5 Contemporary Paintings of Karachi

DESIblitz seeks to explore the vibrant and diverse art scene of Pakistan, by taking a look at five contemporary paintings of Karachi.

5 Contemporary Paintings of Karachi

His artworks show Karachi as a “rainbow city"

Pakistan has such a rich history in art that many artists create paintings of Karachi to capture the country’s booming vibrancy.

It was said, when photography started to become popular, due to the realism and detail, it would make painting obsolete. But that is far from the case.

Whole movements of creative and abstract styles of painting have flourished.

In this very visual world, digital photos of places have become available everywhere. But, that has not led to a declining interest in people making art of all kinds.

In Pakistan, there is a long heritage of art. Pakistani painters of all kinds depict all forms of cultural issues and places.

Here, the focus will be on the contemporary paintings of Karachi, which was once the capital of Pakistan.

But Karachi is a city that has been attached to a reputation for gang-related and terrorism-related violence. However, this is not the full picture.

Countless forms of art and poetry have been written and made about the beauty of the city. We take a look at the best ones.

Walls of Peace – I Am Karachi

5 Contemporary Paintings of Karachi

Perhaps this is cheating a little, as this is not one painting but is about a larger campaign. But, the importance of the contemporary paintings in this series should be made very clear.

I am Karachi is a campaign that was started by a group of concerned Karachiites who wanted to reclaim public spaces from hate.

This was because Karachi has been a city affected by political instability and violence, which its very walls have wore.

Messages of hate, as well as evidence of violence, were part and parcel of the Karachi experience.

These Karachiites thought enough was enough, and decided to start reclaiming public spaces.

One way in which they have done so is through the Walls of Peace campaign, using amazing art.

Part of the campaign’s goal was to replace hateful messages with “images of peace and love”.

The other part has been about showing that there is a desire from people and organisations to reject hate in Karachi.

This very noble project has helped to transform Karachi into a public display of beauty that showcases the diversity and heritage of the city. At least 3000 walls have been painted.

City Lights – Syed Ammad Tahir

5 Contemporary Paintings of Karachi

This particular painting is a beautiful dreamscape. Being inspired by truck art, it uses an array of bright blocks to simulate skyscrapers and street lights.

The sky itself is tinged with red, showing how bright the lights make the night shine.

The name of the painting itself is a double entendre. The term “city of lights” is to used to reference Karachi, particularly its original vivid nightlife of the 60s and 70s.

It is also used here to refer to a hopeful and inspiring mindset about the city in the past, of a time before the rule of Zia-ul-Haq.

He is someone with a deeply polarising legacy, and this cuts into the work of Syed Ammad Tahir.

The painting was affected by the changing of Karachi, in a time and space of great chaos and violence.

Tahir’s work is a deep escapist fantasy, yearning for an image of Karachi he believes does not exist at the present moment.

That being said, he told The Express Tribune that his artworks show Karachi as a “rainbow city – defined by ethnic diversity, not by ethnic cleansing.”

Syed Ammad Tahir’s contemporary paintings of Karachi focus on narratives of violence, gender, and sexuality in Pakistan.

Apart from paintings, his art forms are drawing and performance.

Shining – Fiza Khatri

5 Contemporary Paintings of Karachi

This painting is of Fiza, standing in a barbershop, with a phone pointing toward the mirror.

It is an intricately painted scene, with such attention to detail that you can see at least three to four reflections painted.

The composition is layered in a way that could only rival Edward Hopper, with boxed-off sections.

The foreground, just before the mirror, shows us a stacked shelf, with indistinct products, amongst some other items.

However, our eyes are first drawn to the middle ground, which introduces us to three people. Fiza herself, the barber and two patrons sitting. Beyond that are the reflections in the background.

In each layer, there are little details that help bring the barbershop to life.

One such detail is how, the further we go into the background, the more abstract the faces become.

Some key themes this painting centres around is the artist’s experience with her queerness and femininity. This is most apparent in how the artist is getting involved in a traditionally male space.

The everyday snapshot of their experiences in Karachi really shows what it is like to navigate her world outside of accepted norms.

This painting is just one among many, in a body of work entitled “Sailoon and Other Stories”. This was on display at Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai. and can be viewed online.

Cityscape – Ather Jamal

5 Contemporary Paintings of Karachi

Ather Jamal is a painter who primarily works with watercolours.

He tends to create these gorgeous cityscape paintings of Karachi. Many of his works are painted on the spot at the locations he scouts.

This particular contemporary painting showcases the hustle and bustle of Karachi’s Saddar Bazar.

Saddar Bazar is one of the most well-known markets in Karachi. It was established during British rule in the late 19th Century.

Painted with a wide range of colours, the composition blocks the scene into multiple sections with straight lines of the building frame.

His paintings of Karachi show a deep interest in people. Here, it shows passersby in day-to-day life, as well as vendors and merchants.

This specific scene mixes details and abstract strokes to create the impression of a city soaked in life. There is a tinge of nostalgia as we are shown elements of old Karachi in the new.

This is reflected by the way that the closer to the middle, the more details you can make out, whilst the outer edges feel as if a fuzzy memory.

His work is displayed at the Clifton Art Gallery in Karachi.

Nadira – Haider Ali

5 Contemporary Paintings of Karachi

In our modern age, the traditional canvas is not the only place that people can paint on and express their ideas.

We see different places where paintings are displayed, from pottery to building walls and numerous other places. The possibilities are endless.

Thus, we see the work of Haider Ali. He is a Karachi-born and raised artist who has breathed new life into a very beautiful art style, with his car painting ‘Nadira’.

Nadira means the “one who is rare” and is a painted Toyota Prius.

The car is meant to represent a connection between Pakistan and the US, especially incorporating elements of Florida in its murals.

What is even more impressive about this work of art is that every inch of paint on this car was hand painted without any prior sketches.

These glamorous scenes of landscapes, floral patterns and calligraphy are complimented with beautiful bright primary colours.

Truck art, known as phool patti (“flowers and leaves”) in Pakistan, is a folk art style. It gives life to every object imaginable.

Whilst it is most known for being painted on trucks, it is painted on all types of transportation and has been printed onto smaller, everyday objects.

Whilst it is not exclusive to Karachi and is seen all over South Asia, Karachi has a very big truck art scene.

Haider Ali is active on social media as Truck Artist, and founded the organisation Phool Patti, to promote the art form and its Pakistani artists.

His work has been exhibited internationally and is still active.

Through all five paintings, it is clear that Karachi’s contemporary painting scene is diverse in themes and style. There are abstract and more intricate styles.

Contemporary painting in Karachi also doesn’t conform to solely using traditional canvases, as vehicles and walls become adorned with art.

There are also paintings of Karachi that seek to depict business and everyday scenes. We see wonderful artists who wish to show Karachi in a hopeful and positive way.

As well as artists depicting difficult themes such as violence and hatred, as well as issues such as navigating queerness in Karachi.

Overall, Karachi’s contemporary painting scene is clearly thriving and abundant.

Murthaza is a Media and Communications graduate and aspiring journalist. His include politics, photography and reading. His life motto is "Stay curious and seek knowledge wherever it leads."

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