THE WAY IT WAS: Jack and the Queen of Hearts —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

For Sadeqain, man can often be a measure for all things. It is through courage and the passion for truth that man discovers the secrets of nature and life, and dreams of reaching beyond the stars

Some people believe in the good, old days girls fell for heroes; now they fall for the rich. At an exhibition in 1968 I saw a painting of Sadeqain on the subject that struck me as a trifle commonplace. But looking back over almost thirty-five years, I find that Sadeqain’s sentiments cannot be lightly ignored. If memory serves me it was a single, long panel comprising four equal sections. On the three sections, painted against a black background, were the King of Hearts, the Queen of Hearts and the Jack of Diamonds. The fourth section, painted plain black, was stuck between the three images. Logically the King and Queen should have been placed next to each other and the knave wedged away by the black section. But no, in Sadeqain’s panel, it is the king who is set apart from his queen while the Queen stands beside the knave. The Queen has betrayed the King of hearts for the knave of Diamonds.

Sadeqain was often evasive in identifying the good and evil in a concrete context. On the contrary he was rarely subtle when intent on speaking out. In the painting under review he adds to the cap of the Jack of Diamonds the silver mascot of Mercedes Benz, which the automobile proudly carries on the front of its bonnet. Today, he would have perhaps replaced it with the insignia of BMW. The Queen of Hearts has abandoned the King of Hearts and eloped with the rich Joker. In some games of cards, as you may know, the Jacks are used as the all-powerful jokers. I wonder if Sadeqain was depicting a bitter experience or anticipating the values that were to deluge our hearts later. I am fairly certain that Sadeqain never had a woman in his life, so why should he concern himself with frailty, which Shakespeare described as being synonymous with a woman. Sadeqain here is probably making a larger statement about the power of money to erode the old fashioned values based on love and loyalty.

I imagine if Sadeqain were alive today, he may have painted a few more panels. Let me try delineating a few with words, which is of course not the same thing if the master had executed these himself with the brush. Let’s now see, in all fairness to women, a panel could be painted where the King betrays his Queen of Hearts for the Queen of Diamonds, which is often the case. There could be another panel with a Knave of eighty in wedlock with a Queen of six depicted in the central two sections. The flanking two sections would be painted bright orange, or should they be jet black? The third panel could also be about marriage, but in this painting the bridal knot of a Queen has been tied to the Holy Book. It would be appropriate that one, two, three or even four one-eyed villainous knaves, who have married off their sisters, should flank the central two panels. They should all be portrayed as kanas because they only need one eye, to focus on property to the exclusion of any thing else of value dear to the human heart. Another panel could be visualised with an ageing woman against a black background, flanked by their greedy one-eyed brothers who have coerced their sister to live in celibacy so that they could gobble her inheritance — shame on them. Another panel could be devoted to a knave who has no hesitation in molesting another’s sister but is ready to kill for honour if his own pleads to marry for love.

And if you bear with me, I can attempt a few more in a political vein. A Jack in khaki trumping a Queen of Hearts, a Knave presiding in a house of cards, a Joker lording over dukkys, tikkyys and sattys. There can be many more depending how Jack or rather Mack deals the deck, but for the moment these should suffice.

In the sixties, during the period preceding the panel on King and Queen of Hearts, Sadeqain sketched, drew and painted innumerable works portraying human cowardice and apathy. Individuals have become so morally and intellectually slothful that cobwebs have grown over them. In some works crows have taken courage to nest on their heads and gone about laying eggs. In other works humans are worshiping scarecrows by prostrating before them, while the crows take courage to peck out their eyes. Ironically, the vicious crows seem to punish the humans for their inability to discern the real gods. If humans are unable to put to use nature’s gift of sight then it is best that they be deprived of it and discarded to live in darkness and ignorance.

Without doubt Sadeqain produced most of his angry and more inspired works in the sixties. His later work rests on motifs and symbols he had established earlier. His symbols are simple and commonplace, useful tools to identify and explain his forms and images, which most frequently stand for good and evil, the antagonistic elements of darkness and light, the contending forces of ignorance and enlightenment. In his paintings beauty stands for knowledge and enlightenment, whereas ugliness is synonymous with superstition, prejudice and ignorance, and symbolises human avarice for violence and lust for power. For Sadeqain, man can often be a measure for all things. It is through courage and the passion for truth that man discovers the secrets of nature and life, and dreams of reaching beyond the stars.

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist