Iftikhar Dadi


On his book Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia

Cover Interview of March 25, 2012

A close-up

Chapter 3 is devoted to the celebrated artist Sadequain (1930–1987) who introduced calligraphic motifs in his modernist paintings and drawings. Sadequain’s residence in Paris during the 1960s is of fundamental importance for the development of his calligraphic concerns.  By the early 1960s, Sadequain’s works foregrounded the artist-and-model genre, which Picasso had earlier explored in the 1930s in his Vollard Suite, and which investigates the reflexive question incessantly asked by the modern artist: What to paint and how?  This question is immeasurably more difficult for an artist from the periphery to answer, were Sadequain to depend only upon the conception of modern art as a European formation.  This leads him back to calligraphy and Urdu poetry.

By the late 1960s, Sadequain’s work relays classical, poetic, and textual notions of subjectivity available to Urdu poetry, into the visual, especially in poet Muhammad Iqbal’s Sufi, Nietzschean, and Bergsonian ideas of dynamism and heroic subjectivity.  In this process, Sadequain reformulates classical calligraphy as a viable visual “tradition” open to the modern, a maneuver that parallels the rise of calligraphic modernism by other artists in West Asia and North Africa.

Sadequain is also distinctive for continually seeking a broader audience for his works. His zeal in executing large public murals, his roadside displays of art, and his successful popularization of calligraphic paintings created new relationships between the artist and an expanded public.  The chapter also examines these new relationships that emerged during the course of his career.