Zahoor Ul Akhlaq

Zahoor ul Akhlaq (February 4, 1941 – January 18, 1999) was a pioneering artist from Pakistan. He is known for his approach to painting, sculpture, design and architecture, as well as his teaching at the NCA (National College of Arts) in Lahore. Akhlaq's painting invoked a dialogue between modernist abstraction and many 'traditional' forms and practices found within South Asia (including Mughal Miniature painting, calligraphy, vernacular architecture to name but a few). At a time when his contemporaries in South Asia were developing their work within a modernist tradition, or had primitivist leanings, he eschewed both schools by merging his interest in abstractions with traditonal and vernacular practices. Although he famously evaded the label of an abstract artist, his work mostly fits this definition.

Akhlaq's influences are from a vast range of sources, which include painting, literature, philosophy, Sufism, dance, and music.

His teaching and practice is considered to have had a significant impact on a generation of Contemporary Pakistani art and artists.

Background and family life

Born in Delhi, India, he was the eldest in a family of 11 children.His family moved to Lahore in 1947 during the partition, eventually settling in Karachi. Akhlaq attended the Sindh Madrassah as a young boy and went to study in art in Lahore at the National College of Arts. In 1971, he married [Sheherezade Alam], a potter, and the couple had two daughters, Jahanara, (b.1974), Nurjahan (b.1979).


1958-62, National Diploma in Fine Art; National College of Arts - Lahore, Pakistan 1966-67, Post graduate studies: Hornsey college of Arts, London; 1968-69, post graduate studies: Royal College of Arts, London; 1987 -89, post doctoral studies: Fulbright Research Fellowship at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music; Religion and the Arts, Yale University, USA and at Yale School of Arts and Architecture, Yale University.

Biography and Achievements:

Painter, sculptor and printmaker, Zahoor ul Akhlaq's work - standing between tradition and contemporaneity - consolidates his research into the many visual traditions that criss-cross the political and geographical boundaries of Pakistan. He looks into the discipline of Islamic geometry, the iconography of the Moghul manuscript, the well-worn genres of European painting as manifest in the British colonial heritage and the complex business of being an artist of today; feeling, recording, communicating. He moves with ease between these different compulsions; his references multiply synthesis, appear and submerge themselves in the discreet handling of his medium. As a young child he watched the famed calligrapher Yousaf Dehlavi, a friend of his father's, work in Karachi. Thus a respect for skill and a familiarity with order were internalized at an early age. The uprooting of his family and the migration from Delhi to Karachi at the partitioning of the Indian sub-continent in 1947 also left its emotional scars. The nostalgia and the sense of separation which underlies Akhlaq's work is gently pervasive. His travels to different parts of the world have reinforced both the 'rooted ness' and the contemporaneity in his work.

Much of Akhlaq's earlier work has involved an exploration of the canons of art-making in the sub-continent and the inferences which accompanied the advent of Islam in the area. The spatial order is arrived at by moving around a rectangle within a rectangle, suggesting an Imperial 'Firmaan' (decree), the page of a manuscript, or the courtyard in a Mughal palace. The 'inner' and the 'outer' are in dialogue, each a foil for the other; the 'border' and the 'picture' poised in delicate equilibrium.

Zahoorul Akhlaque joined the famous Art Institute of Lahore in 1958 when it was elevated from the Mayo School of Art to the National College of Art. The College was fortunate to get in those years a new Principal in the person of Prof. Sponenburgh while Shakir Ali was promoted Professor of Art. As a student of Fine Art, Zahoor came in close contact with Shakir Ali and received his close attention and encouragement. After graduation from the College in 1962, Zahoor joined as a teacher in the Fine Arts Department.

Under the influence of such a highly gifted teacher and guide it was natural for Zahoor to be influenced by the Cubist style and other modern ideas of Shakir Ali.

He used the format of the manuscript page and the royal edict with calligraphic effects in his paintings before going to London. There he was irresistibly drawn towards the Mughal miniatures in the British Museum. During 1966-67, he studied at the Hornsey College of Art, London and during 1968-69 at the Royal College of Art. Four years of higher education in these famous art institutions and the opportunity to see and study treasures of London, helped the artist to evolve and mature.

In the huge painting that he displayed in the National Exhibition held at Lahore in March, 1985, Zahoor took up a nationalist theme, the heroes of the Pakistan Movement, which was formally launched at Lahore in March, 1990. The canvas was divided into small squares and many of them were filled with small portraits of the makers of Pakistan.

These were actually photographs pasted and painted over. In the center was a large portrait of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

He was awarded the President's Award for the Pride of Performance posthumously in 2005.

Selected shows:

* 1965 RCD Biennale, Tehran (Iran), 2nd prize
* National exhibition of arts, Dhaka
* Joint exhibition, Ministry of Culture, Now York and Montreal
* Post graduate show, Royal College of Art, London
* 1970 'Painting in Pakistan', travelling exhibition, 26 countries
* 1975 'Graphics In Pakistan', Italy
* 1976 Sao Paolo Biennale (Brazil)
* 1982 Hershorn Museum, Washington D.C.
* 'Thirty Five Years of Painting in Punjab', Lahore Asian Festival; Tokyo
* 1983 Represented Pakistan in Asian Festival of Art, Dhaka
* 1988 joint exhibition, Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Religion and the Arts, Yale University (USA)
* 1989 Solo exhibition, Yale University Solo exhibition, Galerie Mont Calm Hull, Canada

Academic appointments

* 1963-91 Lecturer in Art, then Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and finally full Professor of Art and Head of Department in the Faculty of Fine Arts, National College of Arts, Lahore from 1979 until his retirement
* 1991-'92 Visiting Professor at the Department of Fine Arts, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey
* 1994-'95 Visiting Professor, Ontario College of Art, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


The gallery at National College of Arts, Lahore is named in his memory.

The gallery at Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture, Karachi is also named in his memory.


In recognition of his contribution to the arts and education, he was posthumously awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, the star of excellence, an honor given by the Government of Pakistan in 2005.