Masood Kohari, an internationally recognized painter and ceramist, died in Rouen (France) on Wednesday morning, his family revealed. He was 80 years old.
He is mourned by a wife and three children.
Kohari emigrated to France in 1969 and settled in Rouen, the capital of Normandy. Since then he had divided his time between France and Pakistan.
He emerged on the Karachi art circuit in the 1950s, when he and his inseparable friend, Jamil Naqsh – who emerged as one of Pakistan’s most celebrated painters in later years – set out to lay the groundwork 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 continued to make their mark with their talents in various mediums.
Kohari’s adventure began with oil paintings at the age of 25. She eventually held a solo exhibition in 1962 at the Pakistan-American Cultural Center. According to art critic Nasir Shamsie, he was largely self-taught, but he had been gifted with the “skills and sensibilities of a natural artist”.
Kohari later developed an obsession with clay, which prompted him to conduct experiments with the new medium. He soon became a pioneer of pottery in Pakistan. His successes in the new field have led to 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 five year break. He traveled to Punjab in search of indigenous traditions in clay crafts, which took him to Gujrat and Gujranwala.
Here it has opened up new horizons. Forgetting the sweltering green of the northern French surroundings, she embraced the searing heat of ceramic kilns to work alongside local artisans. In this process, Kohari developed a specialty in glass and metal pieces, which were later known as Kohari’s “Fire Collage” or “Crystal Collage”.
During his time in Pakistan, he got quite close to Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Shakir Ali, who headed the National College of Arts. Ali, in a letter, enthusiastically praised Kohari’s dedication to the slow and meticulous medium of pottery, marveling at his patience.
He had been a familiar face at the Karachi Press Club in the 1970s, when he ran the Art School of the Arts Council. Many of the city’s contemporary painters and gallery owners were his students during those years.
Highly imaginative and honest through and through, Masood Kohari has remained miles away from a rapidly commercializing world. In recent years he had moved away from the world of media and art.
However, his energy and enthusiasm had not diminished: he would always be found busy painting at his residence in Bahadurabad, where he would stay during his holidays in Pakistan.
Jaffer Bilgrami is a freelance journalist reachable at: [email protected]
Published in Dawn, June 24, 2022