In 2006 Aakif Suri procured a BFA in Miniature Painting from the National College of Arts, Lahore. He now works as an Assistant Professor at both his alma mater and the Pakistan Institute of Fashion and Design (PIFD), Lahore. His work has been shown both locally and internationally at a variety of group exhibitions, solo shows and art fairs, the latter including the Basel Art Fair, the Melbourne Art Fair and Slick Art Fair, Paris. Suri’s technical practice has very much been shaped by his training in miniature painting, the practice and popularity of which, since its reintroduction as a major subject to the NCA’s Fine Art curriculum in 1982, has experienced a dramatic resurgence. His art practice is informed by his rural upbringing in the generally underprivileged Dera Ghazi Khan district of the Punjab. This manifests itself in his work by reflecting and promulgating the issues, concerns and cultural sensibilities of his community, which often remain unvoiced due to its socio-political and demographical context.
SANAM is a work in which Suri expands on his sensitivity for naturalistic detail, acquired in his training as a miniaturist, on a larger scale. The work simultaneously plays with notions of ethnicity, technical tradition and the apportion of cultural significance. Whilst Suri’s work is somewhat of a departure from the technical tradition of contemporary miniature painting, the post-colonial derivative of the Mughal painterly tradition of musawwari, its influence is still conspicuous, even though the scale of the work is far from miniature. As Murad Khan Mumtaz writes: “In a global art economy, miniaturists are now encouraged to invoke ‘ethnic’ aesthetics; however, paradoxically, they continue to be influenced by and judged according to an established European canon.” In this context, Suri’s departure in scale and subject matter clearly subverts this pressure to conform to the whims of the global art market. However, his subject matter, a modestly garlanded cow, directly refers to his ethnic background in which cows are of vital cultural significance due to the region’s cattle industry. The title of the work, SANAM, a name meaning ‘beloved’ in Arabic, further emphasises the symbolic importance of the cow depicted. In his work, Suri not only undermines the external categorisation of the technical tradition of miniature painting, he creates a visual metaphor for his ethno-cultural context within his highly-skilled aesthetic framework.