Shakir Ali Museum: A Home Built And A Life Lived
A guided tour of Shakir Ali Museum:
Lahore has always been like a second home to me, thanks to all my relatives here. On one of our visits, my father took me to the house of an artist which had been converted into a gallery. I still remember one of the fun facts that he told me; the façade of the house had been constructed using burnt and rejected bricks. Also to note is that the artist had hand in designing the house who’s marvel would forever be etched in my brain. The memories of my childhood recall a naturally well-lit room filled framed artworks. At an age where all I knew that art was something special, I knew that day that I had witnessed something extraordinary.
I knew that it was somewhere in Tipu Block, Garden Town and after a little inquiry I learned that the gallery is, in fact, a museum commemorating the artist Shakir Ali. A locally made graphic novel, Sparrow at Heart, describes him as “A prominent figure in Pakistan’s art history who played a vital role in nurturing a generation of artists that went ahead to lay the foundation for art in Pakistan”.
Shakir Ali Museum: Revisiting the Past
Recently, after moving to Lahore, I felt an urge to revisit. Filled with grand memories I talked my husband, also an artist, into going. I was quite assured to have a great time. The museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm and we went in the afternoon. Google maps guided us and we arrived at the burnt brick house from my memories. If that wasn’t enough the board propped up against the gate read Shakir Ali Museum. With a spring in my step, I walked to the gate as a guard approached us from the neighboring building of the National Arts Council. He took our ID cards before letting us through and alerts the staff to send an attendant. As we finally made our way into the actual premises of Shakir Ali Museum, it looked the same but felt completely different; deserted. The building seemed so empty that it felt like even supernatural spirits would want to abandon it.
Clinging to hope we moved forward and made our way in. The guestbook at the entrance gave the impression that there is still some activity present in the place. Opposite the guest book is a timeline of Shakir Ali’s life and a glass case displaying his degrees and awards. Photographs line the entrance hall and right opposite the door is a life-size portrait of the artist by none other than Saeed Akhtar.
As we moved forward the light started to diminish as there was only natural light. When the museum caretaker arrived he did turn on some of the lights but they failed in eliminating the dark and dingy effect. The connected lounge and dining area have 7 artworks on display. One of them is yet another portrait of Shakir Ali, three of them are prints by Saeed Akhtar and other artists and the last three are enormous works of art that seem part of a series. These three, the only untitled items then had to be Shakir Ali’s art. A moment of confusion turned into a moment of disappointment. His display is the shabbiest in his own museum at his own house; covered with a plastic sheet turning yellower by the day and partly torn, made the light bounce off with such severity that viewing the work was impossible. What made up for this horrifying experience was the original furniture of Shakir Ali Museum (Shakir Ali’s own expertise). If you cannot enjoy the artwork at least you can appreciate the fine dining table and chairs while you try to block out the broken plastic chairs thrown into the mix and not to mention the fridge in the corner with the unwashed cups of tea on the top.
Next up is one of the bedrooms, outside of which the photography of Shakir Ali’s life continues. There is a bust of the artist too, with his glasses broken, an overshadow of what is to come ahead. The room is full of memorabilia from the life and times of Shakir Ali, including personal objects from his home. It would provide further insight into his life if not his art, except it is also used as a storage room. Beds were laid out and the works of other artists were stacked around.
Moving away from the other hallways full of photographs and a random shelf of local music and literature we headed down a staircase. The basement inside The Shakir Ali Museum has been set up as a gallery, which would explain all the extra artwork stashed around the house. The last exhibition display had not been fully taken off yet. A feature most understandable, as it would be an encouragement for artists and audiences alike to visit.
The best part of the tour came at the end. Finally, Shakir Ali’s work respectfully displayed in a naturally well – lit room, like the one from my memory. As earlier, there’s a lack of titles and description and extra canvases stacked on the side, all this, however, can be ignored in the presence of his work. The final destination was a room/landing upstairs. At the start of this gallery, a metal spiral staircase transports you to this other world. You first see Shakir Ali’s work and then you see where it is made. His studio; untouched for years, the dust settled in thick layers, has paused in time. His books still on the shelf waiting to be read and tools left out to be used. This really felt like a part of a museum, except for the blanket of dust and severe lack of light of course.
I hope more people visit and the museum is encouraged to operate at its full potential.