architecture Pakistan) 6th Annual Conference, will look at minority rights and marginlisation in modern Pakistan and feature Syrian/German artist, Rabi Georges.
39-K, Model Town, Lahore, Pakistan, +92 300 4630660
Lahore Arts Council Alhamra (LAC)
The permanent art gallery located in the Qadaffi Stadium is part of the Lahore Arts Council Alhamra, established in 1949 as the Pakistan Arts Council. Alhamra is an Arab word, meaning ‘red clothes’ and was originally what the Arabs called the royal enclave in Cordoba, Spain, due to the structure’s red brick construction. Designed by well-known architect Nayyar Ali Dada, the LAC Alhamra has been awarded the Aga Khan International Award for architecture. The complex is a central hub for the visual and performing arts in Lahore and has been deemed the “heart of Lahore Culture”.
Qadaffi Stadium, Feroze Pur Road, Lahore, Pakistan, +92 42 99230791
The impetus behind Nairang Galleries was to create a venue – much like Lahore’s traditional Pak Tea Houses – that combined many different interests under one roof and a diverse group of offerings including fine arts, literature and performing arts that would encourage open dialogue. The gallery, run by architect Nayyer Ali Dada, prides itself on having a selection of three-dimensional art such as sculpture and ceramics, as well as a diverse book and music selection, folk and ethnic crafts, a restaurant and cafe.
101-Habitat Flats, Jail Road, Lahore, Pakistan, +92 42 7586686
Rohtas II Gallery
Rohtas II Gallery opened in 2001 by Salima Hashmi as an extension of the original Rohtas Gallery (est. 1981) located in Rawalpindi / Islamabad. From its very origins, the intention behind the gallery in Lahore has always been to educate both artists as well as the audience and, according to promotional material, “foster an environment of inquiry and debate on cultural and art related issues, with a view to promoting tolerance and creativity”. Rohtas II Gallery has provided a space for some of Lahore’s brightest emerging and established artists, including Farida Batool, Faiza Butt, Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi.
156-G Model Town,Lahore, Pakistan, +92 042 35884044
Brainchild of collector Salmaan Taseer, Taseer Gallery represents a platform for both bold emerging artists and established masters of cutting-edge contemporary art. The space was launched in 2009. According to the venue’s website, it seeks to “shed light on the unique vitality and breadth of modern art produced in Pakistan” and bring together international artists as well as curators and collectors. In order to promote local artists in an international arena, the gallery participated in the 2015 Affordable Art Fair in New York City.
Arif Jan Road, Cantt, Lahore, +92 300 8443273
Zahoor Ul Akhlaq Gallery (NCA)
Housed in one of the most illustrious art colleges in Pakistan, the National College of Art’s Zahoor Ul Akhlaq Gallery was established in 1993. The gallery is “essentially a space for teaching critical evaluation and curatorial skill”, reads the institution’s website. In addition, it also contains the university’s burgeoning collection of Pakistani art. Through exhibiting works from both local and international artists, it seeks to provide a space for dialogue with both students and the general public.
4 Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, Lahore, Pakistan, +92 42 99210599-9210601
When to visit
Lahore enjoys a five season, semi-arid climate. The best time to visit is in the spring, when the weather is pleasant, as summers can be uncomfortably hot and then very wet once the monsoons arrive.
Major festivals include the Basant (Jashn-e Baharaan) kite festival to celebrate the coming of spring and the World Performing Arts Festival held in autumn at the Lahore Arts Council Alhamra.
Where to stay
Lahore offers a variety of accommodations with the Pearl Continental Lahore and Avari Hotel Lahore near the top end of the scale. Budget venues are available through Airbnb and various booking agencies.
- Visualising taboo: Emerging Pakistani sculptor Humaira Abid – interview – July 2015 – sculptor uses the finest woods to explore forbidden topics
- “Hedonistic popstars and Muslim youth”: interview with Pakistani artist Faiza Butt – April 2015 – London resident mixes bubblegum colours with controversial issues for fresh look on modern-day life
- Contemporary art in Beirut: Art Radar guide – April 2015 – Art Radar gives tips on where to see contemporary art when visiting Lebanon’s cultural capital
- Turning tradition on its head: Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi – interview – May 2014 – 2 of Pakistan’s most well-known neo-miniaturists break boundaries through use of traditional techniques
- 11 influential South Asian neo-miniaturists – January 2014 – Art Radar looks at the best artists from the Indian subcontinent reinterpreting the miniature tradition
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