Monday, September 24, 2007
"Karachi's Anarchy Leads Me to Question Things” - Interview with Amin Gulgee
Pakistan’s most celebrated sculptor talks to Pakistan Paindabad.
[Interview and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Amin Gulgee is a Karachi-based sculptor. He has exhibited extensively in the USA, Europe and the Middle East. He talked to Pakistan Paindabad during his exhibition in Delhi. Click here to reach his website.
Is this your first time in Delhi?
No. I was here twenty years ago. It was a touristy trip and I traveled in trains with my American friends to all the tourist traps like Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. It was fun. The monuments especially blew us away. Delhi has imperial grandeur. This city has been important since ages and it knows it.
How is the Indian capital treating you?
I haven’t got much time to explore. It’s from hotel to the gallery and back. But it is so Punjabi. So much like Lahore. Last night we did Bhangra. You know I have done all these things. It is so much like Pakistan.
How is the art world in Pakistan?
Much better than what it was in my father's time. Now good artists do not starve. The scene is really bullish now.
Those who have never been to Pakistan feel that the country with all its problems can be suffocating for its artists. Is that true?
Not really. But there are challenges. For instance, Islamic calligraphic, one of my interests, is not fashionable here.
What role has Pakistan played in your artistic life?
We are essentially river people. Remember our civilization took place by the Indus. We are old and young - 5000 years old as well as 60 years young. We are culturally so rich. The pots in the villages are still made as they were in Moenjodaro thousands of years ago.
Lets get personal. Lets start with your work schedule?
I’m an old dog. I'm working since 16 years. In Karachi, I wake up and settle down to work by 10 am. I don't take shower.
Please understand I'm a sculptor and metal work is not clean. So there is no point in taking a shower.
You don’t have it at all?
Well, I bathe every evening. After the work is over.
You live in Karachi, the New York City of Pakistan.
I grew up in KDA (Karachi Development Authority). It is as pricey, uppity, and snobbish as the Defense. Later we shifted to Clifton. Now that is a different place. It too is expensive but not class-conscious. It is like a downtown and people from all walks of life gather at the beach there.
Your father Ismail Gulgee is a well-known artist.
My father is from Peshawar. He is a most incredible colorist I’ve ever seen. He is like a child when he works. He taught in Aligarh before the partition. My mother was born in Bombay. That's her home town. She went to Elphinstone College there. They met in Dhaka. Now we live in Karachi. My father is 82 and my mother? Uhmmm well, she hates me to say her age. Let’s say she is younger than me.
So you live with parents?
No. I can't live with anyone. Not even with my parents. They too can't live with me (laughs). But they live next door. Few years ago we shifted to Islamabad following disturbances in Karachi. But we could stay only for a month. My mother is a big city girl and Islamabad is just not the place.
You talk about “disturbances in Karachi”. Is the city livable?
I live in Karachi (!) It is a city of immigrants and is fantastic. We all have different languages and everyone there learns Urdu as a second language. Karachi is a great city. It was built on the blood of partition and is still defining itself. I love its energy.
Which city is classier - Karachi or Lahore?
There is no comparison. Lahore has old monuments. In Karachi, the only antique things are its British monuments. In fact, we encourage every friend from abroad landing in Karachi to visit Lahore. The real beauty is there. But I can't survive without Karachi. I need its energy. Lahore, all said and done, is just another Punjabi city.
How does the city help you in your artistic pursuits?
I love questioning things and Karachi with its turmoil, anarchy, and animalistic instincts leads to exactly that. You see comfortable people ends up fat and lazy. That can be dangerous for artists who need to be jolted out from their stupor time and again.
What Pakistani artists have been your inspirations?
My father, of course. Then there is Sadeqain. He is dead now. Allah Baksh, Shakir Ali, and Ahmed Pervez have also been influential.
One of your sculptures, titled Wall, with several heads stuck together reminded me of the massacres of the Indian partition. Was that the idea?
No. You should have looked carefully. Those heads resemble my face. You see I indulge myself sometimes. It was personal.
Do you think artists still need to draw their inspiration from what happened 60 years ago?
Do you mean partition? It was an important part of my country’s history. We have to recognize and deal with it. And once done, we ought to move on.