Masood Kohari, an internationally recognised painter and ceramist, passed away in Rouen (France) on Wednesday morning, his family has disclosed. He was in his 80s.
He is mourned by a wife and three children.
Kohari had emigrated to France in 1969 and settled in Rouen, the capital town of Normandy. He had divided his time between France and Pakistan since then.
He emerged on Karachi’s art circuit sometime in the ’50s, when he and his inseparable friend, Jamil Naqsh — who emerged as one of Pakistan’s most celebrated painters in subsequent years — set out to lay the grounds for a cultural renaissance.
Karachi was a different city in those early years. Contemporary artists — including Shahid Sajjad, Maqsood Ali, Mansoor Aye and many from then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) — were struggling, but still making a mark with their talents in various mediums.
Kohari’s adventure began with oil paintings when he was 25. He eventually held a solo exhibition in 1962 at the Pakistan-American Cultural Centre. He was largely self-taught but had been endowed with “the skills and sensibility of a natural-born artist”, according to art critic Nasir Shamsie.
Kohari later developed an obsession with clay, which drove him to conduct experiments with the new medium. He soon came to be regarded as a pioneer in ceramics in Pakistan. His accomplishments in the new field resulted in 200 works displayed in exhibitions in Paris and Normandy.
His bohemian spirit, however, did not allow him to settle in one place. He returned home after a hiatus of five years. He travelled to Punjab in search of indigenous traditions in clay craftsmanship, which brought him to Gujrat and Gujranwala.
Here, he broke new ground. Forgetting the chokingly green environs of northern France, he embraced the searing heat of pottery kilns to work alongside local artisans. In this process, Kohari developed a speciality in glass and metal pieces, which were later known as Kohari’s “Fire Collages” or “Crystal Collages”.
During his stay in Pakistan, he became quite close to Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Shakir Ali, who was heading the National College of Arts. Ali, in a letter, effusively praised Kohari’s dedication to the slow and painstaking medium of ceramics while marvelling at his patience.
He had been a familiar face at the Karachi Press Club in the ’70s, when he headed the Art School of the Arts Council. Many of the city’s contemporary painters and gallery owners happen to be his students from those years.
Highly imaginative and honest to the core, Kohari stayed miles away from a rapidly commercialising world. In recent years, he had recused himself from the world of media and art.
Still, his energy and enthusiasm had not waned: one would always find him busy painting at his residence in Bahadurabad, where he would stay while on vacation in Pakistan.
Jaffer Bilgrami is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: email@example.com
Originally published in Dawn, June 24th, 2022