Memorable Paintings of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Vancouver Ismaili Artist Azeez Khanbhai

Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai and painting of Aga Khan
Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai is surrounded by his artistic renderings of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Khanbhai began drawing and painting portraits of Mawlana Hazar Imam in 1959. His works adorn many Ismaili homes around the world. His art work is derived from portraits and photographs of Mawlana Hazar Imam that appeared in Ismaili publications around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

By AZIZ KHANBHAI

I developed an interest in drawing and painting at a very young age at my birthplace in Nairobi, Kenya. I pursued a career in Fine Art and Design, both as a passion and as a career. I was greatly influenced by drawings, paintings and calligraphy done by world renowned Ismaili artist Ismail Gulgee (1926-2007), whose work was published in Jamati publications from Pakistan in the early 1950s. To me, Gulgee’s fascinating works included portraits of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah and Prince Ali Khan and other world dignitaries.

These early works of Gulgee inspired me to try my hand at drawing Mawlana Shah Karim Hazar Imam’s first portrait in 1959. It may be noted that Gulgee later created a beautiful lapis lazulli portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam which is hung at the Ismaili Centre in London.

Azzez Khanbhai Ismaili artist and Aga Khan paintings and portraits, Barakah
Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai, watches as Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, signs a portrait that Khanbhai presented to the Imam during a luncheon gathering at the residence of Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai, who is seen standing at right in dark suit. Khanbhai completed the painting in 1959 prior to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Nairobi the same year. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

In November 1959, Mawlana Hazar Imam visited Nairobi. He was hosted at my uncle Sir Eboo Pirbhai’s residence. I was able to show him the portrait I had completed earlier during the year at a luncheon that was held in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s honour. He graciously signed it with his blessings and gave me good wishes for my future.

Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai with painted portraits of Aga Khan, Barakah.com
A framed portrait rendering of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, bearing his signature and blessings for Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The led-pencil drawing was adapted from a portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam that adorned Ismaili homes around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

In the following year, 1960, I was granted a four year scholarship by the Kenya Government, to pursue a degree in Fine Art and Graphic Design at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. After graduating, I continued painting Mawlana Hazar Imam’s portraits as well as other subjects in various mediums.

Azeez Khanbhai Makerere University with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Barakah
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan is pictured with Makerere University students during his visit to Kampala in 1964. Azeez Khanbhai who was a fine art and graphic design student at the university is seated in front row at right. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

In 1964, while in Pakistan for my brother Zool Khanbhai’s wedding to Amiraly Fancy’s daughter, Naseem Fancy, we were blessed with Mawlana Hazar Imam’s extended historical visit when he celebrated his 28th birthday with Pakistan Jamat. It was at this time that Hazar Imam signed my second rendering, again with a personal message and his loving blessings. This was an experience I will never forget!

Aga Khan with Zool Khanbhai
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured with Azeez Khanbhai’s newly married brother Zool and his wife Naseem in Karachi in 1964. Photo: Aziz Khanbhai Collection.

In 1969, I had an opportunity to have a one-man exhibition, at the Art Center, in Nairobi. After moving to Canada in 1975, I worked  as Graphic Designer with a Vancouver based advertising agency and continued with my interest in painting. Over time, my portraits and other works were noticed by family and friends locally and internationally and I was commissioned to paint Mawlana Hazar Imam’s portraits for their homes. To date, there some twenty to thirty renderings owned by Ismaili families globally.

Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai Aga Khan portrait painting Barakahs
A portrait painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, when he was a young boy by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting is adapted from a photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam that appeared in Ismaili publications around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
A portrait painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting was adapted from a portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam that appeared in The Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili community. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

At the time of the Silver Jubilee in 1982-1983, I was appointed by Aiglemont as the National Graphics Coordinator for Canada. With guidance from the Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Secretariat, and with the assistance of the International Graphics Coordinator, Mr. Minaz Nanji, we created and collaborated on stage designs and graphic material for all Canadian centers where Mawlana Hazar Imam was to grant and bless the Jamats with his Deedar.

