Encouraged to draw from a young age, Tashfeen Majeed Joseph remembers playing with colours and making basic drawings on the floor using crayons and charcoal.
A promising painter and sculptor, he was born in Faisalabad to an artist and political activist, Majeed Joseph who was associated with Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party. Having an aptitude to draw, Tashfeen would win poster competitions in school, which was quite encouraging for a young artist.
“My father wanted me to study arts at the Moscow University but after the fall of Soviet Union it was impossible so he made a plan to send me to National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore. But I was practising freehand drawing to qualify for admission to the arts college when my father died in 2002 and money he had saved in a money box for my admission was spent on his funeral,” said Tashfeen while talking fondly of his late father.
He was the only son of my father with a big family to feed and his father’s untimely death left him with no option but to work as a daily-wage labourer to earn for living.
While loading and unloading merchandise on trucks, the young Tashfeen forgot all his dreams to pursue a career as an artist but the passion to draw endured and he would make cartoons for local newspapers during his free time.
Financial conditions of his family got better after his mother received the gratuity and pension of his deceased father. Tashfeen got admission to the newly-formed department of fine arts at the Government College University Faisalabad from where he earned a BFA in painting.
“My mother was fighting a legal battle to secure her right to possess the residence allotted to my father. To settle the score, the opponents attacked the house and put it on fire. It was a trauma that we faced and all my research work and paintings were damaged by the fire,” he recalls in a bitter tone.
His first artistic expression was an installation based on the remains of that violent incident.
“No one in the faculty was allowing me to present an installation comprised of burnt art works as my thesis project. I am grateful to Saleem Ansari, my external thesis advisor who convinced the faculty and I passed my finals with honours,” Tashfeen narrates.
“I was in the first batch qualified from the GCU Faisalabad. My interaction with junior students helped a great deal in developing a better understanding of miniature paintings, which had a visible impact on my recent works,” he relates.
Practising visual art for almost one decade, Tashfeen has numerous group and solo shows to his credit. Unlike conventional exhibitions in art galleries, he displays his art pieces at public places mostly on the streets and roads.
“Initially, it was in response to the derogatory attitude of the galleries to the artists coming from humble backgrounds. The common people's responses to my art were blunt, pure and encouraging as compared to the diplomatic art critics and I decided to make the road shows a regular practice,” he narrates.
A video showing one of his exhibitions, outside Wazir Khan Masjid in Lahore, got viral and became a social media sensation few months ago.
“I was shocked to see the favouritism by the Lahore Biennale Foundation, promoting a bunch of artists and ignoring the senior painters rooted in Lahore. After discussion with my filmmaker friend, Ammar Aziz, we decided to have a show parallel to the Lahore Biennale and made the video, which became a voice for a lot of artists ignored because of favouritism,” Tashfeen claims.
He is gradually evolving as an artist by experimenting with a wide range of mediums but wood carving remains his all-time favourite. He is currently creating a series of miniature paintings employing conventional materials use in truck art and elements of miniature painting.
Tashfeen’s works carry strong emotional content and agony of a politically conscious working class artist who has a sharp eye, sound skills and courage to express himself without any hesitation and financial goals in mind.
Originally published in Dawn, June 11th, 2018