Advocating role of female artists in Pakistan: Anna Molka Ahmed
In various discussions about art in Pakistan, the name of Anna Molka Ahmed is commonly referred to. She was known inarguably as a beacon for artists.
Nilofur Farrukh, the president of the International Art Critics Association, Pakistan sections remarks, “In fact, she has been the facilitator of a movement that made the proactive role of women artists a possibility.”
Professor Anna Molka Ahmed was one of the first few female artists during Pakistan’s independence in 1947.
Born in London to a Jewish family, a Polish mother and a Russian father, Molly Bridger studied painting, sculpture and design from London’s renowned St. Martin School of Arts, followed by a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Art.
But in the scorching summer of the Indo-Pak subcontinent, she was to make her name far away from her home. At the age of 18 in 1935, she converted to Islam before marrying Sheikh Ahmed, who in October 1939 would be Pakistani, then going on to study in London. Later, the couple arrived in Lahore in 1940.
Though the marriage broke in 1951, she chose to stay in Pakistan and stayed with her two daughters in Lahore until her death.
She was the driving force behind the development of the Punjab University’s Fine Arts Department, Lahore in 1940. After independence, the same institution was later to become the training ground for Pakistani women artists.
For the next three decades (1940-1978) she was head of the department. Several of her students have become popular artists in the world, including Colin David, Abrar Termizi, Ghulam Rasool, Shahnawaz Zaidi and Javed Iqbal, and many of them are playing their role internationally.
Her unrelenting efforts gradually upgraded art education to MA beyond B.A in fine arts at University of Punjab.
Various articles cite her as a trendsetter for Pakistan’s feminist art which is rising against traditional patriarchal gender supremacy. In reality, we are experiencing a systematic dismantling of social and gender classifications these days.
It was an ardous journey to bring women to a platform where they could showcase their work and gain prominency – Ana Molka Ahmed was one of those people to do just that.
She was an avid gardener as well. When tending the garden, she would wear her signature attire, cut hedges in fresh and imaginative shapes, and went on painting and gardening until the very last moment before she was told to stop by the doctors because it was badly affecting her health.
She passed away in Lahore on April 21, 1994.
Professor Dr. Saadat Saeed Urdu Department Ankara University Turkey reminisces about the artist and writes, “She used to treat her subjects boldly. Her grand paintings contain sparks of her domineering and impressive personality. Her impressionistic technique blended with expressionistic tones and shades made her work unique. The suggestiveness of her knife was creative. She chose a knife to paint in preference to smooth brushes and made her style so unique that the audience could do nothing but stand and wonder.
Her style was so unique in its nature that art critics found her work much better than any of her contemporary artists have done. The multi-cultural history of Anna Molka had made her point of view, broad and liberal.
Anna Molka used the media of drawing, painting, graphic arts, sculpture, and design. She was known as an expert in the domain of still life, animal nature, and figures. She used the media of watercolor, gouache, fresco, tempera, oil, wax, mosaic to paint and produce unique portraits, still life, landscapes, figure compositions, and animal paintings. She loved to paint solitude, loneliness, alienation, mannerism, sufferings, and sadness from the perspective of the urban landscape. Most of her paintings symbolize the materialistic life around us. She painted poetry and wrote sceneries. Her colors were bright and strokes fascinating.”
Anna is a member of Pakistan’s fundamental art developments. I am, she once said, “the Mother of all the artists.” Recognition of her work is recorded through a number of national awards, including the 1963
Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, the 1969 Pride of Performance President’s Award and the 1969 Khudeja Tul Kubra Medal.