January Issue 2015
Brush with the Past
To celebrate the life and work of Laila Shahzada, the internationally and traditionally fÃ©ted and awarded Pakistani artist (recipient of the Key of the City of New York and two Pride of Performance awards, among others), Unicorn Gallery held a retrospective of her work in December, marking the 20th anniversary of her untimely and tragic demise in a fire-related accident.
While the event drew in Laila’s contemporaries from the art world, friends and aficionados of her work, and featured a cross section of her paintings, garnered from collectors who loaned them for the show, what was as strikingly apparent as the work on display, was that which was not apparent at all. While many of her paintings form part of private collections abroad (including that of the former Shah of Iran), a sizeable amount of the artist’s work — some of it kept aside by her for a permanent collection in a future national gallery she envisaged in her mind’s eye, and the rest comprising favourite paintings she couldn’t let go for sentimental reasons — was stolen shortly after her death, and the bulk of it was ferreted out of the country.
While assorted speakers at the event, including the artist’s close friend and art historian Marjorie Hussain, and Indus Valley faculty member, Taimur Suri, managed to convey in their short talks Laila’s artistic odyssey and her place in the pantheon of Pakistan’s old masters, the missing artwork created a gaping vacuum.
If future generations are to know of the genesis of Pakistan’s journey in the arts, it is imperative that the work of our creative masters be preserved, documented and seen. This show was, at least, a fledgling step in that direction.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2015 issue.