Laila Shahzada

Laila Shahzada (1926-1994) is one of Pakistan's most internationally renowned artists. She was of the first women painters in Pakistan to gain international recognition, with exhibitions around the world including Pakistan, London, Paris, Tokyo, Monte Carlo and New York.

Laila Shahzada's early years of schooling were spent in England. Adolescence was spent in the family home in India, where she was surrounded by the traditions of the past. She spoke of silver furniture, bowls of pearls, iridescent ornaments cool to the touch that were intrinsic ingredients of this period in her life. Reality came with partition, when life itself became the only object to be considered. Her earliest paintings of the 1950s were delicate, tentative, in marked contrast to the later forceful work executed as 'Drift Moods'. Initially trained in England in drawing and watercolour, Laila received early encouragement in Pakistan from Fyzee Rahamin and his musicologist wife, Attiya Begum. In those days, there were few women artists in Pakistan, and it was Nagi who taught her to use oils. She made a great impact on the media when the 'Drift Moods' paintings were exhibited in 1964, a series inspired by pieces of driftwood battered into distorted forms by the power of the sea. These Laila compared to the human condition, forced into unnatural shapes by stronger powers. Later inspired by the artifacts of the Indus Valley Civilization, she worked on a series titled 'Moenjodaro', shown in New York, where she was awarded a gold medal and the Key to the city of New York in 1975.

Laila has painted seventy historical paintings, a substantial contribution to this genre. In 1995 her work was included in an exhibition of Paintings from Pakistan at the Pacific, Asia Museum, California where her landscape paintings were graded with those of Georgia O'Keefe.

"The pinks in Laila Shahzada's landscapes and Changez Sultan's Himalayan Odyssey always puzzled me till I saw the sky over Islamabad ablaze in a winter sunset. From the vantage point at Pir Shohava, in this opera of colours, the full spectrum of pink was definitely the soprano, adding drama and awe to the skeletal pre-spring backdrop. This is what, we the children of the city, with its smoggy skies and fume-filled streets, where the brightest colours come from the jungle of signboards, never get to experience or develop a warm connection with." Niilofur Farrukh


She was awarded the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz by the government of Pakistan in 1984 and the Pride of Performance in 1995. She was also awarded the "Key to the City" of New York -- the only Pakistani to receive this award.

Postage Stamp

On 14 August 2006, Pakistan Post issued a Rs. 40 sheetlet to posthumous honour 10 Pakistani Painters. Besides Laila Shahzada, the other 9 painters are: Askari Mian Irani, Zubeida Agha, Sadequain, Ali Imam, Shakir Ali, Anna Molka Ahmed, Zahoor ul Akhlaq, Ahmed Pervez and Bashir Mirza.