Jamil Naqsh's new series of images reaffirms his reputation as a master draughtsman, with a sidelong glance at established Western traditions to which he both does and doesn't belong.
What he now offers are close-up portraits of beautiful young women, of a type familiar from the romantic dream world of classic Mughal miniature painting, but enlarged to life- size, or maybe a little beyond that and presented in warm sepia monochrome. The immediate impression one gets is that these are works on paper, subtly aged. It suggests a relationship with the drawings that have come down to us from the great masters of the Italian Renaissance - precarious survivors whose presence before us both emphasizes and denies their air of fragility. Yet this is an illusion. These are in fact works made in oil on canvas - triumphant examples of trompe l'oeil. By deceiving us, Naqsh emphasises both the essential contemporaneity of the work, and - simultaneously - its organic connection with the great art of the past.
The subject matter of the series is deliberately restricted. Beautiful, isolated human creatures are seen accompanied by pigeons, which are traditional signifiers of love in the culture Naqsh comes from. This romantic love, however, is of a particular kind, whose expression is prompted by separation from, not union with, the love object. Sentiments of this sort are also pervasive in ghazal poetry, a literary form that has flourished in Urdu, just as also, somewhat previously, in Persian. Pigeons are messengers, flying free, able to speak vicariously for those forever locked in solitary confinement.
In fact, it is not too much to say that these new images are offered as icons for meditation about the essential solitariness of the human condition. In two of the images, the pigeons appear alone, without a human companion. Here, one may imagine, the spectator herself or himself becomes the prisoner of love, confined within the limits of the composition.
Taken as a whole, the series offers a touching footnote to the culture from which the painter comes, but which he has now left behind, to live in near isolation within the boundaries of a very different cultural situation.
Yet, at the same time, the paintings speak eloquently of the romantic feelings held in common by individuals in multiple cultures throughout the globe. They say, among other things, that art continues to triumph over language. A ghazal has to be translated, these do not. It's not hard to get the message the pigeons bring.
- Edward Lucie-Smith
Art Historian, Author and Critic