Of Honor and the Mo­ment

Ms. Amna Naqvi talks can­didly about her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as arts phi­lan­thropist and col­lec­tor, and a de­voted cricket fan

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Marc Al­ma­gro

With pieces from her ac­claimed art col­lec­tion – a stun­ning as­sem­blage of 3rd cen­tury BC Gand­hara sculp­tures, 17th cen­tury Mughal minia­tures, and works by mod­ern masters Ai Wei Wei, Takashi Mu­rakami, and Ju Ming, as well as ac­claimed Pak­istani con­tem­po­rary artists Im­ran Qureshi, Rashid Rana and Adeel uz Za­far – ex­hib­ited in im­por­tant mu­se­ums in four cor­ners of the globe, Amna Naqvi talks can­didly about her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as arts phi­lan­thropist and col­lec­tor, and a de­voted cricket fan

When Is­lam­abad United won the Pak­istan Su­per League Cham­pi­onship ear­lier this year, Amna Naqvi’s name came up again in the me­dia – not that it has ever left the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness for long stretches of time. But a ma­jor­ity of those who are fa­mil­iar with her stature – as col­lec­tor, pub­lisher, sup­porter and col­lab­o­ra­tor in art projects and ini­tia­tives, as well as a phi­lan­thropist – are art afi­ciona­dos who would be for­given for think­ing she ex­erts con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence only in the art world. Naqvi and her hus­band, an in­vest­ment banker, are the own­ers of the cham­pion cricket team. And although she does not seek me­dia spot­light, her ac­tiv­i­ties in the arts, high­lighted by en­liven­ing con­tem­po­rary Pak­istani art lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, rarely es­cape pub­lic at­ten­tion. When I asked Naqvi if she’s been able to put her wide-rang­ing in­ter­ests in some form of or­der, she gave me an elab­o­rate yet clear an­swer. “History in­forms what­ever I do,” she be­gins. “I firmly be­lieve that history pro­vides us with tools to un­der­stand and nav­i­gate the times we live in as well as the fu­ture. It would be a chal­lenge to cat­e­go­rize my in­ter­ests, although I am usu­ally bi­ased to­wards art. “All of my art-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties stem from a de­sire to be a keeper of sto­ries that artists have told. I also sup­port and pro­vide art­mak­ing plat­forms, and en­cour­age artists, curators and art his­to­ri­ans to weave nar­ra­tives in the form of ex­hi­bi­tions, projects and col­lab­o­ra­tions.” Naqvi and her hus­band have been col­lect­ing art for al­most 25 years through the AAN Foun­da­tion and AAN Col­lec­tion as they moved through Asia. Cricket, mean­while, has been a plea­sure she en­joys with her hus­band – “although I can say that he en­joys it a bit more than I,” she quips. “Hav­ing a team in the Pak­istan Su­per League made com­plete sense to us, as it con­nected us to a sport that we both re­ally en­joy, as well as nur­ture this fresh and nascent form of cricket.” Naqvi’s in­ter­est in text and writ­ing has re­sulted in pro­duc­tion of and sup­port for over 25 publi­ca­tions. “Doc­u­men­ta­tion is crit­i­cal as it sup­ports re­search and schol­ar­ship, and leaves im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence for the fu­ture.” This other abid­ing in­ter­est has yielded to date a col­lec­tion of over 10,000 books on sub­jects as di­verse as art, sci­ence, phi­los­o­phy, lit­er­a­ture, history, pol­i­tics and tech­nol­ogy. “If I had not been a banker or a pa­tron of the arts,” Naqvi sur­mises, I would be an ar­chae­ol­o­gist. Even my in­ter­est in travel is al­ways in­formed by that pas­sion.”

A Com­mon Thread

“I think a com­mon­al­ity in my ar­eas of fo­cus would be that I look at the con­tem­po­rary with the lens of tra­di­tion. There are works in ev­ery pos­si­ble medium in the AAN Col­lec­tion, but I find con­tem­po­rary minia­ture paint­ing the most com­pelling amongst these.” Naqvi is re­fer­ring to a genre that she finds “the most ex­cit­ing stream to emerge from Pak­istan, and has laid the foun­da­tion for world­wide ac­claim and recog­ni­tion for artists such as Shahzia Sikan­dar, Im­ran Qureshi, Aisha Khalid and Khadim Ali”. There is for­mal­ism and rigor in the train­ing that these artists re­ceived at the Na­tional Col­lege of Arts in La­hore, in the cen­turiesold style of Indo-Per­sian paint­ing that harks back to the 16th and 17th cen­turies, she ex­plains. “This style has been trans­formed by these artists as they chal­lenged the rules of tra­di­tional paint­ing, and used their own artis­tic id­ioms to com­ment on the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural is­sues of their time. Even though they all have ex­per­i­mented in a va­ri­ety of me­dia, their prac­tice still re­veals an en­gage­ment with tra­di­tion.” An ex­am­ple, she cites, is the use of tra­di­tional mo­tifs and forms in the cre­ation of a digital an­i­ma­tion piece. “The same could be said for cricket, which is a cen­turies-old sport based on a frame­work of rules and marked by tra­di­tion. In the ear­lier days of the game, the com­pet­ing teams wore white uni­forms, and the game lasted over five days—with breaks for lunch and tea for the gen­tle­men,” Naqvi re­counts. It had a com­plex field struc­ture with field­ing po­si­tions ti­tled ‘fine leg’ and ‘silly point’, she con­tin­ues. “In con­trast, the new T-20 cricket game is a com­plete re­ver­sal. It is fast paced and lasts just three hours, the uni­forms are multi-hued, and the hit­ting style has changed to a bound­ary in ev­ery over – or ac­tu­ally

