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Vanishing Visions

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Jamila Masud

Editor’s note: The last piece of my current curatorial fortnight for the website features a rare look at the work of Jamila Masud, an award-winning multi-disciplinary Pakistani artist. Incidentally, she is the late mother of our publishing editor, Mehvash Amin, who first introduced me to her work. Vanishing Visions was the name of an art book published by Ferozsons, Lahore, in 1997 and was based on a series of paintings by Jamila Masud on the traditional and colonial residential architecture of Pakistan, portraying the ignoble status to which magnificent old buildings have been relegated to in many cities. The following works by her and the story behind them bring this fortnight’s curation, with its spotlight on archiving the past, to a close. The introductory text has been excerpted from her preface to the book, which is no longer in print. A selection of ten plates (from the total of fifty) are reproduced here.

- Hassan Tahir Latif

Whenever I visit Lahore, I look at old residential buildings reminiscent of my grandfather’s haveli with the eyes of [a] child. Maybe it is because of [my] childhood memories that I cannot pass by such old architecture without responding to it emotionally.

In 1992, I was one of the participants in a seminar held under the auspices of the Anjuman e Mimaran Pakistan, a society for the promotion of traditional architecture in the country. There I met individuals who were deeply committed to the preservation of old architecture and it made me think of how, as an artist, I could also contribute. I felt inspired to portray on paper the callous neglect of the large number of old residential buildings, many of them so broken down as to be outwardly unremarkable and unable to compete with more historical or grander edifices for proper attention and care.

My work on Vanishing Visions started in 1992. I had gone to Emnabad, a small town in the province of the Punjab, known largely for its cluster of three havelis. These buildings still retain some traces of the original beauty of colour and structure—they were my inspiration, anyway. I subsequently travelled repeatedly to the old parts of Lahore, Emnabad and Karachi to collect data and photographs, and later sketches, for the series. However, as is often the case with artistic ambitions, it was a task which turned out to be much more difficult to achieve than originally perceived. A live sketch was not enough. An artistic rendering was equally inadequate as I had a dual purpose in mind: I wanted these paintings to have an artistic appeal but also, importantly, an authenticity of line and form that could faithfully document some of their delightful architectural details for posterity.

After many trials and errors, and much frustration at being unable to strike the right balance between the graphic detail that architectural drawings require and the hazy, ethereal effect of a past gradually disintegrating before our eyes, I arrived at a workable solution. A combination of photographic sketching, washes, line drawing and watercolours finally seemed to capture that intangible, yet powerful, impact that I wanted to convey. The large number of intermediate stages in the process also enables me to achieve a wide variety of different treatments and effects to suit the ‘mood’ of each scene. The results bear testimony to this individualised approach: the paintings range from fairly realistic to sketchy, from pastel watercolours to single-tint washes, from line drawings to extensive brushwork. My aim was to differentiate between each building, each location and indeed, each moment and to acknowledge the dedicated effort, thought and labour that helped build each of these magnificent structures. Many senses seem to evoke the pithy and prophetic imagery of the great Punjabi Sufi poet and sage, Bulleh Shah.

Through these plates, I hope the reader will be able to relive a bit of the past, comprehend some of what we stand to lose, perhaps even be moved to help stop the decay, or at the very least, discern the elegance of “the walls and towers destined to crumble, the tracery of patterns so subtle it could escape the termites’ gnawing.”*

*From Italo Calvino’s Le Città Invisibili (English translation Invisible Cities by William Weaver, Harcourt Brace Javanovich, Inc., New York, 1974).

Plate I

Mixed media on watercolour paper, 24.2 x 16.5 cm

Plate V

Mixed media on watercolour paper, 24.2 x 15.4 cm

Plate XII

Mixed media on watercolour paper, 23.6 x 16.5 cm

Plate XVII

Mixed media on watercolour paper, 23.5 x 15.8 cm


Mixed media on watercolour paper, 16.5 x 23.3 cm


Mixed media on watercolour paper, 26.2 x 18.2 cm

Plate XXIX

Mixed media on watercolour paper, 25.1 x 17.6 cm


Mixed media on watercolour paper, 25.4 x 18.2 cm


Mixed media on watercolour paper, 23.5 x 16.7 cm

Plate L

Mixed media on watercolour, 23.7 x 17.2 cm


Jamila Masud was born in 1934. After graduating first in English literature at the Punjab University, she started her professional careers in teaching and painting.

Largely self-taught, Jamila did not have prolonged training in the arts. In the early 1980s, however, she studied drawing, water colour painting and sculpting at the Art Students’ League of New York. Having retired in 1994 as associate professor of English, she divided her time between painting in oil and water colour, and sculpting in marble and other stones.

Jamila exhibited her works extensively in solo and group shows in Pakistan and abroad. Her paintings are in the permanent collections of the Lahore Museum, the Pakistan National Art Gallery, the Punjab Council of the Arts, the Prime Minister’s residence and the National Assembly of Pakistan. In addition, her works have been acquired by private and public institutions and collectors in Pakistan and many countries around the world. She was selected to represent Pakistan at the 3rd International Sculpture Symposium at Changchun, China, where her monumental marble sculpture is now on permanent public display. Her Mahiya series of oil paintings inspired the publication of Mahiyas, Poèmes Villageois du Pendjab by the Présidence Française de l’Union Européenne, Paris, in 2000.

In recognition of her varied and widely acclaimed body of work, Jamila Masud was awarded the President’s Medal for Pride of Performance in 1995, the highest official accolade for artistic achievement in Pakistan. She passed away in 2001 and is survived by a daughter and a son.


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