Like all old institutions, the National College of Arts, has a historical tradition. Much of its present tone was set long ago when it was known as the Mayo School of Arts. Gazetteers written about the city of Lahore in 1915 describe the work being done at the school as one of the cultural highlights of the urban center.
The Mayo School of Industrial Art was set up to commemorate Lord Mayo, the British Viceroy to India, assassinated in 1872. A teacher of painting and sculpture Lockwood Kipling, working then in Bombay in a Parsi School, was appointed its first Principal parallel to his charge of the Curator of the Lahore Museum.
The Museum and the School were conceived together. Funds were raised through a special levy throughout the Punjab province on the occasion of the Jubilee of the British Queen in 1887. The object was to provide an institution containing a museum, a library and a number of lecture rooms where instructional staff would teach indigenous crafts.
The Mayo School was intended to be a technical college in the fullness of time. Lockwood Kipling the curator Principal allowed the functions of the museum and the school to merge in a creative manner. Together with his more illustrious son, Rudyard Kipling, he planned and arranged the Museum in such a way that it reflected both the archeological and the traditional crafts heritage of the Punjab.
The flooding of the Punjab market with British manufactures from Manchester drove the local industry out of business by the turn of the century. Popular taste was weaned from its cultural roots, which resulted directly in the decline of art and craft. Nearly 40,000 workers in cotton and 900 weavers in Lahore were rendered jobless. Cotton printing being done in the city and once prized in such far-off places as Switzerland and Holland, was badly hit by the shoddy machine-made variants that came in from Manchester. Cottage industry in woolen and silk doth was virtually wiped out.
The Mayo School became a haven for representative professionals from all the industries thus affected. European designs in building and furniture and the rise of the furniture firms brought bad times for the Punjabi carpenter reputed one of the cleverest in the world. The vogue received by photography and printing produced a great demand for lithographers and the school set up a process department for the production of line, half tone and color blocks for illustrating purposes.
Lockwood Kipling turned his attention to the School more exclusively when it acquired its separate building in 1882 consisting of six rooms. Temporary additions were made to it in 1881 to house an exhibition of the Punjab Crafts. In 1891, these temporary structures were made permanent in accordance with a design prepared by the Principal.
Now the school had proper workshops equipped with tools and machines. In 1902 four large machine workshops and photolithographic studio were already functioning. By 1911, nearly a lakh of rupees worth of machinery and tools were being operated in the school for such diverse crafts as jewellery, cotton-printing, book-binding, cabinet making, light-metal work, carpentry and blacksmithy. By 1915, the work done at the school was recognized all over India and also in England. The principal works executed by its craftsmen were thus located:
Wood-carving, plaster-work and interior in Barnes Court, Simla; Government House, Lahore; Circuit House, designs for amphitheatre at the Delhi Burbar; execution of decorative work including carpets and shamianas of gold thread and repusse metal work and designs for the Law and Oriental Colleges, Lahore; design and decorative work in plaster for the new Railway Theatre, Lahore; a carved console table for Government House, Lahore; Punjab carving for the Billiard Room of Bagshot Park, England for the Duke of Connaught; an eight canon stalls for the Lefroy Memorial in Lahore Cantonment’s Church.
In 1958, the school was upgraded by the then West Pakistan Government into the National College of Arts. The craft and industry oriented structure of the school, which had provided much-needed early nurturance to such diverse occupations as carpentry, lacquer-work, blacksmithy, goldsmithy, silversmithy, pottery, needlework, architectural draftsmanship, sanitation, plumbing civil engineering and commercial art, was updated and confined to three departments Fine Arts, Design and Architecture.
The changed structure of the College allowed proper focus on Fine Arts. The departments began to train new talent in modem and traditional painting, graphic art and sculpture. The Department of Design began to turn out professionals in Textile Design, Publicity Design, Product Design and Ceramics. The rapidly growing demand in the building sector for architects began to be met by the College, together with other professional universities of the country.
In 1963, the Government recognized the College as a premier arts institution in Pakistan, was taken away from the Department of Industries and placed under the Education Department with its own Board of Governors. The new policy in 1972 further recognized the achievements of the college and planned its development into a center of Excellence in the Visual Arts. A high-powered Board of Governors was constituted to ensure a measure of autonomy under the Federal Ministry of Education.
Due to its distribution as the only arts institution in Pakistan, entrance to it has become competitive. Around 450 students from all provinces study in the College (out of which nearly 40 percent are girls) and is taught by a teaching staff of 40.
There is a high rate of employment for its diploma-holders in a number of important organizations in the country: Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan National Council of the Arts, University Grants Commission, Security Printing Press of Pakistan, National Book Foundation, and the Department of Films and publications. Apart from the various urban development authorities, its graduates are absorbed in the private sector by a large number of advertising agencies, architectural consultancies, industrial and publishing houses.
