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Quddus Mirza

Pakistani Contemporary Artist
Born 1961, Lahore, Pakistan
Lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan 

Quddus Mirza is a well-known art critic as well as painter based in Pakistan. He has written extensively about art in Pakistan in several national and international publications. His paintings are known for their complex themes that transcend the barriers of the medium and appeals to different senses by hinting at multiple interpretations. In his long career, he has also curated several national as well as international exhibitions and has explored the link between the arts in the orient and the occident. He currently teaches in the Fine Arts Department at his alma mater, National College of Arts, Lahore.

Education

1991

Post Graduate, Royal College of Arts, London

1986

Bachelors Degree, National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Quddus Mirza

His art and life are deeply rooted in Pakistan

Quddus Mirza was born and brought up in Pakistan and that is where he has chosen to remain rooted firmly. While he has achieved much fame and has done exhibitions all over the world, he has not taken the easier way out for fame and wealth. His efforts are now mostly dedicated towards improving the discourse around the art of Pakistan and making it more accessible to the average masses. He writes obsessively, paints as well as curates art shows in an effort to energize the Pakistani art scene which faces many difficulties in the politically volatile climate that the country has faced over the years.

Quddus Mirza, The Family 2, 2004, oil on canvas

Investigating a Torn Society

His paintings are primarily visual investigations of the Pakistani society. He creates memorable images by transcending the consciousness of the society and by fusing multitude of meanings appealing to different senses of the viewers. He uses very bright and colourful patterns that look simplistic on the surface but he infuses deep political meanings to them. His works are some the finest examples of visual rendition of history. Pakistan has been going through a phase of political turmoil for a long time. Insurgency and sectarian violence has caused immense bloodshed in the country. So, the bright splatters of red spread all over Mirza’s diptychs tell us about a nation torn by violence and bloodshed without becoming too obvious. There is a need to understand his background and the state of his nation to understand his art.

Quddus Mirza, The Art of Destruction, 2007, oil on canvas

Of Violence and Beauty

As a native of the country, Mirza has been able to observe Pakistan’s contemporary history from close quarters. This is why his works always reflect such observations in a very natural manner. But that does not mean that he is oblivious of the innate beauty of his land. However, he prefers to juxtapose both to make his point. That is why it is easy find girls holding flowers as well as decapitated heads floating on a red river in his paintings. All these imageries have been extracted from day to day scenes in Pakistan. Even with his abstract figures, a sense of profound realism can be felt due to his willingness to connect to the happenings in contemporary society.

Quddus Mirza, Girl Holding a Flower, 2004, oil on canvas

An Educator of Art:

As mentioned before, Mirza has also dedicated to taking the art to the masses. In fact majority of his efforts are nowadays reserved for this purpose. That is why he prefers to be an educator who headed the department of fine arts in the National College of Arts in Lahore. Once he was a student too in this college and this is his way of paying his alma mater. He also educates people though his work regarding the history and nature of dictatorship that has affected Pakistan over the years. On various occasions, he has poignantly discussed the dictatorial rule of General Zia-Ul-Haq which coincided with his early youth and led to severe artistic suffocation. In fact, that was the period in Pakistan that gradually smothered democratic and secular values and gave rise to strict Islamic regime. Even after the General’s death, the country did not really recover from the same. This phase affected Mirza very deeply and he has always made it a point to talk about such issues.

Quddus Mirza, In praise of red, 2010, mix medium on board

Chronicling a Fledgling Art Scene

Through his writings, Mirza explores the parallels between orient and occident. He has played a major role in defining the Art from Pakistan. Interestingly he rejects the term “Pakistani Art” and argues that there are no unique features in the arts coming out of the nation to justify a tag like this. He has also been involved in discussions that explore the nature of art education in Pakistan and the role that needs to be played by art galleries and institutions in order to spread the practice and awareness of fine arts in the nation.

He writes for several international publications and has authored several books including 50 Year of Visual Arts in Pakistan that charts the history of contemporary art in Pakistan. Another well-known book by him is Rising Tides about the recent Pakistani art after the 1990s and he has also contributed on the same topic in the collection Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan. Besides these publications, he can be regularly seen contributing in scores of national and international art journals and newspapers.

Quddus Mirza, Man Sitting on a Ricksaw, 1992, acrylic on paper

Bibliography