Pakistan has become a central pivot in contemporary global politics: but what does Western world know of its culture? In recent decades, Pakistan has seen a revival and radical reinvention of miniature painting, a traditional artform which had originally flourished under the patronage of the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth century and which had declined under the colonial influence of the British. Miniature painting has become the major movement in Pakistani contemporary art, and international exhibitions have been enthusiastically received by the global art community.
In this first detailed examination of the phenomenon of contemporary miniature painting in Pakistan, Virginia Whiles reveals how artists engage with and respond to underlying political, historical and cultural tensions. In contrast to India, where the miniature tradition is preserved only through its tourist industry of reproduction, miniature painting in Pakistan has broken free of its traditional cast and has become a medium for its artists to challenge the world around them. Although the paintings are rendered with ornate traditional technique, in content they provide a subtle, satirical treatment of serious issues: from religious and political fundamentalism to "McDonalization", from violence against women to nuclear warfare, from the pressure of Purdah to the machismo of lollywood film posters.
Art and Polemic in Pakistan provides a fascinating insight into Pakistani responses to national and international issues through the medium of miniature painting, and over sixty paintings from artists based at the national College of Art in Lahore - the institute at the heart of the contemporary movement - are reproduced here in full colour. Whiles therefore sheds new light upon the links between art and culture politics, and between indigenous and global aesthetics, presenting an artform which challenges common Western assumptions about Asian art.
"This book tells a compelling story of the spectacular and somewhat unlikely revival of the magnificent medieval Mughal miniature painting genre in contemporary Pakistan and it subsequent success in the global art world. It deftly circumvents the prevailing stereotypes of upheaval, violence and fundamentalism in past 9/11 Pakistan with an alternative story of aesthetic ferment waged through satire, irony, subversion, criticism and the presumed orthodoxy of tradition. The book is extremely well-placed to help us rethink easy assumptions about this troubled recent history of Pakistan through the prism of the recent revival of miniature painting."
-Stephen Hughes, Director, MA Anthropology of Media, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Oriental African Studies, University of London.
"[This book] has originality and insight and throws fresh light on an important aspect of the art world. By letting the categories of artistic production, nationalist identity and subterfuge speak to, inform, and challenge one another, Virginia Whiles has created a rich text which gives both historical depth and contemporary significance on questions of art, commodification and identity."
-Parvathi Raman, Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.