5 Internationally Known Pakistani Artists


Abdur Rehman Chughtai

Educated at the Mayo School of Art and a head instructor of chromo lithography at his alma mater, Abdur Rehman Chughtai followed nature’s calling and blossomed into a revolutionary painter who transformed the Pakistani art so much so that for some, he is regarded as the national painter of Pakistan. Also known as ‘The Water Color Man’, he cultivated and fertilized the flourishing art scene in Pakistan, through his takes on oriental and Bengali style art, and eventually created his own brand; a blend of Art Noveau and Islamic Art traditions.

In his works, he immortalized Mughals, Persians, and Indo Islamic folklore, preserving culture and showcasing it. Alongside an avid painter, he was also a print maker, a writer, an etcher and sketcher, his work ‘Muraqqa-i-Chughtai’ is a beautiful manifestation of Ghalib’s poetry and is regarded as his most significant career milestone. Chughtai was also rendered as a representative of Pakistan, and amongst his ardent admirers were the likes of Allama Iqbal and Elizabeth II. Chughtai was awarded with the titles of Khan Bahadur and Hilal-e-Imitiaz, as well as the Pride of Performance in recognition of his efforts and dedication towards the field of art.


“A mystic artist from Pakistan, who has become a legend in his own time” is how the Khaleej Times of UAE described Sadequain. But he was so much more: a philanthropist, thinker, poet and a lover of humanity encompassed in a single being that wowed the world with his unique talent and such genius that he transcended the likes of Michael Angelo and Da Vinci forming a league of his own. His work was a medley of murals, poetry, paintings, calligraphies and intricate drawings that were governed by themes of realism, infused with lyricism.

Using the medium of art, he depicted the tumultuous nature of life and the hardships faced by those belonging to the lower strata of society. He was responsible for the Islamic Calligraphy Renaissance, birthing a branch of art that took foothold in Pakistan and superseded borders, inspiring hundreds of artists worldwide. Sadequain was honoured with several awards, such as the Australian Cultural Award, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, Pride of Performance, Gold Mercury Award and Sitara-e-Imtiaz.

Ana Molka Ahmed

Ana Molka Ahmed was a breath of fresh air in the male dominated area of arts and crafts in Pakistan. Being a Jewish convert and a female, she was an enigma for Pakistan and changed the face of art and women’s position in the entity itself. Educated at the Royal Academy of Art, Ahmed was a painter, sculptor and designer. Her work was impressionistic, with impressionistic undertones and perhaps, her most unique quality was the fact that she preferred to paint with a knife. This garnered immense curiosity and fame. She depicted themes of loneliness, soltitude and abstinence in her works.

After being divorced, she opted to stay in Pakistan and founded the Department of Fine Arts, now College of Arts and Design at Punjab University. This institution became a breeding ground for women artists in Pakistan. Her initiative propagated the dismantling of gender discrimination and birthed feministic themes which began to dominate art work. Ana Molka Ahmed was also an art critic who wrote to promote traditions of art in Pakistan and abroad. She was awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, the highest civil award for her services in the field of fine arts education in the country.

Ismail Gulgee

“…I live only when I paint. The rest is but a wait mixed with prayer for crossing the threshold from life into the experience of life.”

An engineer turned artist, Ismail Gulgee felt he was only truly alive with a brush in his hand stroking the canvas, bringing it to life in the form of abstract expressionism, action painting and Islamic Calligraphy. Employing mixed media, he produced vibrant paintings that radiated intense emotion and pulsated with life which were his mark alongside the larger than life portraits that rocketed him to fame.

As a portraitist, he brought the Afghan Royal Family, Allama Iqbal, Quaid-e-Azam, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to life in the form of magnificent paintings. A big fish in a small pond, Guljee brought recognition to Pakistan as a hub of unrecognized talent and paved way for the progression of art beyond the realm of calligraphy through his own paintings which were versatile and encompassed techniques of the West as well the East. In recognition of his efforts and genius, he was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz twice, alongside the Pride of Performance.

Zubeida Agha

Zubeida Agha was born in Faisalabad in 1922. She acquired a degree in Political Science from Kinnaird College. Her disposition as an introvert and her love for philosophy formed the backdrop against which her abstract idea paintings manifested. Although her style was met with criticism as it was non-conformist, she ploughed on, unfazed. Her determination and resilience bore fruit when she became Pakistan’s first Colorist. Her work resulted in breaking away from tradition and transformed interpretation and perception in art, creating a radical movement which was carried forward by the likes of Shakir Ali.

In 1961, she was appointed as the Director of the Contemporary Art Gallery, through which she enhanced the popularity of modern art in Pakistan. Agha was also renowned for a multitude of art exhibitions abroad and in Pakistan and was awarded the Shakir Ali Award for National Exhibition. Widely acknowledged as the pioneer of modern art in Pakistan, she was honoured with the Pride of Performance Award in 1965.

Written by Zainab Adil


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