Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Intriguing Iqbal Geoffrey

A couple of days ago I received a book in the post titled The art of Iqbal Geoffrey, a handsome volume published by Pakistan's National Art Gallery.

At least the book claims to be a publication of Pakistan's National Art Gallery. Why do I doubt the identity of the publisher? You would, too, if you knew Iqbal Geoffrey, aka Barrister Syedna Mohamed Jawaid Iqbal Jafree of Lyallpur in Pakistan, Slarpore in India and Brighton in the UK; chairman of Geoffrey and Khitran, Barristers and Solicitors, Pakistan's oldest and largest law firm; graduate in law and art history from Harvard University; Laureate of the 1965 Paris Biennial; and Arts Counsel of Great Britain appointed by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
I first came across the artist's name while I was consulting editor at Art India magazine. The listings at the back of the magazine's April 2003 issue contained an entry for his show of MicroMinimalist SupraSculptures at London's National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, curated by Professor Norbert Lynton and Sir Nicholas Serota no less. I began a correspondence with him, playing along with his self-image of being 'the greatest artist ever'.
A little less than two years later, there was a large show of Pakistani art in Bombay's NGMA, curated by Quddus Mirza. I was happy to hear that Geoffrey's work was included, and that he himself would be in Bombay for the opening. Despite the many references he had made to his achievements in the 1960s, I didn't expect him to be the kindly old gentleman he turned out to be. I'd placed him in the category of young, hip artists who adopt personae, creating a whole history and identity for themselves online.
Disconcertingly, he kept the mask up at all times, to such a degree that I began to wonder if he actually believed everything he said about himself. We'd be discussing practical matters like exchanging dollars for rupees when he'd slip in a reference to how Sir Herbert Read had pronounced him "an astonishing phenomenon". To complicate matters further, there actually is a record in the Smithsonian libraries database of a monograph titled Iqbal Geoffrey: Paintings, Drawings, Watercolours 1949-1963, and Herbert Read is listed as one of the contributors. In 1949, it's worth remembering, Geoffrey was just ten years old. The Tate Modern has in its collection a canvas by the artist painted in 1958, when he was 19 years old, and donated in 1962. The handling of paint and the colour scheme is reminiscent of the work Akbar Padamsee was doing around that time.
Iqbal Geoffrey's works displayed at the NGMA were disappointingly run-of-the-mill: a series of collages made primarily from glossy advertisements. The images in the book I've just received are devoted entirely to collages and mixed-media works in that style. They are recent creations, which would have been of some interest, had the artist not hyped them and himself so much. Even as I have grown very fond of Iqbalji personally, my interest in his art has waned after viewing the NGMA selection.

So, what's the truth behind Iqbal Geoffrey's life and career? Perhaps he made a name for himself at a very early age. Maybe, in the manner of Souza, he was briefly the toast of the London art fraternity before sliding into obscurity. It is possible he has, in his mind, extended that brief period in the limelight to a career of glittering, multifarious achievements. I can only speculate. What is certain is that his persona is far more interesting than the physical works by him that I have seen.
In conclusion, I quote a line from the preface to the book, The art of Iqbal Geoffrey, by its editor Zoha Haider, or Shahzadi Zoha Noor-Fatima Alla'dittii AnnuRadha Haider to provide her full name: "To beneficially (and usefully) explore this Monograph one must magnanimously study it dilgently in-between-the-lines with goodwill afterthought (but do not think of the pink elephant!) and without taking the line for a ride. Neither marrow, nor narrow the line."


Anonymous said...

More on Iqbalji.


Cutting-edge avant-garde Syyedna Iqbal Geoffrey of Slarpore (in Jullandar),(forerunner of G. Baselitz and progenitor of postConceptual Art-Plus! His fans included Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Piccaso, Pundit Nehruji) and is in fact and in deeds the greatest living artist.A United States Judge commented about him: "He has done things in life that we used to dream about doing but did not dare" (Judge William K. Thomas, United States District Court, Cleveland). The intelligentsia of the Indic subcontinent can be justly proud of a Renaissance Person, a living icon, like him. Great art of any consequence is seldom fully understood in fullest schon and glory while its creators are not-yet-dead.Sir Herbert Read said: "It might take 5000 years to catchup with Geoffrey". Incidentally, Geoffrey said: "An artist does what you did not expect from art!" . His greatest art is his litigation for empowerment of the have-nots (and nuts and bolts) of life.
Dr. Antonia Blackwell

Unknown said...

