Pakistan Art Forum started out as a Facebook group in 2015, and is now 37,000 members strong, with a successful Collectors’ Soiree held every year. We review this year’s event and speak to founder Imtisal Zafar.
What you lose in the transition from real life experience to a virtual one is impact. You don’t feel that instant stop-in-your-tracks lightning bolt of appreciation. You don’t feel the need to draw yourself closer to see an artwork’s detail, or draw your head back to fully take in larger-than-life proportions. Everything is flat, everything is uniformly scaled, everything is, aside from colour and composition, essentially the same.
What you lose in the transition from real life experience to a virtual one is impact
You also don’t see how art interacts with its surroundings. One work comes vividly alive when placed in front of another. There is, as lame as it sounds, a conversation. And when you walk into the annual Pakistan Art Forum Collectors’ Soiree you walk into secret whispers and the buzz of art-appreciators milling about examining and appreciating. That coveted red dot, meaning an artwork has been sold, is conspicuously present in almost all the artworks. And I say that without exaggeration – the absence of the red dot is more remarkable than vice versa.
That coveted red dot, meaning an artwork has been sold, is conspicuously present in almost all the artworks
Your first impression is that of Mohsin Shaikh’s five-foot (in diameter) ‘Blue Sea Board’ which is actually oil on canvas but feels like it is a view from a submarine window fused with what a chalkboard would look like at some rowdy but creative classroom, absent of teacher supervision (there are, of course, expletives). You turn left and walk out to a terrace-turned-open-air-art-gallery with Irfan Abdullah’s almost-seven-foot-tall sculpture-version of Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’. It is the physical manifestation of our collective pandemic-related anxeity and dread, and while it is unforgettable, it also makes sense that the sculpture of a far more placid man (by the same artist) was the one that got sold.
Irfan Abdullah’s almost-seven-foot-tall sculpture is the physical manifestation of our current collective dread
It is immediately apparent that this display has a purpose, and that is to sell. You are not (just) here to idly view and appreciate the beauty of art. Imtisal Zafar, the economics-graduate with a passion for art who founded Pakistan Art Forum, told Libas Now that this annual Soiree is specifically targeted to collectors and the ‘business of art’. Ahmer Farooq’s pleasantly colourful and non-offensive ‘Discreet Passion’ series of three large works are all sold out. Syed Faraz Ali’s Orwellian ‘Follow the Leader’ is probably my favourite from this area, highlighting how easily we are brainwashed into silence.
Syed Faraz Ali’s Orwellian ‘Follow the Leader’ is probably my favourite from this area
Walking back into the indoor part, you stop to take in Saqiba Suleman’s fun, psychedelic ‘Silver Lining’ with cheerful bursts of neon green, the hot colour of the season. Walking further in to another gallery-like area, we meet artist Javaid Iqbal Mughal, who also works with neon colours because of his background as a cinema board poster. He explains that his work is about male hierarchies: the constant tussle to impose one’s will on another in male-male dynamics, be they in siblings, or father-son, etc. Hearing an artist explain his work always adds an extra dimension to the experience.
Next to Mughal’s work is a witty portrayal of Muhammad Ali Jinnah enjoying a strawberry shake in ‘Cerulean Sundays’ by artist Muhammad Ali. Walking further away, you see Uruguayan painter Eloy Pereira’s ‘Selfie’ – which is actually a print because the original work could not make it to Pakistan thanks to the logistical chaos that COVID-19 has brought on our heads.
We meet Imtisal again, and he tells us there are more works up on the roof – upon entering the second open-air art gallery-esque cube, you view Usman Hussain’s sculpture made of rings of metal, one figure tossing the other in the air. The sun is setting by now, and its light streams through the rings of the sculpture, beautifully illuminating the dull copper colour. It is a memorable moment.
There are more works (and arrangements of the works) than one can single out but this is just to give you a taste of the well-thought-out Soiree designed to help you view art in practical terms. We speak to Imtisal Zafar in more detail – read the interview below!
Please briefly introduce yourself.
