SADEQUAIN (1930-1987)
SADEQUAIN (1930-1987)

Untitled (Surah Al-An'am and Surah Anbiya)

SADEQUAIN (1930-1987)
Untitled (Surah Al-An'am and Surah Anbiya)
signed and dated in Urdu (lower left)
oil and felt tip pen on canvas
38¼ x 159 in. (97.2 x 403.9 cm.)
Painted in 1981
Private Collection, Islamabad
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1984


Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department




Born in 1930, Sadequain is considered one of South Asia's most important modern artists. While much of his work is broadly figurative, the formal qualities of calligraphy, so integral to visual and literary culture in Pakistan, dominate his aesthetic oeuvre. Whether as literal text in his paintings and drawings through quatrains of poetry or verses from the Holy Quran, or as a compositional tool for his abstracted figures, calligraphy is at the heart of Sadequain’s practice.

Calligraphy is a critical component of Pakistani modernism, and was used by modern artists like Sadequain, Ismail Gulgee and Anwar Jalal Shemza in their work, harnessing its raw potency in different ways. What was particular to Sadequain's use of calligraphy, however, was the scale in which he worked. The monumentality of his work was unsurpassed, and the mural format was a cornerstone of his oeuvre. Sadequain’s large-format murals may be viewed in many of Pakistan's public institutions and historic buildings such as Frere Hall and the State Bank of Pakistan in Karachi, the Islamabad Sports Complex and the Lahore Museum, Punjab Public Library and Punjab University in Lahore. Sadequain "[...] intuitively declined the miniature, firstly because his talents demanded much bigger dimensions of space, much bigger brushes and knives and tubes of pigments, and secondly because it was impossible for him to arrest his growth and reduce himself to a mere illustrator. He wanted to create" (Y. Said, quoted in I. Dadi, Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia, 2010, p. 155).

For Sadequain, his calligraphic works became more potent when he was able to work in larger formats, as space was required to allow his creativity to expand organically. Untitled (Surah Al-An'am and Surah Anbiya), painted in 1981, embodies this monumental calligraphic style. At over thirteen feet wide, Sadequain has transposed his mural format onto an enormous canvas. The text, read in three parts from right to left, is taken verses of the sixth chapter or Surah Al-An'am and the twenty-first chapter or Surah Anbiya of the Holy Quran. Translated roughly, it reads, "In the name of God, the merciful and compassionate / All praise is for Allah who created the heavens and the earth and established the darkness and light / And we made every living thing from water”. In the central panel of text, where the verse refers to heaven and earth, Sadequain cleverly ensconces a map of the world within the curling letters, and surmounts them with several stars and heavenly bodies.

Sadequain produced Untitled (Surah Al-An'am and Surah Anbiya) as part of a series of large mural-style canvases painted in the early 1980s, many of which he took on an extended trip to India when he visited Amroha, where he was born, among many other cities. During the months he spent in India, Sadequain held landmark exhibitions of these works at the Lalit Kala Akademi and several other locations, which were incredibly well received and attended by his Indian contemporaries such as M.F. Husain. The artist also painted calligraphic murals at Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, Urdu Ghar, the Ghalib Institute, the Indian Institute of Islamic Research and the National Geophysical Research Institute of India in Hyderabad. The fact that Sadequain selected works from this iconic series for his triumphant return to India demonstrates that he considered them to represent the very core of his creative practice. Forty years later, this exceptional example retains all of the magical potency endowed in it by the father of calligraphic modernism.

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