Zahoor ul Akhlaq - end of glorious chapter

By Marjorie Husain

WITH the shocking death of Zahoor ul Akhlaq, a distinguished artist-teacher, and his daughter, Jahan Ara, a talented artiste in the classic tradition, ended the chapter of one of Pakistan's most respected and brilliant artists.

A graduate of the NCA in the sixties, Zahoor was awarded a British Council Scholarship in '66 and proceeded to the Hornsey College of Art for post-graduate studies. A further scholarship for post-graduate studies to the Royal College of Art, led to the discovery of an inner door leading to the British Museum and straight to a collection of Mughal miniatures. Zahoor spent hours studying the miniatures which were to have a powerful influence on his work. He was particularly affected by a painting of Shahjehan riding a horse. On his return to Pakistan, he began working on miniature forms and their spatial relationships.

Zahoor's knowledge of art history was profound, his work carried diverse references to classic and post-modern philosophy. He learned the art of calligraphy at an early age from the renowned calligrapher Yousaf Dehlavi, who Zahoor credited for his understanding of composition and mastery of visual balance. The early teachings were to stay with the artist, remaining at the core of his work throughout his years of art education in prestigious Western colleges.

The second great influence in Zahoor's life was Shakir Ali, teacher and friend, who encouraged him to experiment and exceed limitations. Many of Zahoor's earlier experiments w ere with images and icons from the High Renaissance, which he decontextualized, adding newer meaning to them.

An outstanding sculptor, printmaker and painter, Zahoor was the recipient of numerous awards in Pakistan and in foreign countries. The decade of the '80s found him deeply involved in several disciplines, in a geometric vocabulary of sculpture in Muslim art, painting, and printmaking. He worked on a portfolio of prints in New York to represent Pakistan at the 'Homage to Nobel Prize-winning Countries' held in Sweden in '83.

There were numerous exhibitions in many countries. In 1989, Zahoor proceeded to Yale for post-doctoral studies, a Fulbright Research Fellow at Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Religion and the Arts, where he held a solo exhibition of his work.

Zahoor had strong views on art, contending that paintings do not have to be 'understood', only 'seen'. His view was that contemporary. "I am not entirely responsible for what I have put on view. I share this responsibility with all the poets, musicians, sculptors writers and artists and men who have, over the years, influenced me."

Zahoor ul Akhlaq's loss to the art world is incalculable. Still reeling from the shock on this saddest of Eids, we have yet to assess what we can never replace.

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