AR Nagori: The Unreasonable Man (1939-2011)
Himal pays tribute to AR Nagori, an exceptional artist and a remarkable commentator of our times.
One of AR Nagori’s favourite quotes was Bernard Shaw’s ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself, therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’
Pioneer of ‘socio-political art’, an artist of the people, Abdur Rahim Nagori, passed away on January 14 in Karachi aged 72 after a long and valiant battle with cancer. Defiant, vibrant and forceful, Nagori was not one to pull his punches. In a speech in 1996, Nagori said, ‘Some artists are interested in solving the problems of style and techniques, while others use style and technique to express their social and political views and in the process undertake ‘artistic responsibility’. For [the latter], art does not exist merely to entertain and gratify the senses only. It plays a role in the improvement of our collective existence. They argue that as long as there are socio-political wrongs to be righted and as long as an unjust and ugly condition requires change, art must participate through visual education and [lead] people to awareness for a better society. Dictatorship enhances [this] urge’
Nagori was no stranger to bans and censorship. His exhibition in 1982, depicting anti-militarism was banned by the Zia regime. Indeed, Nagori’s 1986 ‘A-Z series’ of life under the jackboot, at Indus Gallery went on to become a landmark in the history of art with a social conscience.
Nagori’s early drawings, at the age of eight, depicted a soft skin graceful gazelle resting under a gulmohar tree.Born in Junagarh, Nagori spent his formative years at the foot-hills of the Firnar, surrounded by saints and wild animals. The words fear, danger and insecurity, which were to engulf him in later years, were unknown to him then. Nature, decorative elements and bright colours dominated the design and composition of Nagori’s early works, largely supported by Clive Bell’s theory of ‘Significant Form’. In the early 1980s, Nagori’s work underwent a change, and he began to depict the mental agony and tribulations of the period under General Zia ul Huq.
Nagori, who called his paintings, ‘nothing but expressions and aspirations of the oppressed majority around me, [and] reflections of a society needing social change’, endeavoured to free both humanity and art from oppression. Contemporary events moved him deeply. The Lal Masjid events of 2007 inspired a series of striking works, despite his failing health.
Himal was privileged to have known AR Nagori, who was introduced to us through a common friend and colleague Isa Daudpota (see Isa’s slide show of three pictures of Nagori here)*. We pay tribute to a bold artist and an extraordinary human being, who was beyond artistic ego or pursuit of lucre. In one of his first communications to the editors of Himal, Nagori made his exceptional stand very clear, ‘There are no copyright issues and you have the permission to print any of my work in your publication. Furthermore, please take this as my contribution in support of your magazine and there is no need for any payments to be made.’
The pictures in this post are a selection of some of his work published in the pages of Himal, the most striking of which remains ‘Hanuman Rescuing Babri Masjid’ (2003), a fierce comment on communal conflagrations that remains as relevant today. Click on the pictures to go to the articles.
*Isa Daudpota on his three photos of Nagori: ‘The hand with the cacti is Nagori’s. I took it on the Khi-Hyd highway. My photo with him was taken at Aijaz Qureshi’s house. This was a farewell party for me. In 1985 I decided to leave Sindh University for greener pastures. When in the US, I sent him a photocopied kiddies’ book of English Alphabets with each letter made up of wee piggies holding on to each other – delightful cartoon drawings. I was amused to learn that he held an exhibition based on these with the pigs wearing military uniform! Every piece was sold.’