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R&D Blog - Ikon Gallery Visit to Lahore

In April 2019, Ikon’s Artistic Director, Jonathan Watkins, and Head of Learning, Linzi Stauvers undertook a R&D trip to Lahore as part of Transforming Narratives connecting Birmingham to cities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The purpose of the trip was to meet artists and curators in their gallery, studio and art school settings.


Having witnessed a workers’ rights demonstration on the historic mall of Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, we met one of the organisers of the Aurat March 2019 (to mark International Women’s Day) and the Lahore Literature Festival (currently in its 7th year) in providing ‘a safe place for sharing dangerous ideas’.

A meeting was set up with Qudsia Rahim, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Lahore Biennale Foundation, and Hoor Al Qasimi, President, Sharjah Art Foundation and Curator, Lahore Biennale 2020. At the O Art Space, we met exhibiting artist Muhammad Zeeshan who talked through his work, its relationship to miniature painting, and curating the Karachi Biennale 2019.

The following day we visited the miniature department (headed by artist Imran Qureshi) at the National College of Arts. Laila Rahman, Artist and Associate Professor, introduced us to Quddus Mirza, Head of Fine Arts, and Vice Chancellor, Prof Murtaza Jafri who told us about the foundation of the school, as part of the Arts and Crafts movement, by the British art teacher and illustrator John Lockwood Kipling. Artist and Lecturer Fatima Saeed led a tour of an exhibition of portraits of Quaid-e-Azam by her father Prof. Saeed Aktar.

A trip to the Museum of Lahore, located next to the College, offered an encounter with the statue Queen Victoria (relocated from the park to the museum after the Partition). The encased history of the public museum contrasted with the contemporary spaces of the private COMO Museum, founded by Seher Tareen, which opened in February this year with the exhibition One, comprising work by contemporary artists Risham Syed, Rashid Rana, Ali Kazim, Salman Toor, Saba Khan, and Naiza Khan.

We met several artists at Wusaaq House, owned by collector Faaria Salahuddin. The following morning, Jonathan gave a lecture to fine art students at the Beaconhouse National University (BNU), School of Visual Art and Design (where the Dean is Prof. Rashid Rana). Finally a visit to the studio of artist Waqas Khan who talked through his new work, the influence of miniature painting, meditation and Sufism, following his exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery as part of New North and South  2017-18.











We were struck by the closeness of Lahore to Birmingham in terms of its public art and architecture connected to the Arts and Crafts movement. A new critical and activist space is opening between the Lahore Biennale and Lahore Literature Festival which, peripatetic and public, presents the opportunity for collaboration and dialogue with Birmingham partners. The tradition of miniature painting is still strong, however, there are some interesting sculptural and installation practices. The languages and philosophies practiced by the Lahore-based artists – including Pashto and Sufi poetics – connect to the work of Ikon’s recent exhibiting artists Osman Yousefzada and Haroon Mirza. 


We are continuing a dialogue with the Lahore Biennale and National College of Arts towards the development of Ikon’s exhibition and events in 2020. 

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