Hi, Iqbal, when is you your next exhibtion in London? I would love to see your work.

F-J Perriam

Anonymous said...

I love Iqbal Geoffrey's work which is groundbreaking and outspoken.

Unknown said...

In Indo-Pak subcontinent "collage" has been a taboo; while all art (paint on paper, for example) is collage and involves already-or-Readymades.
It is unfortunate that a cultural historian and art critic of the caliber of Girish Shahane felt obliged to write about Geoffrey what he did : it is half cuckoo-half-partridge.
I find it difficult to comprehend what Girish wants to really say in fact? Does he want to suggest that Geoffrey is a bundle of lies; or that he is unbelievably phenomenal ... that his life itself is a work of art.
I don't know Zoha Haider, but I find her name itself to be a beautiful collage of ideas. The Monograph designed by Will Colvin of London was indeed published by the National Art Gallery in Islamabad on the authority of the State of Pakistan. I purchased a copy from there this week. I guess that Shahane must have received a courtesy prelaunching complimentary copy.
Eminent art critic Brian SEWELL has described the Monograph as Wonderful, and the best book on art to emerge out of the South. By the way last One-Man Show that Geoffrey had in London was at the Drian Galleries in 1965 from where David Sylvester bought two works for the Arts Council of Great Britain permanent collection.

If Girish doubts any of the credentials of Iqbal Geoffrey, the best option is to check it all out, and then publish the results publicly.

Geoffrey is different and he has made a difference.


Anonymous said...

I am quite disappointed since it seems that a cluster of shinning kitchen pots and pans, a bicycle wheel balanced on a pedestal makes sense, but pictures artfully culled from a glossy magazine in their altered state draws a blank for Mr Shahane.In fact all art is collage. Shahane should have researched his facts and factotums thoroughly before rushing to judment by condemning Geoffrey and demeaning his art which is being emulated and copied the world over.

Anonymous said...

In 1985 I mischevously mailed an epistolatory missive addressed to "The Greatest Genius Since Leonardo da Vinci" c/o the National Gallery (London WC2) whose Director Sir Michael Levey promptly, and quite properly, forwarded it to Geoffrey then camping in Middlesex. No doubt he has appealed to the finest in the highest manner. He has never been sold on or apt at PR-ing.

Iqbal Geoffrey has never been the toast of London or for that matter anywhere else .. he has been a pain in the hindsight of the establishment and the officialdoms everywhere because of his valiant stand again racism, sexism, obscurantism, nihilism, casteism and terrorism including what he condemns as Cultural Apartheid. More than anyone else he has put the entire South on the cultural map of aesthetics that transcends borders and order-is-order. (Carolina-------).


I guess what eminent art critic Girish Shahani is conveying (for the cognosenti) very eloquently(art is about concealing more than it may be about revealing) in-bet-wen-the-li-nes is what Profesor Norbert Lynton asked upfront, very straight: "IS THERE ANYONE IN MODERN ART TO MATCH IQBAL GEOFFREY?". That was stated in 1962 when Geoffrey was barely 21.

Now regarding my name-spelings/ trans-literation: SHAHZADI ZOHA NOOR-FATIMA ALLA-DITI ANNURADHA HAIDER. This is real too. It is so mentioned in my British Passport of which a copy is being mailed touncle Girish Shahane from London as a memento. I thinkI should be proud of such a beautiful, new, cosmopolitan name. And, I presume, I am!

By the way Geoffrey's personna as wel as pectorial (and otherwise) picturiZations/ Renditions/outreaching have appealed to the finest in the highest sense. Whether he receives full credit or not is a separate issue; certainly, he has opened many closed and jamed doors for artists from the South.

I will be most interested tolearn from Girish Jii, if he knows any other artist in history who has accomplished more beautiful collages. The maestro deals with only "Whys", not"Hows".

Myself and a whole lot of inteligent people world-wide are looking forward to the next One-Man Show, after 45 years'of hiatus, by Geoffrey (a truly cosmopolitan Person who transcends both fashion as well as frivolities) .... during August 2009 at The Watford Museum in Hertfordshire.
- -- Zoha Haider, Chelsea,London SW3

Anonymous said...

Iqbal Geoffrey's background and credentials are fully verifiable and entirely documented. What is unprecedented is not impossible.
It is sad that noone is a hero to his close friends or to his secretary, except posthumously.