mul­ti­ple bound­aries. Yet again, it is a con­tem­po­rary for­mat in­formed by tra­di­tion: ‘Fine leg’ and ‘silly point’ still ex­ist! I love the it­er­a­tions, which are ‘in the here and now’ and yet in­formed by tra­di­tion,” she de­clares ex­cit­edly.

A Cus­to­dian’s Work

Naqvi’s art foun­da­tion and col­lec­tion are both named ‘AAN’, from an Urdu word for both ‘honor’ and ‘a mo­ment’. Naqvi con­sid­ers it an honor to be a cus­to­dian of art­works – with con­tem­po­rary art at its core; mean­while, she sees her work as an at­tempt to cap­ture the spe­cific ‘mo­ments’ of history within which these art­works ex­ist. “By be­ing a cus­to­dian, I don’t just mean be­ing a keeper of the col­lec­tion, but hav­ing an en­gage­ment with art and cu­ra­to­rial prac­tices as well. If col­lec­tors do not grow be­yond col­lect­ing art­works, then it leads to a sense of inertia. I think as col­lec­tions grow, col­lec­tors need to stretch the bound­aries by be­ing bold in their choice of art­works as well as in col­lab­o­rat­ing with art prac­ti­tion­ers on new ideas and projects. They need to morph into col­lab­o­ra­tors as well as col­lec­tors.” Naqvi main­tains that loan­ing art­works to pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions and mu­se­ums is one of the pri­mary ways of shar­ing art. She has lent, for ex­am­ple, a paint­ing by Im­ran Qureshi to SAM in Sin­ga­pore, and sev­eral oth­ers to the Met in New York, the Guggen­heim in Bil­bao, and the Belvedere in Vi­enna, among oth­ers. An­other way is phil­an­thropic sup­port, Naqvi stresses, such as her pro­vi­sion of seed fund­ing and cen­tral spon­sor­ship to the In­au­gu­ral La­hore Bi­en­nale, which en­abled the ac­ti­va­tion of his­toric sites with con­tem­po­rary art for the pub­lic. “To nur­ture the fruition of the idea with a seed fund, and then to sup­port the Bi­en­nale when it be­gan is what the AAN Foun­da­tion does best,” Naqvi says.

An Eye On Ex­cel­lence

AAN Foun­da­tion is be­hind artist Fazal Rizvi’s site spe­cific Rooms Afloat/Tair­tay Kam­rai. En­gage­ments through col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween pa­trons and artists is among the Foun­da­tion’s fo­cus, Naqvi points out. “They re­sult in an ex­pe­ri­en­tial col­lec­tion, and not just the phys­i­cal pos­ses­sion of the ob­ject. Rooms Afloat is a sound in­stal­la­tion which was en­joyed by the au­di­ence who lis­tened to sound in­stal­la­tion on head­phones as they ven­tured on boats into the ocean from the coast of Karachi. “I was not there, but as peo­ple en­joyed it, my ab­sence made it all the more po­tent (be­cause) col­lect­ing is not just a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, but a shared ex­pe­ri­ence. If we fa­cil­i­tate it, and the artist cre­ates it, and the par­tic­i­pants live it, it be­comes an­other mode of col­lect­ing. In the end, Naqvi con­cludes, it all leads to a more ro­bust ac­ti­va­tion of the arts rather than hold­ing on to an in­ert col­lec­tion. The col­lect­ing and the process re­main dy­namic and vi­brant, and pro­vide more fuel for fresher ideas. This also proves true in cricket, Naqvi says. Is­lam­abad United is the Pak­istan Su­per League cham­pion in 2016 and 2018 – twice since the league’s in­cep­tion in 2016. “We will con­tinue to sup­port a more ro­bust cricket scene lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. Five play­ers in our team have been se­lected for the na­tional cricket team. The idea is to choose tal­ent that would help strengthen the na­tional side as well.” “All my pur­suits have three main com­po­nents; in­ten­tion, fo­cus and dis­ci­pline. I have been en­gaged in art and pub­lish­ing for the last 25 years, which has in­cluded col­lect­ing, ex­hi­bi­tions, pub­lish­ing, and phi­lan­thropy – with the goal of ex­cel­lence.”




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