Syed Ahmed Sadequain Naqqash (1930-1987) was born in Amroha in 1930 to an educated North Indian Shia family in which calligraphy was a highly valued skill. Little is known of his early life in India however following his early years at school in Amroha he travelled to Delhi in 1944 and began working as a calligrapher-copyist at All India Radio, where his brother was also working. He worked here until 1946 before graduating from the University of Agra in 1948. Following partition Sadequain moved to Pakistan.

 

From 1948-1955 little is known of his life, although it is thought he worked as a college teacher, and at Radio Pakistan, before fully devoting himself to his artistic practices. Sadequain's rise to fame began in 1955, when he exhibited a number of works at the residence of Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, a liberal patron of the arts. Soon afterwards Sadequain received a number of important governmental commissions for municipal murals, and held numerous solo exhibitions of his work. It was around this time that the influence of Picasso began to appear strongly in Sadequain's paintings and sketches.

 

In 1957 Sadequain visited the arid and remote seaside location of Gadani. Here he first encountered large spikey bushes of cactai, which were to become a key theme and metaphor of his work throughout his life. To Sadequain these plants became representative of violence, man's struggle against hardship and nature's inevitable victory over adversity. They also influenced his calligraphic works, which he revealed was the source of all his artistic outpouring: "In the anatomy of these gigantic plants I found the essence of calligraphy. Everything that I have painted since then - a city like Rawalpindi, buildings, a forest, a boat, a table or a chair, a man, a mother and child, or a woman-has been based on calligraphy, which in itself issues from the structure of the cactus."

 

Sadequain won the Pakistan National prize for Painting in 1960, and left for Paris later that year, at the invitation of the French Committee of the International Association of Plastic Arts. The following few years were to be some of the most important for the young artist in terms of his artistic development, and it was whilst in Paris that he began to achieve international critical acclaim. In September 1961 he was the laureate winner of the Paris Biennial's 'Artist under 35' category, and was awarded a scholarship which allowed him to remain in Paris, and helped catapult him into the spotlight.

During the early 1960s he travelled to Pakistan as well as throughout Europe and to the USA, and held numerous solo-exhibitions, including at the Commonwealth Institute Galleries and New Vision Centre, London, and at Galerie Presbourg and Galerie Lambert in Paris.

 

In 1964 he was awarded the commission to illustrate a new edition of Albert Camus' novel L'Etranger, published in 1966 by Les Bibliopholes de L'Automobile Club de France. This was a great coup for Sadequain, and he devoted a great deal of time and effort to creating the imagery.

Sadequain returned to Pakistan in 1967 following his father's ill health during a visit to France. His output for the next few years was prolific and in the early 1970s he published a huge volume of poetry. It was during this period that he concerned himself mainly with calligraphy, as well as with state funded murals, including those at Mangla dam, The State Bank of Pakistan, and the ceiling of Frere Hall, Karachi.

 

His popularity soared following his return to Pakistan, and he remains one of the most influential and important South Asian artists of the 20th century.