No one expected that Mr Shahane would indulge: "Call an artist a dog and then shoot him" systems.

I met Iqbal Geoffrey in 1966 at the United Nations Secretariat where he was Human Rights Officer,while I was clerking as a Sumnmer Intern. I recall with nostalgia that his office on the 43rd floor of the Secretariat used to be full of fresh cut, long stem YELLOW roses, lovingly left there by debutantes and secretaries of different backgrounds who nourished crushes on him. He was oblivious.


Unknown said...

Iqbal Geoffrey has been mocking (perhaps even ridiculing) and strongly criticising the raining art establishment and the reigning cultural apartheid since mid-Fities without interruption - - artist must call a spade a shovel and create needs of the society at large. He baffles art critics and connoisseurs alike.

In the sense that Titian said at age 90 when painting his last masterpiece: "finally, I am beginning to learn how to paint" or Picasso: "It took me seventy years to learn to paint like a child", perhaps Geoffrey cannot paint (but Sir John Rothenstein remarked about his painting in Tate: 'It is the most beautiful painting in the permanent collection of the Tate Gallery"). I must say, and I do feel that Mr. Shahane endorses and invites the challenge that Geoffrey poses, it sounds both in aesthETHICS and mega-Magnanimity, not in Art 'N Stuff or fashion.

Undoubtedly, Geoffrey is the greatest artist of our epoch. Indians in particular and the world at large in general should be grateful to God that he walks amongst us - - with his head high but no stiff neck. He is no barefoot contessa or tincan celebrity, but a reality which is no Realty.

seconded by
DR ANDREW M. CONTE, LLM, PhD (Moscolw State University)

Anonymous said...

Make no mistake. Shahane (who originally hails from the Province of Scindh) is truly overwhelmed,highly impressed with and proud of unusual achievements (indubitably verifiable) of his fellow (albeit cosmopolitan) countryman Iqbal Geoffrey, and, therefore, his off the wall comments about his art are mere designer dicta in order to attract attention.I think it was the Rig Veda that counselled: Let winds of change blow in from all directions.

Geoffrey is the first artist from the Indic subcontinent who does not paint nostalgic sweet-nothings or courtesan picturizations nor has he been stuck in the tiring indigenous style. His work, like Mona Lisa has a sense of humour and dignity which has an intellectual angle to it.

Brian Sewell of the Evening Standard purchased dozens of Indian artists during late Fifties and early Sixties. All lost their sheen, presence and glow after two or three years at most, became unimpressive, very-dead, used canvases fit for the Round File. Geoffrey, on the other hand, never goes stale or "empty". Everyday his artwork projects new schon, telltale grace and dynamic vision. His art is no nonsense, self-renewing and inimitable indeed.

Bryan Robertson has rightly calculated that Iqbal Geoffrey is the best and the greatest artist to emerge from the Indian subcontinent.

- - Dr Adeel Ahmed Shahane, MBBS, MD
Hyderabad, Sindh

Anonymous said...

I wish Girish Shahane rethink and then would re-write his assesment of both Geoffrey and his telltale, epoch-making, underhyped (only 400 internet entries at age 70 contrasted with nincompoops peddling third-rate sculptural collages or otherwise espousing the dotted-line, meriting 75000 entries at one-third his age because of dogged PRing) without letting his stereotypal unjust exdpectations colour his views and viewing. Also he should see Geoffrey's paintings, paint-things and pain-things (Look! no collages!!) at the Watford Museum (August 2009) and Luxembourg Museum the coming Fall.

By the way I had to write my comments about 9-10 times before being able to transmit for instant posting.

University of Oslo

Girish Shahane said...

Amusing though this string of responses has been, I am now stopping all comments by Iqbal Geoffrey, posting under various aliases.

Alexander Keefe said...

great story, Girish, thank you for sharing. reminds me a bit of the self-aggrandizing--and highly verbose--persona of Sean Landers, self-proclaimed "greatest artist alive." you can hear a brilliant 18-minute rant on the subject here:

Girish Shahane said...

Thanks, Alex. Since I stopped posting his stuff online, Mr.Geoffrey has taken to periodically threatening me with lawsuits, sending funny variants on legal notices by email and post. He never seems to get my name right, for some reason, being fixated on calling me 'Shahani', which would make me a Sindhi, and therefore a descendant of people who lived in what is now Pakistan.