Razzia Feroz and Her Work: A Pioneer of Art in Pakistan
It was only the seventh year since the Fine Arts Department was founded at the University of the Punjab Lahore, when it cradled the first generation of Pakistani artists on a serious academic level after the independence in 1947.
The atmosphere was outlandish after the nine decades of monarchic British rule and the Lahore, a crucible of various cultures and ethnicities, was a city of opportunities for the young Muslim men and women in terms of work and education. The Fine Arts Department which once was crowded mostly by the Hindu and Christian girls, then started to entertain the Muslim girl-students. In those years, Anna Molka Ahmad, the British born and educated young artist and academician, was striving to strengthen the foundations of the academic art in Pakistan. Anna Molka was trying hard to promote various techniques and genre of the western in the visual culture where Miniature painting had been a popular artistic forte.
In 1947, the first Muslim teacher Mrs. Anwar Afzal joined this department to stand by the lone efforts of Anna Molka Ahmad. Later, Zakkia Malik Sheikh, Naseem Hafeez Qazi and Razzia Feroz also served this institution as teachers to evolve and assimilate the western canon of aesthetics with the local convention. This became a very critical period in the visual doctrine of Lahore, which was to shape the future visual idiom of art in Pakistan.
Razzia Feroz is one such artist who adopted the painting, not only as an academic accomplishment, but as a medium that could serve her to express the philosophy and ideology towards and about life. Razzia was born in 1925 in Shahpur Punjab, and she came to Lahore with her parents in 1927 during her infancy. However, the visual impression of the Shahpur village remained a part of her subconscious and was expressed frequently in her paintings with tall and gracefully dressed villagers as the figures of her canvases and the agricultural environment as the backdrop.
Dr. Ferozuddin was a medical doctor and had a special affectionate relationship with his youngest daughter; Razzia. Dr. Feroz encouraged her daughter’s early drawing and painting endeavors by sitting for hours as her model. Her father’s feelings towards the ailing poor and needy patients influenced Razzia to a great deal and Florence Nightingale, the legendary icon in the field of Nursing, became her first inspiration and ideal. Razzia herself had some health issues right from her childhood that became an impediment for many of her dreams, and she had to readjust, time and again, her academic objectives. She graduated from Kinnaird College Lahore in 1943 and went on to join an MA course in Geography, but owing to her ill health, she could not continue this degree, and that venture ended up in smoke.
She describes this experience as:
“I was very disappointed and felt hopeless. It was this disappointment that made me more art-minded and thus turned all my love and affection towards a thing that has never turned faithless and has always been a sincere friend and companion.”
(Ahmad p. 09)
Since the age of three, Razzia had been doodling and scribbling as instinctively as a child could be. The lost effort for an MA in Geography proved as a turning point in her life, and she then considered her hobby seriously to prepare herself for the University Art Examination that she took with BA’s in 1947. At that venture of time, she became acquainted with Anna Molka Ahmad, who invited her to join the Fine Arts Department for a Post-Graduate Diploma in Fine Arts. In those days, Razzia was afraid of her bad health and unaccomplished endeavors of her life, which actually had made her reluctant and hesitant to re-evaluate her ambitions and goals. However, the continuous advice and guidance of Anna Molka Ahmad made Razzia to think proactively. Anna Molka recommended Razzia to read “Art Versus Illness” by Adrian Hill in her pursuit to prevail over the difficulties to achieve her objectives. Finally, in 1949, Razzia joined the Fine Arts Department to be listed along with the first generation of Post-Pakistan artists. She completed her Diploma in 1950 and the following year she was offered to teach at the Fine Arts Department.
Razzia found peace and strength in art and overcame the shortcomings of her life by indulging fully in the various genres of visual arts like painting and modeling. She found answers of her philosophical and logical yearning towards life and came up with a righteous doctrine for her life to proceed optimistically. In her own words:
“Art is life and life is Art to me. Art is an unknown source that is inspiring in me a life to live and to paint humanity in all its moods and colours. I wish to paint suffering humanity with all the brilliant colours and thus too hide the sufferings, pains and hunger under a coat of everlasting gaze… It is my life’s mission and my life’s aim. My soul shall never be at peace, so long as I have not done my duty in doing full justice to a world of ideas that cherish me… ”
(Ahmad p. 13)
Razizia’s art is uncomplicated with simplicity of technique as well as the theme. Her figurative and landscape paintings are rooted in the pastoral life of Punjab where she opened her eyes while her modeling is under the academic influence of the institutional art. We may not find her work groundbreaking or revolutionary, however, the contribution she made with her commitment, and perseverance is vital in shaping the early years of art in Pakistan.
• Anna Molka Ahmad. Razzia Feroz: Monograph Number Three. Lahore: Punjab University Press, 1954.
• Catalogue Lahore Art Circle Group Exhibition 1955. Lahore: 1955.
• Catalogue Group Exhibition at Fine Arts Department 1954. Lahore: Punjab University Press, 1954.