Making sense of life – Amin Gulgee

Making sense of life

IT MAY have been in his genes but Amin Gulgee never envisioned that he would be an artist. Growing up around an artist like his father – the eminent Pakistani painter Ismail Gulgee – meant that he knew firsthand what the life of an artist was like.

“I was not romantic about the life of an artist,” he says when in Kuala Lumpur recently to exhibit his work. “I thought I wouldn’t have the courage. I thought it would be too difficult and if I was going to be an artist, I wanted to be a working artist, not an academic.”

The life of an artist also wasn’t something that his parents wanted for him. He thus went off to study economics at Yale. Economics, he hated (of course) and so he decided to take a course in art history. That stirred his artistic inclinations.

“That’s what brought me back into the fold,” he says. “It was so wonderful. I got to see things I really love and, by the end of it, I had a major in it.”

He did his thesis on the Mughal Gardens, focussing on the Shalamar Gardens in Lahore and, after graduation, he decided to try his hand at being an artist – not a painter but as a sculptor. He was motivated by his love for objects.

Sculptor Amin Gulgee: ‘I love form, animate and inanimate.’

“I love form, animate and inanimate,” he says. “There are a million variations that one can come up with.”

Design is something that fascinates him. There are certain rules that have to be followed; being creative in design means having to play around with those rules. In addition, one has to be aware of the function of the object.

Over the years, Amin has become known as an innovator. Using metal as his medium, Amin draws on Pakistan’s rich history in the creation of his work.

His philosophy is simple: his art is a means of making sense of his world.

“To understand oneself. That’s what it’s all about,” he says. “The process of working is to try and understand that. You build on the past but it’s you now.”

Pieces previously used for performances are given a new function in the Bodyaspect of Amir’s exhibition.

His latest work entitled Body and Soul, which was recently displayed at Wei-Ling Gallery, is a case in point. The work juxtaposes two strains of his previous work – the geometrically structured and mathematical with the organic and fluid.

The Body aspect of the exhibition features pieces – made of cast brass and copper – that were previously used for performances. Amin attempts to look within in developing the work. Initially, intrigued by what he terms as “inner masks”, Amin began the series to study the state of the soul. It is about understanding the world around him as well as what’s within him.

The Soul portion, meanwhile, presents geometric pieces. Amin explores the cube, something he has worked with in the past and now tries to understand further. This time, however, he no longer focuses on the surface. Instead, he explores the space within the cube and tries to comprehend the function of the cube by breaking it into other cubes. Here, to understand form, he dissects it.

The idea of “making sense” is also reflected in the way Amin works. He doesn’t draw or sketch before he starts sculpting; he usually begins with a visual in mind.

“Sometimes it is very clear and sometimes it is very ambiguous and fuzzy and then it forms in your head and becomes absolute,” he explains. “A lot of the time, you just have a feeling and, at other times, you really know. Mine is a very chaotic process. I get blocked all the time. It’s not an elegant process.”

Often, Amin finds himself stuck; he turns to creating jewellery as a means to work out his ideas. Jewellery, however, was what he designed when he lived in New York as an artist before returning to Pakistan.

His jewellery complimented Mary McFadden’s Spring/ Summer Collection in 1996 and, in 2001, he received the First Award for Jewellery from Pakistan’s School of Fashion Design.

But it is the larger pieces that fascinate him. Using copper as a medium enables him to break boundaries by giving the metal a new dimension.

“Copper has been worked on time and time again,” he says. “It’s ancient – archaic almost – and I want to achieve textures nobody else has. Copper can have many manifestations.”

He is also someone who is not constrained by rules. There are none where the creative process is concerned, he says, but the object must look the same from all angles.

Last year, he received the Pride of Performance award from the President of Pakistan. He has exhibited all over the world and his sculptures have been acquired by The International Monetary Fund, The Aga Khan Foundation and various other major players.

For Amin, however, it’s trying to unravel the thoughts that makes it interesting.

“It’s not just the amount of labour and time. The main thing is trying to figure out in your head – like a problem. That’s really interesting.”

For more on Amin Gulgee, log on to

The Star

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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