Lockwood Kipling’s preoccupation with indigenous art and his effort to save its tradition from becoming polluted with a cheap imitation of British Victorian fashions set the tone of the Mayo School and later, of the college itself. Two great Pakistani painters, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Shakir Ali, both associated with the College, were a kind of culmination of this inspiration. Chughtai represented the revival and development of the Mughal tradition while Shakir Ali constituted a link between the Pakistani sensibility and the world of international art.
Haji Muhammad Sharif, once the miniature painter at the court of Maharaja of Patiala, gave a firm foundation to the teaching of the dying art of miniature. After him, Sheikh Shujaullah carried on the miniature tradition, leaving behind at his death his pupils like Bashir Ahmad who is today the prized representatives of the art.
The influence of Abdur Rahman Chughtai, a scion of me family of Behzad, took the Mughal art out of its narrow miniature framework and gave it the dignity of modern dimension. He effectively transplanted to canvases and to book illustration me lyricism of the Mughal and Pahari miniature.
If Chughtai was difficult to emulate because of his persistence in traditional subjects and highly stylized treatment, the modernism of Shakir Ali gave rise to a whole generation of Pakistani painters, most of them his pupils at the College and still employed as teachers there.
The College specializes in production a certain kind of artistic sensibility, which at once satisfies the creative demands of a work of art and the more pragmatic requirements of a profession. One of the leading architects of Pakistan, Nayyar Ali Dada, an old student and a member of the Board of Governors of the College combines the talents of an architect with facility of drawing.
This capacity of the College graduates to apply art to specific projects has allowed them to take on projects in various fields. They have helped design primary school buildings and produce new building material for construction. They prepared a visual study of the indigenous architecture of Pakistan for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture ceremonies, Lahore.
Since 1963 when the present college was invested with a new arts structure, it has carried courses in three departments, Architecture, Fine Arts and Design. All these courses are professional and enable the graduate to relate his talent to the job market.
In 1985, through an ordinance the college has been granted the status of an autonomous degree awarding institution and now awards Bachelor Degrees in Fine Arts, Design and Architecture. The ordinance also empowers the institution to institute postgraduate programmes in the field of Visual Arts. Some of these programmes have taken off. An MA (Hons) in Visual Arts and M Phil leading to PhD in Communication and Cultural Studies were initiated in 1999. In the same year, a research and publication center was established at the college which has produced a number of books on history, art history and other disciplines of social sciences and humanities. A project for Restoration and Conservation of Archival Records of (previously known as) Mayo School of Arts, Lahore which later matured in the form of NCA Archives. Acknowledging the necessity of excelling in the field of Information Technology, the college initiated another post-graduate programme in Multimedia Arts in September 2001. The college is also offering Masters Degree in Interior Design.
The Rawalpindi Campus of the NCA is envisaged as a second campus to enable larger enrollment for students in the arts and to provide greater geographical access to students from the northern reaches of Pakistan. The old hostel building in Liaqat Bagh was handed over to the NCA primarily for its refurbishment and adaptive reuse as an appropriate location for the Rawalpindi Campus. As this building was insufficient for purposes of the Campus, the entire Liaquat Bagh Complex including the Auditorium has been made available to the NCA to enable further physical development. The Rawalpindi/Islamabad area has an active body of professionals, many of whom are NCA graduates, as well as other groups who have been examining and working towards the setting up of art schools. Their resources will be utilized in addition to the inputs that the current NCA faculty will provide. The Federal Minister for Education has ensured the autonomy necessary for the success of this venture.
The project offers an exciting and dynamic future and a turning point in the history of the NCA. Bearing in view the ethos and model of NCA, the academic plan has been developed to ensure continuity in the integrated teaching of the visual arts through the joint foundation course and shared lectures during the course of studies leading to the Bachelors degree. Additionally, to ensure cultural diversity, gender parity and economic group representation in the student body, an important aspect of the NCA, the Rawalpindi Campus has admited students countrywide, following the same procedures of testing and eligibility as already established. The Rawalpindi Campus will maintain the same academic standards as Lahore and will also offer the same academic programmes, initially it had started with two departments last year: Architecture and Fine Arts, the initial intake was 20 students in each department. In 2007, it is envisaged that the Departments of Film and Television, Textile Design and Communication Design will be launched. The Departments of Product Design and Multimedia Arts will be instituted in 2008 followed by the Department of Cultural Studies in 2009. It is also envisaged that a Department of Performing Arts, incorporating Theatre, Puppetry, Music and Dance will be developed as a special feature of the Rawalpindi Campus. The Rawalpindi Campus will offer residential facilities for male and female students, a visiting faculty hostel, equipment for studios and laboratories, academic buildings and a library. The Rawalpindi Campus faculty will be inducted in keeping with the NCA model comprising a core permanent faculty, and visiting, contract and guest faculty, both national and international.