It is difficult to pin down an individual like Lala Rukh in a box – she was an artist, activist, educationist and, above all, a fierce human being who lived life completely on her own terms. To many who knew her, she represented the highest level of artistic excellence, which was achieved through her sheer devotion to principals of integrity that many of us aspire to, but rarely achieve in this lifetime. As an artist, she had occasionally held shows in Lahore, Karachi and Dubai, until recently, as her work was shown at the Sharjah Biennial 12, the 1st Yinchuan Biennial, and at Documenta 14 this year – for her art has mostly been a personal journey. If you had met her, you’d see why. She was an incredibly private person, and hence, this reflected in her minimalist and meditative approach. Despite having taught at Punjab University’s Art and Design department and the National College of Arts for 30 years, she kept her studio an incredibly secretive space – almost sacred ground, where only she, or those closest to her had access. When examining her incredibly reduced, and rather humble, aesthetic, one may even view it as extremely radical within today’s contemporary art landscape. However, when viewing this within the context of the 80s, when traditionalism stood high and mighty in Pakistan, you understand Lala’s courage, and self-belief in her own expression. Reflecting years later, she talks about how her work was often laughed at, and not really taken seriously. And how this, in fact, liberated her, and she no longer needed validation through appreciation, and could focus on real enquires such as looking at the sea, observing the silent power of the waves, or mapping the stars dotted across the night sky. Lala’s arrival to this incredibly conceptual and forward thinking came from a variety of places. First, and foremost, her early training and exposures were within a culturally rich household. Her father, Hayat Ahmed Khan, was the founder of the All Pakistan Music Conference, and hence she often recalled being surrounded by classical musical giants as a child. Simultaneously, her early education included traditional training in miniature as well as calligraphy, but it was only within the US at the University of Chicago, and travels through Europe, that she encountered new modes of engagement such a performance art and drawing as medium, and thus developed her experimental approach to art making. What is specially unique about Lala is that her work as an artist can simply not be looked without her roles as an activist and educationist. They are all intertwined. From the moment she returned from the US in 1977, she found herself reacting to the newly enforced Islamic dictatorship by General Zia-ul-Haq. Understanding the implications of this on women’s rights, and in particular, due to the introduction of the infamous Hudood Ordinance, Lala became a founding and active member of WAF (Women Action Forum). She was often seen at the centre of protests, and designed many posters that questioned the injustices committed against women on a daily basis. Many of these are currently on display at Documenta 14. During her years at the Punjab University and the NCA, she influenced many generations of young practitioners. Most of them credit her for opening their eyes to ‘seeing’ for the first time, freeing them from the confines of traditionalism, and guiding them to the path of individual artistic quests. She founded the MA Visual Arts program at the National College of Arts, and also was actively involved in promoting discourse through her involvement in the international conferences organized by THAAP (Trust for History, Art and Architecture, Pakistan), and even until recently, was instrumental in developing the visual arts curriculum at University of Culture and Arts set to open in September this year. In art education, what concerned her was a need to consolidate experimental and conceptual thinking with traditional practice and eastern philosophy, where she had started incorporating components that required working under the guidance of local master artisans, and effectively bringing craft within the domain of fine art practice, and re-harnessing indigenous histories. News of her peaceful passing broke early this morning. Although, she was only starting to get global recognition as a pioneer now, she will always be remembered as one the greatest artists and teachers Pakistan has ever produced. Her artistic vision was unique, and thus, through recent international commissions and exhibitions, makes visible a side of Pakistani art not seen before. In this way, through her work and exemplary life, she has already initiated a change that we can look forward to. Lala lived and fought passionately for what she believed in, forging new paths that inspire many future generations to also tread. And although, she may be physically gone, her legacy will always remain immortalized in our history, and she’ll continue to watch over us through the sounds of the waves that she painted, the light of the stars, and the infinite depth of the night sky. May she always rest in power! Abdullah Qureshi is an artist and a writer based in Lahore Published in Daily Times, July 8th , 2017.