Zubeida Agha (b. 1922, Lyallpur; d. 1997, Islamabad) was undoubtedly the first painter in Pakistan who understood and achieved the conceptual aspects of modernism. Her journey was a complicated and determined pursuit of self-actualisation—an uphill task, given the times she lived in. Electing to create art between the first and second World Wars, as well as living in the Indian subcontinent in a post-Partition setting, came with a lot of baggage and sense of shared loss. Perceptions had changed, far-reaching in their consequences, and there was also biting criticism. Yet she carried on with dignified composure in the face of it all, choosing to live mostly in seclusion and devote her life to her practice.

Agha grew up in a unique family that cultivated and encouraged progressive thinking. Unlike most young women around her, she had the privilege of following her dreams and read philosophy at Kinnaird College, Lahore (1944). This academic background gave her the tools for analysis, but it was Amrita Sher-Gil’s paintings and her own vivid dreams of colour that led her start working in the studio of B. C. Sanyal. He was a nonconformist artist and teacher who offered a gathering place for artists, intellectuals and literary figures of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, when artists such as Sher-Gil, Ustad Allah Bux and Anna Molka Ahmed frequented Lahore because of its creative energy. Exhibitions and seminars took place regularly, stimulating innovation and critical dialogue and bringing international influences that inspired a younger generation to think outside the box, artists like Moyene Najmi, Anwar Jalal Shemza, S. Safdar and Ahmed Parvez amongst them.

Khass Gallery –  Zubeida Agha