“I work in order to understand myself. It is a highly personal journey in which I try to discover a balance with my inner self, my culture and my God” Amin says while receiving Goodyear Fine Arts Award for thesis on Mughal Gardens.
By ADEEL MANNAN
The journey of human brain from spirituality to immortality, beauty to glory, images to reflections, faith to ritualism, visionary to vivacious, originality to chastity, notion to novelty, all can be seen and felt in the outclass sculptures and jewellery of an outstanding savant in the Pakistan art industry. Yes, it’s AMIN GULJEE, a chip off the old block.
Amin Guljee, a renowned Pakistani artist and sculptor, born in a house of paints and brushes in 1966.He is the son of famous artist Ismail Guljee.Despite of being actively discouraged from pursuing fine arts by his father; he earned a degrees in Economics and Art History from Yale University, USA. Nonetheless, Guljee ended up as an artist creating works as an expression of spirituality. Amin’s work speaks for itself.
Amin Guljee Primarily works with metal; creating sculptures and jewellery. His work has been inspired by Hindu and Buddhist Mythology as well as drawing the tradition of Islamic calligraphy using Koranic inspirations turning calligraphy to sculptures. His sculptures cast the divine in copper and bronze, fashioning objects in 3 dimensions that suggests infinite and enduring ephemeral in metal. His sculptors range from magnificent hunks of metal, the size of filling cabinets to necklaces worn by fashionable women in London and Karachi. Theme of his work is to mix the sacred.
“I create sculpture in which I am physically able to
combine the elements that traditionally do not belong
His theme can be easily felt in this famous quote;
“We are like sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image we
long for, need, love, or desire, often against reality, against there
benefit and always in the end a disappointment, because it does not
Amin’s theme and this quote would be just like an example of a sculptor carving in snow.
Sculpture is a form of prayer to him. He wrestles with God in copper and bronze and the outcome is bold, muscular and innovative. The supreme ingenuity, perfection and execution in his sculptures depict a fine assemblage in the round and relief and made in the huge variety of media and gloominess. Skepticism is one of the themes of his work. Pakistan is a very young civilization as it is only 58 years old, but on the other hand Pakistan has a 500-year-old heritage and civilization and Amin’s work is just like a lamp in it, scaling the all edges of history, modernism and technology.
In one of his interviews; he tells about his early life that” I had no hands-on guidance from my father. Studio art was the last thing I wanted to do. In fact my parents actively discouraged me not to become an artist. They feared that I’d have to struggle.
It’s funny that I became an artist – I am non-romantic about an artist’s lifestyle. For all the pleasure and joy of work, one has to survive on one’s work. My life has been a series of accidents. I was in college, doing three majors in Art History, Architecture and Economics at Yale. Architecture was great – I got to paint and draw and create models – and at Yale you could just about do anything. In my final year at Yale I had to choose one major for my thesis. I hated Economics and thought Art History would be more interesting and challenging. My dissertation was on Mughal Gardens with special focus on Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. After my graduation I thought I’d try my hand as an artist and if I did not succeed, I’d go back and do an MBA.” He tells that “ I had my first show in Karachi-and then I went to New York to live there as an artist. That was a difficult time. I had to go door-to-door with my jewellery pieces-art jewellery and gallery-wearable art. I had some successes. Initially my jewellery was very large-it was very unwearable-in New York it became scaled down. Basically, it is a sculpture with a hole. Whenever I get stuck on a large piece, I switch scale and I move to a smaller piece. I enjoy making jewellery. Then I came home to Karachi-wanted to do larger work. I began experimenting and working with metal. Copper and the bronze are the only glorious metals that exist-they stay forever-I like that permanence “
Amin’s thirst towards spiritual enlightenment, skepticism and nepotism is simply evident from one of his sculptures called Chance- a DNA molecule with the word ALLAH inscribed on it; for him that is “God”. ”God for me is everything – it is me –– it is you –– it is the wind outside – it is the light we see – it’s everything horrible and everything wonderful – I don’t see any separations – I see God in just about everything – God for me is the process of Life and the way things are – God for me is also Chance – the element in our lives that we do not control. The three most important paths of our life are birth, death, and love – all three are controlled. What’s beautiful about Islam is its submission to God and that there is a direct link between God and a person – nothing comes in between – you create your own balance between the divine and you – or between chance and you.” what Amin says about God.
