The Colonial and National Formations of the National College of Arts, Lahore, circa 1870s to 1960s

The Colonial and National Formations of the National College of Arts, Lahore, circa 1870s to 1960s

By Nadeem Omar Tarar

Anthem Studies in South Asian Literature, Aesthetics and Culture

Using archival sources, The Colonial and National Formations of the National College of Arts, Lahore, c1870–1960 explores the colonial and postcolonial history of arts education in Pakistan by focusing on the history of the National College of Arts since the nineteenth century.

Hardback, 250 Pages


February 2022

£80.00, $125.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
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  • Table of Contents
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About This Book

Lahore's Mayo School of Arts, as the National College of Arts (NCA) was called then, was Pakistan’s equivalent of London's South Kensington School of Design (presently Royal College of Art, UK). One of the last of the four colonial art schools established in India, the others being in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, the Mayo School of Arts was founded in 1875 to perpetuate the memory of the Lord Earl of Mayo, the only Indian Viceroy to be murdered while in office. Established by Rudyard Kipling's father Lockwood Kipling, the school had on its staff some of the most renowned names in the Indian art world, such as Ram Singh, Percy Brown, Lionel Heath, S. N. Gupta, B. C. Sanyal and A. R. Chughtai. The Mayo School gave birth to the most celebrated Indian art historical publication in the world, the Journal of Indian Art and Industry. The journal ran 30 illustrated volumes published by London's Imperial Publishers using the most advanced techniques of chromolithography. 

The pioneers of colonial anthropology in Punjab, the fabled “men on the spot,” such as Richard Temple, Denzil Ibbetson and Baden Powell, were associated with the establishment and administration of the Mayo School of Arts. They played a foundational role in the ethnographic reconstruction of artisan castes as suitable boys of “primitive” tribal Punjabi society through administrative reports, exhibition catalogues and gazetteer literature. Constituting the colonial cultural subtext to art education, the colonial discourses provided necessary anthropological foundations for the education of the “primitive” artisans in the industrial art schools of Punjab. Through its pedagogy, the Mayo School also framed the emergence of the Indo-Saracenic school of architecture and patronized the traditional styles of paintings in Punjab.

Despite its strong industrial art agenda, in the early decades of the twentieth century, the Mayo School of Arts was able to give the Indian art world a Punjab School of modern painting. Officially acknowledged in the British Indian Empire Exhibition of 1924, the Punjab School stood apart from the Calcutta School of Indian paintings and comprised largely of drawing masters of the Mayo School. Lionel Heath, a European miniaturist, whose career as the Principal of the Mayo School is overshadowed by his equally illustrious predecessors, was responsible for Mayo School's drift into modern art. Printmaking, graphic design and sculpture made their beginning in the 1930s at the Mayo School under B. C. Sanyal and M. M. Hussain. A. R. Chughtai, one of the most illustrious painters and printmakers of the Punjab School, learnt his skills as a printmaker from the Mayo School. The Mayo School of Art's printing press designed, lithographed and printed hundreds of posters, invitation and greeting cards, calendars, illustrated educational texts, including war publicity posters, by drawing on all the major Western art movements from Arts Nova to Art Deco and Bauhaus.

In the founding decades of Pakistan, to mark the cultural transition from a colonized to an independent national identity, the “old” Mayo School was reorganized and raised as the National College of Arts in 1958. To reflect its role in developing national culture and imparting professional visual art education, the NCA was established on the model of Bauhaus with three main departments in fine art, design and architecture. Some of the most important men in Pakistan's cultural history, such as poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, painter Shakir Ali, art patron Ghulam Mueenuddin and American sculptor Mark Sponenburgh h,ave been associated with the development of the NCA as the aesthetic center of fine art and design in Pakistan.


“An excellent work: the first comprehensive study of any of the major and influential schools of art and design (Lahore, Bombay, Kolkata) in South Asia from their colonial-era roots to the present day. This book undertakes a much-needed shift in focus towards the manner in which institutional dynamics and state practices have structured aesthetic thought and art practice alike. The reader will particularly appreciate how artistic concerns are linked to broader governmental concerns of socialization and economic behavior.” — Arindam Dutta, author of The Bureaucracy of Beauty: Design in the Age of its Global Reproducibility (2007). 

“The National College of Art in Lahore, which began as the Mayo School of Industrial Arts in 1875, has a distinguished history. Nadeem Omar Tarar’s painstaking research on the institution will make an engaging contribution to the growing body of postcolonial literature on art education”. — Partha Mitter, author of 'Art and Nationalism in Colonial India 18501922 (1994)

“In this valuable book, Tarar bridges that colonial-post-colonial divide that has so often defined institutional histories of the arts in South Asia, offering a richly detailed history of the Mayo School of Art/National College of Art. Offering nuance analysis of a rich array of archival sources, Tarar reveals the deep historical legacies structuring art education in the subcontinent, challenging the assumed binaries between art and craft, traditionalism and modernism, while also rooting the story of art education firmly at the intersection of regional, national and international politics.” — Abigail McGowan, University of Vermont, US

Author Information

Nadeem Omar Tarar is an anthropologist at the Center for Culture and Development, Pakistan, and Vice President, Council of Social Sciences, Pakistan. Formerly Director of the Graduate Program in the Cultural Studies Department of the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, Tarar later served as Director, NCA, Rawalpindi Campus.


Anthem Studies in South Asian Literature, Aesthetics and Culture

Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. Crafting Artisans as Primitive Artists: Art and Craft Discourses in Colonial Punjab; 2. Kipling's School: British Arts and Crafts Movement in Punjab; 3. Politics of Art and Craft: Rethinking the Mayo School; 4. Aesthetics Modernism In the Post-Colony: The Making of a National College of Art; 5. Framings of a National Tradition: Discourses on Modern Masters and the Invention of Miniature Painting in Pakistan; Conclusions; Appendix; Bibliography.


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