Muhammad Ahsan Masood’s journey as an artist, exploring the oft-ignored sexuality of the male psyche in the context of Pakistan’s uneasy social and religious situation, has been fraught with turmoil. An admirer of the works of Sadequian and Ego Schile (“for their grotesque beauty; they give new meaning to ugly”), Masood’s dream-shaped forms emerge from shadowy backgrounds, painting a netherworld of suppressed desire and denied identity.
“It’s a struggle,” says Masood of the backlash he faced from his family in pursuing the arts as a career, “Its not easy being a man, belonging to an army family and wanting to make a career out of art. Let’s just say that there are good days, bad days and then really bad days. The good days are when no one asks me anything, and the bad days are when my family sees my work. The really bad days are when my mother insists on me trying to make ‘less depressing work—like sunsets’.”
A graduate of the National College of Arts, Masood secured a distinction in his final B.F.A thesis, titled “Anti Advertising”. Currently teaching ‘History of Design’ and ‘Marketing for Design’ to Final Year Communication Design students at his alma mater, Masood is well aware of the struggling art scene in Pakistan. “Especially for one who does not belong to a particular clique,” he asserts. “I find very few galleries are responsive towards younger artists or try to take chances. It matters what sort of work one makes as well these days. Some art forms have greater recognition than others. I feel that photography is still a struggling medium here whereas Miniature artists are minting money with just a strand of hair and wasli.”
Masood describes his own work in mediums as varied as digital photography, digital art, acrylics, water paints and inks on old wood and paper, as “an extension of me, or perhaps a representation of all the voices inside my head. They are me and I, them. Having said that, I do believe that my work is very homoerotic. It tends to explore the male form and how that homoerotic form interacts within the context of organized religion and social ethics.”
A testament to the belief and commitment he has to his artistic vision is his work as a creative consultant within the resource center of ‘VISION’, where his responsibilities included developing materials and formulating strategies to better solve obstacles pertaining to street children, focusing on such taboo topics as masturbation and homosexuality. Masood also volunteered his artistic skills at OPPRSM, a young volunteer-based group working for the rights of the LGBT communities in Pakistan.
When asked if he always knew whether he wanted to be a painter, Masood’s response is gently ironic: “No, not at all. Though I always knew that art was my saving grace, but it being a profession was an altogether different thing. I remember when I was younger, I used to say that I wanted to grow up to be a scientist, but I didn’t know how to pronounce that properly so I used to say that I want to grow up to be a sentence, much to the amusement of my family.”