By Sonya Rehman
HELLO! Pakistan interviewed Mehreen Rizvi-Khursheed who heads the Middle East and South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art department at Bonhams.
Given your educational background in Business Administration and International Relations, what compelled you to switch your career-path to the field of art?
I was always interested in art since my family members painted. However, the real impetus came when I found out that a classmate on my postgraduate course at the London School of Economics was from an auction background, making me realize that one can marry a financial and business background with art.
What was your experience like, working at Sotheby’s as a cataloguer?
It was a big learning curve; until then I was on the financial side of the auction business. The specialist areas meant researching and educating myself with art history, especially from the South Asian and Middle Eastern regions.
It was a fabulous experience to travel to various cities meeting collectors, befriending artists, looking at fantastic art and buying books and brochures.
Which Pakistani artists’ works did you introduce to your department (of Modern Indian Paintings) at Sotheby’s?
Chughtai, who straddled the India-Pakistan divide, was the most popular and commercially successful artist at auction at the time. We also introduced Sadequain, Anwar Jalal Shemza, Jamil Naqsh, Allah Bux, Khalid Iqbal and Colin David.
The interesting element of that first auction was that the buyers were not just Pakistani; they included Indian and international collectors as well.
How did you go about your selection?
People forget that auctions are not curatorial, so we cannot choose which art or even artists should be chosen by theme or period. We are at the mercy of people who want to part with their artworks for sale.
We try and get artworks by masters from well-known private collections that are rare and fresh to the market, whether in Pakistan or internationally. Right now we have a stunning early work by Gulgee called ‘Buzkashi’ from a collector in the USA, who acquired it when he was working in Pakistan at the time.
I was lucky enough to have been introduced to Wahab Jaffer and his collection, and he agreed to include a few works in order to establish Pakistani art alongside Indian artists. Also, I met several artists and patrons in Lahore who supported this international exposure of artists – like Jalaluddin Ahmed, who lived in London at the time, and Rehana and Shehla Saigol, who were family friends. I took a lot of advice from collectors and academics as to which artists would appeal to the international market.
What’s your take on contemporary art in Pakistan these days?
It’s exciting, raw, creative, strong, confused and violent yet beautiful at the same time and not as commercial as a lot of other ‘emerging’ market art. It has just scratched the surface as far as international exposure is concerned and can stand at par with any other international contemporary art today. We just need the machinery to support, expand, promote and educate ourselves, and the rest of the world.
What are some of the current consumer trends vis-à-vis Middle East and South Asian art? In other words, what kind of art is well-liked in the market?
Contemporary art is very ‘hot’ in both those regions. As far as ‘trends’ are concerned within contemporary art, the focus of collecting is very much on installation, photography and digital media.
In India and Pakistan, artists such as Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher, Raqib Shaw, Idris Khan, Rashid Rana, Shazia Sikander, Naiza Khan, Mohd Ali Talpur, Seher Shah, Imran Qureishi, and Aisha Khalid are being taken on by international galleries as well as Middle Eastern artists such as Ahmed Soudani, Farhad Moshiri, Shirazeh Houshiary, Shirin Neshat, Susan Hefuna, Adel Abdessemmed.
As far as auctions are concerned, the top prices of scarce works of the older generation of masters such as M.F Husain, S.H Raza, Tyeb Mehta, Chughtai, Tagore, F.N Souza, Sabavala, Sadequain, Allah Bux, Jamil Naqsh, and Bashir Mirza are increasing.
Are there any new Pakistani artists that you know of, whose works you admire and/or consider to have true potential?
Personally the only contemporary artist I own in Adeela Suleman. Of the ‘newer’ artists I really liked the work of Noor Ali Chagani and Seher Shah that I saw at the Victoria & Albert Museum.