AAnna Molka Ahmed was a renowned Pakistani artist, art educationist and teacher, an administrator and founder of fine arts department of the University of the Punjab. In the trail of art transformation and development in pre-and post-partition era, Molka played a pivotal role in the art scene of undivided Punjab and later in Pakistani part of this province. As an artist, she is considered an expert in the genres of landscape, figure composition and portrait.
Writing about this art legend takes me one and half years back. It was a January morning when I reached at Punjab University College of Art and Design (PUCAD) for admission to MS Art History. Sitting on the benches in a lawn, we the interviewees braved the chill waiting for our turn. Finally, my name was called out and I landed in a cosy room to find myself surrounded by a panel of seven teachers being headed by Dr Rahat Masud Naveed, then PUCAD principal.
After a brief introduction, Dr Rahat with a wide smile on her face read out to her co-panellists a sentence she had marked in red from my essay on Molka. It went as: “Anna Molka Ahmed was a soft-spoken and polite person.” This sentence worked like a magic phrase that stirred a long bout of loud laughter as I, like a fool, tried in vain to figure out what was so hilarious about it. The secret was not revealed until after many months when I came to know that Molka was not a soft-spoken woman at all, that she was a very strict administrator. This was affirmed by Dr Rahat herself some three months ago as she shared her carrier experiences with us. She told us that Molka was a courageous and authoritative person. She would never let slackness and negligence go unpunished, so much so that there was not a single person under her command who had never walked out of her office weeping. Despite all this, she is remembered as a motherly figure and cherished as a goddess of art by her students – some of whom latter worked with her as colleagues.
But my focus here is on Molka the painter. Her paintings provide a unique recollection of the past with an interesting vocabulary of her personal interpretations in language of vigorous colours. She mostly painted landscapes and cityscapes; used hues and complementary colours; and blended impressionistic technique with expressionistic tones that made her work exceptional.
Molka used various media but her major works are mostly in oils. Specifically, she worked in impasto style with impressionistic technique in which colours are laid on with knife and left in separate patches without letting them get mixed with each other. She mostly used a palette knife but sometimes her fingers were the prime tool. Instead of chromatic tones, she used hues. Her use of complementary colours – like red and green, and blue and orange – created colourful and energetic works that evoked viewer’s response.
As for the subjects, she mostly painted for self-satisfaction and self-expression but she also did commissioned work. The subject is prominent in Molka’s paintings, especially the commissioned ones which include her illustrations of 1965 Pak-India war. She also illustrated many other memorable events and idealised portraits of heroes. The commissioned painting gives less margin for self-expression, still she executed details with freedom and gusto.
Initially she showed interest in portrait painting but soon she shifted to landscape and that remained her craze right to the very end of her long career as a painter. Molka’s landscapes are evident prove of her bold, brisk and energetic style. She heightened the value of colour that is why her earthy orange turned into flaming orange and blue sky became brighter in her paintings.
The use of thick paint brought flamboyant impact in her paintings. Yellow green tone in her landscapes increased freshness and brightness. Being brought up in the cool and greyish landscape of Britain, she appreciated the brighter colours of India after she moved here. This response to the new climate’s colour in her bold impasto style made her a fiery painter.
Molka did not paint details but in her eluding strokes she maintained the record of the place and various forms of flora, creating an atmospheric harmony. Even in doing it in a zippy way, she comprised full command of perspective in her landscapes. She mostly used aerial perspective.
Coming from a foreign land, Molka made a significant niche among her giant contemporaries like Chughtai, Allah Bakhsh, Zubeida Agha, Sadequain and Gulgee, besides becoming an inspiration for the latter generations of artists. The burning pallet of her signature colours in hands of this bold and enthusiastic artist marked its unforgettable impact on the canvas of Pakistan’s art history.