Shahnawaz Zaidi is one of Pakistan’s most talented and well-known artists. He was born on May 24, 1948. His parents immigrated to Mandibahaudin near Gujarat, Pakistan from India, Muzafarnagar and Uttar Pradesh. Zaidi was the fifth of eleven siblings. He was not allowed to go to school until the fifth grade, but learned from a private tutor, after which he was sent to a corporation school, where he obtained his Abitur. In 1962 his family moved to Lahore, where he was admitted to pre-medical studies at Islamia College. He joined Punjab University in 1964 and graduated with a Masters in Design in 1968. In September 1969 he participated in a graduate exhibition in graphic design at Punjab University and started teaching there the same year.
In 1971 he married one of his classmates who was a painter. After completing his master’s degree, Shahnawaz was appointed to Punjab University, where he taught for five years and in 1974 was appointed Lecturer in Nairobi, Kenya. After a year he was promoted and became the head of the department. He spent eight years in Kenya, but then decided to return to Pakistan in 1982. Here he opened an advertising agency and worked there for two years. Since 1984 he has been Associate Professor and later Rector of the Faculty of Fine Arts and remained at this institution until his retirement in May 2008. He became rector three times, first in March 1990 and stayed for nine years until 1999, then the second time in the same year October 1999 until 2002 and then after two years in February 2004 until May 2008. Now he works as a consultant in Comsats Institute, Lahore . In 1998 he was awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz.
Zaidi has been interested in painting and drawing since childhood. His eldest sister Arjumand Shaheen was also interested in art and she studied fine arts at Lahore College for Women (University). Zaidi used to copy her drawings. During his matriculation period, he was fined for making a drawing on this math transcript, which was the first “recognition” for his art. When he enrolled in graduate school he was very interested in painting but at that time Anna Molka Ahmed was Head of Art Department at Punjab University and she refused to give him admission to paint instead she offered him admission took to design what he was doing despite his genuine interest in painting. There was a design competition that Zaidi entered and won first prize; soon after he became interested in designing.
When Zaidi joined Punjab University as a lecturer in 1984, he began painting professionally. Before that he paints occasionally. He was heavily inspired by Anna Molka as she was among the first painters in Pakistan to paint in all genres. Zaidi painted imaginary personalities, but he was mainly interested in portraits. His earliest achievements were the portraits of Ibn-e-Sina and many other portraits of historical figures such as Umar Khayam, Al-Razi, Al-Ghazzali and Quaid-e-Azam. All of these are now on display in Aiwan-e-Iqbal, Lahore, on the second and third floors. All of these portraits are in the Flemish style, with dark backgrounds and dramatic lighting that emphasizes character. The parts removed from the face are painted in less detail. Thick over thin paint is applied with bold, sweeping, and defined brushstrokes.
Like the Italian painters of the Renaissance, Zaidi worked in all fields of art. His different works show different moods and influences. When he paints female figures he seems to be inspired by the French Impressionists. He also painted cultural scenes that can be described as group portraits. Zaidi had worked in many mediums such as watercolor, pastel and oil. He has also done some watercolors and Chinese brush techniques and subjects. Zaidi participated in 35 national and regional exhibitions in Pakistan and abroad, as well as a solo exhibition of portraits in Al-Hamra in 1996/7. He commissioned portraits, one of which is Dr. Junaid Vice-Chancellor of Comsats Institute shows where Zaidi is now a consultant.
As Zaidi was inspired by Anna Molka Ahmed, his work somehow relates to her thematically and technically. Both artists liked to paint social subjects. Anna Molka used palette knife as her medium and Zaidi did not use this medium as a whole either, but he used it in some parts of his paintings and he also did some portraits entirely with palette knife. He was more inspired by Anna Molka because, in those times when art was just beginning to flourish, she was the only woman to work in all genres, with such a bold medium and in bright colors.
In addition to his painting, Zaidi was very interested in poetry. He translated the poetry of Abinranath Tagor, which was awarded a Nobel Prize. He wrote several volumes of poetry, for example “Aiana Dar” and “Gita bijli”. Aiana Dar presents a variety of themes where the colors of nature, the truth of human relationships and the reality of the modern world seem to mingle in various forms. Not only his painting, but also his poetry revolves around the social issues of our everyday life.
According to Zaidi, “He is basically a painter and teaching art is his profession. Music and poetry are his inclinations.”
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