According to him, ”God has created everything and everybody. All religions teach us to be good, to be happy, and to achieve a balance – that is humanism. All religions have basic similarities. My father is a great collector of antiquity and as a child, I would touch his Gandharas and Krishna’s and talk to them – my understanding of them was not in a ritualistic way – I reacted to them as a child. I related intuitively to the Bodhisattvas. When I came back from college I wanted to recapture them and create them in my own image. When I do a sculpture of the Buddha – I am not a Muslim doing a Buddha. Today, there is a need for intellectuals to interpret religion. If one is happy, one does good things; if one is unhappy, one does bad things -–simple-minded perhaps, but that is the essence.”
“Love is the most important part of being human-Love is what defines humanity. I look at my life and feel so great that I love-Nothing else matters. ”Amin says on the essence of life. He thinks we are here for a short time-the only thing we should be taking away from this earth is love from people. So, love everyone and yours life too. This feels that for him love is just like a body without soul.
Amin Guljee, a voyeur, an extreme loner in his teenage- in fact some considered him retarded and not a great lover of poetry tells something about his interests that;
” I love Camus, I love the existentialists –I read anything that comes near me. My idea of weekend in Karachi was checking out 5 books. Reading has always been my escape. I’ll read Stephen King to Manto. I used to be in a dance troupe in college – I just love dancing. I learnt a bit of Kathak and Bharat Natyam in Karachi – just for six months – nothing serious. My sister is a good Bharat Natyam dancer. In fact the most famous Kathak dancer in Pakistan today is a man – Fasi – he is brilliant. I like travelling but I like people more than I like places. I am not a great sightseer.”
When my pen was oozing my views about Amin’s work and his personality just believe for a couple of minutes I forgot that he is a sculptor because the element of spirituality and his perceptional powers led me he is a philosopher or you can say a poignant.” I love looking at people. I can sit in a café and look at people for hours. What I really want to do is go to Sri Lanka – I have never been there – I would like to go to Sri Lanka and sit there on a beach for a week watching the stars, the sea, the colours, and feeling the wind– that would be my millennium gift to myself. I’d also like to go to Bangladesh one day. The two artists I admire most are my father and Amrita Shergill. I find Amrita Shergill’s paintings really close to me – I feel a great connection with her work.” Amin says.
Amin’s high scale-oriented work is a blend of different inspirations and cultures depicting some new visions for the people belonging to different regions .On bringing South Asia closer he says;
“There should be more communication within the subcontinent. I am more familiar with things happening in New York and Washington, than I am with what’s happening in Bombay or New Delhi. We should start looking within ourselves; we should celebrate ourselves. I think colonization has made a profound impact on the subcontinent and it is time we discovered our own heroes – up till now everything that has been considered valid, at least in art, has been coming from the west – ‘we study western art, we revere their heroes – it is about time that we start celebrating ourselves’– as far as contemporary art is concerned, there needs to be an interaction among ourselves – it should be done without embarrassment – done with a sense of confidence. In the last fifty years many walls have crumbled and come down – I hope that happens in my region too. I hope our priorities go toward education and welfare of our people. I think it will happen – there is no other way it can be. Maybe not in my generation – perhaps in the next – but it will happen.” His on bringing the nations are closer to what Leo Tolstoy said “All art has this characteristic- it unites people”.
Amin’s work is not only confined to history or religion, but a symbol of globalization and technological advancement could also be found there in which archetypal and biblical icons are used to depict a very personal vision in the work. A show ‘Dish Dhamaka’ curated by him following the same route by asking 20 artists, architects and designers to present their ideas using satellite dishes, a common place of the cityscape.
