Shahid Jalal’s (1948 – 2020) Posthumous Exhibition
“Among the many out-of-the-box things my brother Shahid Jalal did within the span of a relatively short but productive and self fulfilling life was to quit his job as a chartered accountant and join the National College of Arts in 1979. Lacking independent means of income, this was considered whimsical and irresponsible on his part. He had a wife and daughter to support and my father with whom they lived in Lahore had just retired from government service. I was in the United Kingdom studying at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. Then I returned home for the summer holidays, I experienced what was the only truly stressful time in our otherwise harmonious family life. My father, who had a heart condition, felt terribly let down, and my mother was not pleased. Firm in his determination to attend art school, Shahid Bhai reminded them that when he took art classes at the Lahore Arts Council, people called him a “child prodigy”. This was heard with skepticism, but I recall seeing an oil painting of his when I was about four years old that had earned him kudos. Despite an abundance of memories of him as a teenager in Rawalpindi where my father was posted in 1963, none relate to his penchant for art. I recall him wanting to become a doctor and a writer – a creative impulse quashed by my father’s sharply critical assessment of his writings. So, he made a pragmatic decision and left for London to study chartered accountancy, self-financing himself by working at a firm as part of his practical training. My father was posted to New York in 1970 and my mother, sister and I moved to the USA. I often visited my brother in London, a city he had explored to the hilt. It was thanks to him that I first learnt to appreciate London’s rich and diverse artistic, cinematic, culinary, literary, and theatrical scene. A food buff, he knew the best desi restaurants and had become a great cook out of sheer necessity. On one of my stopovers in London, I stayed with him for a few days. We would meet up during his lunch break at his favourite joint, Anwar’s, which served South Asian cuisine. After a good lunch he would direct me to museums or matinees of must watch films like My Fair Lady and Doctor Zhivago. His passion for good cinema, theater, music, and literary fiction left its’ impression on me. Despite all the evidence pointing to an inclination for the art and culture, my brother had to postpone what he really wanted to do to fit the conventional role expected of him as a bread earner for his family. He qualified as a chartered accountant, a profession not to be for a colorful and multifaceted personality. When he decided to take a break from accountancy, most doubted his judgment. A nagging fear gripped us: what if he had no talent? My sister-in-law was the acknowledged artist in the family. Was the idea of being a “child prodigy’ just a pie in the sky? Could he at this late stage start an entirely new career? But as they say, when your heart is in something, there is nothing to prevent you from scaling the heights. Our worries about Shahid Bhai’s artistic talent were put to rest when he started painting the Punjab landscape under Khalid Iqbal’s keen mentorship. In 1989 he won an award at the Punjab Painters Exhibition. It was appropriate that we were on a family holiday in London in 1994 when news came of him being awarded the Presidential Pride of Performance Award for painting. Shahid Jalal had made his place in the art world, regardless of what snobbish art critics thought of his work. But he was unsatisfied, noting that if he had time to take in some of the landscape, the better his paintings would be. He announced his intention to retire at fifty while in his mid-forties and organized his finances to ensure that his family could sustain themselves comfortably after he retired. The depth in his post-retirement paintings is there for all to see. I am fortunate to have witnessed his evolution as a painter and cherish the paintings, in oil and watercolor, he generously gifted to me.
Being away from Pakistan has meant missing most of his exhibitions, and this one is no exception. However, I am glad to have played a small part in the making of this exhibition. After three successive trips to Japan I urged Shahid Bhai repeatedly to visit and partake of its exquisite artistic, culinary, and myriad other cultural treasures. He has captured the manicured beauty of Japanese landscapes and gardens in his own inimitable and unforgettable way. This series inspired by his visit to Japan is more special for being the only exhibition where Shahid Jalal will be more conspicuously present than ever in his absence.” – Ayesha Jalal