Imtisal Zafar: I am a LUMS graduate with a degree in economics and with my main line of work being event management and PR. I also teach at LUMS from time to time. I am also an art collector and art is one of the passions of my life.
“Art is one of the passions of my life”
How did you come up with the idea of Pakistan Art Forum (PAF)?
IZ: PAF was born in 2014 solely for the love of art. I had started collecting some time before that and thought one day wouldn’t it be amazing to have a digital platform where everyone could share their love of art in Pakistan. And thus PAF was born. The platform quickly became a very important feature of the art world, supporting young and veteran artists alike and bringing their art to the entire country and over the years artists and collectors’ alike have immensely benefitted form it.
“PAF was born in 2014 solely for the love of art”
You’ve been hosting the annual collectors’ soiree for three years now. What are the trends in the local art market that you’ve seen over these years?
IZ: In terms of art, the most popular form of art till date remains figurative art. Figures of women are always something that many collectors are attracted to. Miniatures are another popular area of interest. There’s also a high demand of sculptures amongst collectors, with good sculptors being only a handful. Non-figurative work is generally less in demand.
“The most popular form of art till date remains figurative art”
How do you choose artwork for the collectors’ soiree?
IZ: A lot of the artists chosen for the annual event are artists that I feel will be popular with my collector base. The soiree distinguishes itself from other art shows for being specifically (but not only) targeted to collectors and the ‘business of art’. We try to curate a list with various genres of art so the end collection is diverse and there is something for everybody. Over the years we have also included international artists that we feel would be popular in the local market and each time they’ve been a huge success!
“The soiree distinguishes itself from other art shows for being specifically (but not only) targeted to collectors and the ‘business of art’”
Do you turn down art that you personally love but know that it will not sell?
IZ: Yes, sometimes that happens. That holds especially true for nudes. People have a very limited appetite for artistic nudes in Pakistan. Other times I turn down art because it is not up to the standard of the work being produced by other artists for the event. The soiree very strictly abides by a certain level of art that we display. And that is something that we are becoming known for and was evident by all the red dots you would have seen at the show!
“The soiree very strictly abides by a certain level of art that we display”
- What will you do differently for the fourth soiree?
IZ: Without revealing too much, we are in talks about having a bigger, more central venue for the next event so that it is more accessible to a wider audience. The show will also be on for a longer period of time so more people can enjoy the amazing works on display.
You’re planning to take the Forum global with the website. Do you foresee international interest in new Pakistani artists?
IZ: Yes, absolutely. Pakistani artists are extremely talented and very economically priced as compared to artists outside the country. That’s what makes them appealing to a global audience. But more so, one of the goals of the website will be to attract the Pakistani diaspora who are looking to acquire local art for their homes abroad.
“One of the goals of the website will be to attract the Pakistani diaspora who are looking to acquire local art for their homes abroad”
Who are your personal favourite contemporary Pakistan artists?
IZ: So many! But here are a few – Scheherezade Junejo, Ahmer Farooq, Fawad Jafri, Adeel Uz Zafar, Irfan Hasan, Jibran Shahid, Noman Siddiqui, Madiha Hyder and many more.
Any advice for new collectors?
IZ: Start small but start somewhere and invest into an art collection. Thesis shows are a good place to start. Art tastes evolve over time and what you like now you may not like later but this is the beauty of building a collection, it is a journey of your own evolution of taste in art.
“Start small but start somewhere”
What have been the biggest surprises while holding these soirees in terms of what artworks people have responded to or not responded to?
IZ: There are some surprises every year. Sometimes an artwork I’m certain will not sell flies off the walls immediately. Other times I am sure a particular artwork will sell but does not. I am happy though that the PAF Collectors’ Soiree, apart from adding to people’s collections and being one of the most sought-after annual art events, is giving people a chance to see and absorb beautiful art that is being created in our country. There were several first-time collectors at the show this time and it was amazing to see them getting lost in the whole collection on display.
“There were several first-time collectors at the show this time and it was amazing to see them getting lost in the whole collection on display”