“ I love ‘Alhamdulillah’ because of its simplicity and its constant usage in the vernacular. It denotes intimacy with God, and is reflective to the fact that he is with us in our daily lives and not just confined to the mosque” Amin says. Amin Guljee’s gigantic 20ft high pieces and their miniature versions of the huge sculpture called Steps, which depicts ‘Alhamdulillah’ in square Kufic. In this regard he has produced some fascinating pieces.’Charbagh’ a geometric grid garden introduced in the sub-continent by the Mughals also inspired Amin’s thought; as its also the name of on of his exhibitions. Amin being not a mathematician presented a fine work by combining the two forms that’s are diametrically opposite to each other. Under the concept of Charbagh he produced some awesome sculptures in a period of 3 years i-e Charbagh 1 (bearing the inscription of Allah), Moon Phase 1 (a sphere divided in quarters and some calligraphic square grid) and Screaming Egg (a deviant sculpture) made of broken coloured glass bottles varying green and brown colours in it.
Amin Guljee’s new jewellery collection, ‘solah singhar,’ takes women’s eternal obsession with the mirror one step further –from looking into it to wearing it “For me solah singhar represents the mysterious power of women” says Amin. “Although the concept of singhar is for the pleasure of men, its application and interpretation lies in the hands of women.” Amin uses the mirror not as a symbol of vanity but of self-awareness. The mood is feminine, regal chunky but yet delicate. It is a collection very obviously inspired by the Sindhi tradition in costumes and textiles. Amin reinterprets the sparkle of mirrors against the barren desert. (paragraph from Karachi plus magazine).
“All seeing eye” is a symbol of truth for him. “ I see the eye as an absolute, the eye never lies”. Amin is a lover of space and changing patterns in his life. In his student life he made some fine pieces related to interior decoration constructed from environmental mosaic-discarded metal pieces and material used in the building trade. He is also fascinated by the local bazaars of Nathia Gali where, Amin delved into the markets acquiring a feast of local pots and other objects to create yet another singular decoration, on the roof of his parent’s house. It is a landmark now, well known by visitors to the beautiful gully. The artist enjoyed this work enormously, relishing the hands-on aspect of creating the mosaic, the effects of glass and mirrors inset in the fragmented pottery. He never tired of living with the results of his imaginative designs Amin explains: “It is also a nod to the great Spanish architect and artist, Antonio Gaudi, whose parks, churches, and other structures are unforgettable for me. It is my salaam to him.”(Pictures from the dawn)
Amin’s public collection can be found in The International Monetary Fund (Washington, DC, USA), Jordan National Gallery (Amman, Jordan), Hofstra University Museum (Hempstead, NY, USA), The WAH Center (Brooklyn NY, USA) and Pakistan Modern Art Museum (Islamabad, Pakistan).”The Message”, ”Minar”, ”Habitat”, “Char Bagh”,“Man and Computer”, “Balance”, “Allah”, “Cube” and “Sufi” are one of the commissions granted to Amin. Young Achiever award, First Award for Jewellery, Calligraph-Art Award and Excellence in Art Award have been awarded to him by Indus Vision, Pakistan School of fashion Design, International Calligraphy Competition and Sindh Government. He himself had curated many exhibitions by the name Urban Voices five times consecutively from 1997 to 2001 at Sheraton Hotel, Karachi. Amin Gulgee’s Sola Singhar (Sheraton Hotel, Karachi, Pakistan 2001), Alchemy (Sheraton Hotel, Karachi, Pakistan, 2000), Jewelry for Mary McFadden’s 1996 Spring/Summer Collection, Fashion Week: Seventh on Fifth (New York Public Library, New York, USA) are one of the epic examples of his fashion shows and performing art pieces. It’s not the end; there goes a long list of his group shows and exhibitions took place in different countries from Pakistan to USA.
I would like to put it up differently that Amin’s work is a present history enriching every element in it from finite to infinity. Words are not helping me to sum up his profile. Well his work is an ‘Eye’ of him for us indicating and depicting the “antiquity of his soul.” He does not sculpt to sculpt; but sculpt to make his thoughts and abstracts feelings a reality and originality by his marvelous work. Amin a maverick holding a chisel in his hand and mingling thoughts always bringing a new aspect in his work, that is an influenced one.