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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture


(b. Amroha, 1930); (d. Karachi, 10 Feb. 1987).

Pakistani painter. Sadequain was one of Pakistan’s most dynamic and influential artists. Born into a family of Koran scribes, Sadequain learned the power of verse and the aesthetic of calligraphy. As a youth in Delhi, he worked as a copyist for All India Radio, in his free time roaming the streets painting anti-British, pro-Pakistani slogans on walls and walkways. He earned extra money drawing maps and illustrating textbooks.

Shortly after going to Pakistan in the early 1950s, Sadequain attracted the attention of Karachi entrepreneur Hasan Habib. About 1956 he was taken under the wing of Pakistan’s prime minister, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy. Sadequain’s abstract or Cubist-like figures, seascapes and still-lifes from this period lack conviction. A self-imposed period of seclusion on Karachi’s barren seacoast transformed his art. Cacti became his alter ego—a symbol of life enduring in a hostile environment.

Sadequain’s career soared in the 1960s. He traveled to and exhibited in Europe and the USA. In 1961 he was laureate winner of the French Biennale for artists under 35. He received state patronage for his calligraphic and figurative murals while continuing to produce satiric works. A 1965 exhibition featured paintings critical of what he saw as demoralizing national repression. These paintings depict artists (including Sadequain himself) and intellectuals caught in cobwebs, their decapitated heads balanced aloft or carried by others, while worms crawl up their knotty bodies. Conservatives and religious groups led violent protests against a 1976 exhibition, reacting against the nudity in his art and its social and political content. Bombs exploded, and paintings were destroyed. The Punjab Assembly grappled with the incident for a month. Works from this period include Fasting Sadequain, modeled on Gandharan sculptures of the emaciated Buddha.

During the next year martial law was imposed. Sadequain returned to poetry and calligraphy. He continued to travel and paint murals and in 1981 was provided with a house (now the Sadequain Museum) in Islamabad. A ceiling mural and some of Sadequain’s calligraphy are in the permanent collection of the Central Museum, Lahore. Other works are in Frere Hall, Karachi, and private collections throughout Pakistan. Sadequain was lauded in India on his first and only return in 1981, and in 2006 he was one of 10 Pakistani painters honored posthumously with a 40-rial postage stamp.

See also Pakistan, §III.


  • S. A. Ali: “Sadequain, 1968–69,” Artistic Pakistan, ii/3 (June 1969), pp. 7–11
  • A. Iqbal: “Sadequain’s Sketch of an Indian Visit,” The Muslim (25 Jan. 1983)
  • Sadequain Biodata and World Opinion, Pakistan National Council of Arts (Islamabad, 1983)
  • R. Hakim: “Sadequain is a Showman Because He Has Something to Show,” The Herald (July 1985), pp. 110–17
  • S. A. Ali: “Forty Years of Art in Pakistan,” A. & Islam. World, iv (1986), pp. 50–59
  • S. Mir: “A Thinker through Images,” Dawn (20 Feb. 1987), pp. 1–2
  • Paintings from Pakistan, UNESCO and the Pakistan National Council of Arts (Islamabad, 1988)
  • I. ul-Hasan: Painting in Pakistan (Lahore, 1991)
  • M. Nesom-Sirhandi: Contemporary Painting in Pakistan (Lahore, 1992)
  • M. C. Sirhindi: “Painting in Pakistan: 1947–1997,” A. & Islam. World, xxxii (1997), pp. 17–32
  • A. Naqvi: “Transfers of Power and Perception: Four Pakistani Artists,” A. & Islam. World, xxxii (1997), pp. 9–15 [special issue on 20th-century Pakistani art]
  • A. Naqvi: Image and Identity: Painting and Sculpture in Pakistan 1947–1997 (Karachi, 1998)
  • N. Ali: “Ṣādiqayn, Pakistani Calligrapher & Artist,” Lahore Mus. Bull., xv (2000), pp. 13–15
  • P. Mittar: Indian Art, Oxford History of Art (Oxford, 2001)
  • S. K. Nizai: Love Sonnets of Ġhālib: Translations and Explications (Delhi, 2002) [illustrations by Sadequain]
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