Sixth Annual IAAC 2009 Erasing Borders Exhibition of Contemporary
Indian Art of the Diaspora

Mumtaz Hussain

Mumtaz Hussain

Mumtaz Hussain's recent paintings continue the artist's engagement with language and history. The relationship of hieroglyphs and ancient scultpture in his recent series The Soul of Civilization contrasts with the calligraphic Modern Mystic series that invoked the Islamic tradition of poetry as visual expression; the new paintings are an attempt to make direct pictorial statements. The esoteric has given way to a universal communication. Ironically, Hussain has had to reach for one of the earliest civilizations, that of the Indus Valley, for inspiration to make paintings that are both contemporary and immediate.
Fusion is the best way to describe Hussain's work, which includes elements from his native country of Pakistan, as well as his current life in New York. His work blends European and American influences, and seeks to reflect its own new culture which struggles with and at the same time exalts visually rich and beautiful ancient art. Springing from his own South Asian heritage, Hussain's work spans centuries of evolution, from ancient archaeology to traditional South Asian calligraphy to modern mixed media. It straddles the cultural divide that separates the East from the West by drawing inspiration from artistic traditions of his homeland as well as Cubism and Impressionism in particular and a synthesis of European and American modernism in general.
Born and educated in Jhang, the center of Sufi culture in Pakistan, and immersed in Sufi culture during his childhood, Hussain's early artistic education was inspired by the medieval Indian figurative artistic tradition. In 1981, Hussain accepted admission into the prestigious National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, Pakistan's premier art school, which has produced the contemporary vanguard of Pakistani art. Among other accolades, Hussain won the National Poster Competition, a coveted and highly selective award. Upon graduation, Hussain was commissioned to construct a seventy-foot mural in Lahore's town center and to decorate the Sheikh Zaid bin Sultan Palace, an architectural landmark in Karachi.
In 1987, Hussain left for London to study illustration at the Media Arts Center. In 1988, he left for New York to pursue graphic design at the School of Visual Art where his teachers included Milton Glazer, the world renown graphic designer and illustrator. Additionally, Hussain studied figure drawing and painting at the Art Students League of New York. It is in Europe and America that he has been further inspired by Cubism and Impressionism.
Hussain came to New York City because it welcomes cultural expression from a wide range of artistic traditions and cultures. For him, this environment symbolizes the essential -- and potential -- unity of all humankind.
Mentors and friends in the New York artistic community have honored Hussain and encouraged him in his quest to express unity in his artistic works -- unity that derives from the fusion of multiple customs and sources of inspiration, from East and West, venerable and modern, painting and sculpture.
In addition to his devotion to the fine arts, Hussain has served as Art Director for Simon & Schuster, one of the leading U.S. publishing houses. He has also worked as a graphic designer or art director on accounts including Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Hussain continues to paint prolifically, and his artworks have been feature regularly at the LRBT art auction in New York, consistently fetching the highest bids.

Strangely, even as a canvas artist, I have never thought 'stills'. I could never capture a moment as an immovable element in time, without an evolving context. I have always believed that whatever my work, it stemmed from the moving image. Whether it is an attempt at expressing my artistic world view through calligraphy or another visual, it has always been motivated by a stream of images, of which one 'stills' the essence of the expressive moment as I reproduce it on canvas.

Essentially, the graduation from painting to film has just been a logical and progressive extension of my work. I think I matured into film, just as a walk matures into the ability to run. My training as an artist has served my endeavor as a filmmaker immensely - it has offered me the scope to unravel the various elements of a single frame into the many that comprise it. The captured moment, so to speak, on canvas, now finds a moving context as well as real progression in film; just the opposite of what I did on canvas. I, now, 'unfreeze' the moment and allow it to breathe as a moving image. That is why symbolism remains an intrinsic and sub-textual motif in my film work.


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