Poor Translations
Poor Translations

The art of miniature painting has had a transformative journey through its history in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. From a renewed style of Mughal Miniature during the Mughal Empire (1526- 1707), to a realistic adaptation of Company paintings (1790-1840) during the British Raj, and from a contemporary revival of the medium to that of neo-miniature, each stage has found a change. The change has been enormous, witnessed not only in the visuals and stylization of the work but also a shift from the orthodox miniature painter, the concept and the purpose behind the work. Initially produced by an entire karkhana of artists to illuminate manuscripts, the art form has evolved today as a tool for contemporary artists to address critical and conceptual ideas. ‘Poor Translations’, a two-person group show held at Chawkandi gallery, displayed the works of artists that experimented with ideas of traditional Miniature within a contemporary framework.

Hammad Gillani is one such artist, whose ideas and practices continue to transform the art of miniature today. Gillani, an artist from Orakazi Agency, FATA, is well versed in a multidiscipline practice that includes Abstract Expressionism and Hyper-Realism, which eventually evolved and inspired his contemporary miniature artworks today. In fact, his work, at first glance, appear as random strokes, scribbled with graphite across wasli paper, and it is only through closer inspection that his works’ true essence comes forth. Each stroke is actually carefully rendered in watercolor, through the practice of pardakht, which is part of the miniature art form. His work amalgamates the supposed appearance of abstraction with the extreme detail of hyper-realism.

(Fig. 2) Poor Translation 2021. Gouache on wasli paper, 28 x 36 cm

Through this series we observe a shift in the execution, Gillani’s work evolves from carefully invested strokes to painted imitations of hasty gesture drawings. These drawings are visually similar to initial drawings and sketches that take place before the final artwork is produced, thus lending the impression of jotting down the thought process that goes into making artwork. For Gillani though, they become the end product, but one that is finely executed. What appears to be preliminary sketches, framed and displayed, are in reality very detailed renderings utilizing the conventional strokes of miniature.

(Fig. 3) Poor Translation 2021. Gouache on wasli paper, 68 x 98 cm

Gillani’s work becomes a deconstruction of visuals and the processes that go into it. The artist begins each piece by first creating these sketches roughly on a smaller scale. They are usually influenced by his surroundings, his emotions and observations of the current situation. He then adopts these primary drawings onto a larger scale where the final piece is then constructed in watercolour. In a way, the artist’s practice is cyclical in that his initial drawings are imitated in his final work.

(Fig. 4) Poor Translation 2021. Gouache on paper, 71.5 x 119 cm

Gillani introduces the element of text through these series of paintings. The text, as the artist explains, does not act as text usually would. Here it is not meant to be read but to be observed for its form, much like the rest of the gestural strokes found in his oeuvre. They occupy his paintings as objects and add to the visual aesthetic. Strips of gold leaf also appear in some of his work, again adding compositional value to the piece, as well as, creating a comment on the barriers created within society due to class.

(Fig. 4) Poor Translation 2021. Gouache on wasli paper, 68 x 98 cm

While Gillani has been studying miniature as both a traditional and contemporary form for several years, artist Mulghalarra Khan is a comparatively nascent student of the art style. A trained and practicing architect, Khan has recently begun her miniature training under the tutelage of Ayesha Khalid. Through her paintings she explores the ideas of transition and new beginnings.

(Fig. 6) A Congress of Crows. Gouache on wasli paper, 25.4 x 25.4 cm

Although much of her visual imagery includes animals, hints of her knowledge of architectural design glimmer through the paintings. There is a strong sense of visual symmetry and balance that comes through her work, which are key factors of both miniature and design. Through her compositions she divides the paintings into sections almost as if the animals are contained within built structures.

(Fig. 7) Pride of Kings. Gouache on wasli paper, 28 x 44.5 cm

There is also the introduction of the shamiana which the artist carefully studies through her paintings. Khan displays a keenness for representational form that is made evident through the finesse with which she approaches each element in her work.

(Fig. 8) A Journey. Gouache on wasli paper, 26.7 x 34.3 cm
(Fig. 9) Serendipity. Gouache on wasli paper, 26.7 x 17.8 cm

Observing this exhibition in its entirety, there appears the underlying notion of the student and the master. While Gillani’s large pieces look nothing like traditional miniature painting there is an achieved and perfected style that has developed through his years of training, and he has therefore, been able to take the traditional medium and bring it into the present. He displays a strong understanding of the art style and the tools it offers by using them to serve his own artistic sensibilities.

Khan’s work, though strong in skill and medium, still has to establish a present-day purpose in the field of contemporary miniature practice. A purpose one can only recognize and understand with years immersed in the practice. This exhibition, therefore, acts as a stepping stone for the artist and her audience as we look forward to witnessing her practice evolve in the years to come.

Hammad Gillani and Mulghalarra Khan’s ‘Poor Translations’ was showcased at Chawkandi Gallery from Wednesday, 10 February, 2021 till Saturday, 20th February, 2021.


Ali, Salwat. Rumi, Raza. 2016. “The Miniature Goes Global.” DAWN News, January.
Catalogue. 2021. Poor Translations . Karachi : Chawkandi Gallery.
David, Rukhsana. n.d. “Contemporary Miniature Painting in Lahore 1980-2007.” Lahore College for Women University .
Denison, Edward. 2018. 30-second Architecture. United Kingdom: Ivy Press.

Jovita Alvares is an artist and art writer from Karachi. She graduated with the title of Valedictorian (Class of 2016) from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture with a BFA. She frequently writes for local publications. Recipient of the Imran Mir Art Prize2017 and Resident Artist of the 4th Sanat Residency 2017 she regularly participates in group shows and artist talks.

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