Aga Khan Aziz Khanbhai Barakah
Main entrance hall of Atlanta Jamatkhana featuring the textual calligraphic motif reading Allah as well as a framed painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. Photo: The American Ismaili, December 13, 1999 via Late Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

In 1989, I was called upon by Atlanta Jamati leaders to paint two of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s portraits for their first purpose built Jamatkhana, for display in the entrance and in the loggia.

It has always been my wish to share my work with the Jamat, and I am absolutely delighted now to be able to do so through the Barakah website. In this regard, I request readers to share photos from their albums and archives through Barakah, which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat.

I must say that I would not have been able to embark on this journey of painting without Mawlana Hazar Imam’s inspiration and blessings from the very beginning. I give my Shukar to him for all the opportunities I have had in my eventful and exciting career as an artist.

Aga Khan portrait paintings by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai, Barakah exclusive
A painting of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, HIs Highness the Aga Khan III, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting was adapted from the lapis lazzuli work of the late Imam by famed Ismaili artist Gulgee of Pakistan. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

On November 2, 2021, we commemorate the 144th birth anniversary of our beloved 48th Imam. This post is in loving memory to him and a tribute to his chosen successor, our beloved 49th Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Hazar Imam, who is now in his 65th year of Imamat.

It would be very remiss of me not to mention my mother Shirin Khanbhai (d. November 1972), my wife Rashida (d. January 2021) and my brother Zool (d. August 1996) who all encouraged me in my artistic endeavours throughout my life. I pray that their souls may rest in eternal peace. Amen.

Finally, I would like to note that as per my late wife’s wish, a number of original paintings from my collection have been unconditionally donated to Focus Humanitarian to aid in their fundraising efforts.

Aga Khan Azeez Khanbhai family
 Azeez Khanbhai’s beloved mother, meeting with Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in London England, after her cancer surgery in June 1970. She passed away in January, 1972 in Karachi. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Azeez Khanbhai’s water colour painting of his wife Rashida, who passed away in January 2021. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Aga Khan Ismaili Constitution Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan is seen ordaining a new constitution for the worldwide Ismaili community on the auspicious occasion of his 50th birthday on December 13, 1986. Photo: Ismaili publications and special newsletters.
Zool Khanbhai with Aga Khan from Azeez Khanbhai collection
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured with Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai’s brother Zool following the signing of the new Ismaili Constitution on the auspicious occasion of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 50th birthday on December 13, 1986. Zool served Mawlana Hazar Imam’s institutions for several years. He passed away in August 1996. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

_______________

Azeez Khanbhai’s Portrait Renditions of Mawlana Hazar Imam and Members of His Family

Aga Khan portrait paintings by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai, Barakah exclusive
A portrait painting of a youthful Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in a volunteers uniform by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting was adapted from a photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam that appeared during the 1940’s and later in Ismaili publications around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Aga Khan portrait paintings by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai, Barakah exclusive
A portrait painting of a youthful Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting is adapted from a portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam that appeared in Ismaili publications around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Aga Khan painting by Azeez Khanbhai
A portrait painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting was adapted from a portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam taken during the Takhnashini (ceremonial installation ceremony) in Nairobi, Kenya in 1957. The photo appeared in Ismaili publications around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection
Aga Khan portrait paintings by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai, Barakah exclusive
An earlier portrait painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting was adapted from a portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam that appeared in Ismaili publications around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Aga Khan portrait paintings by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai, Barakah exclusive
A portrait rendering of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The led-pencil drawing was adapted from a portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam that appeared in Ismaili magazines around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Aga Khan by Azeez Khanbhai barakah
A portrait painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting was adapted from a portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam taken by former Daily Nation chief photographer Azhar Chaudhry in 1979 in Nairobi. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Azeez Khanbhai Aga Khan Barakah
A portrait painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in the Aga Khan University’s convocation regalia by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The regalia is known as the Jamiapoash. The water colour painting was adapted from a portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam in the regalia that appeared in Ismaili publications around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Aga Khan portrait paintings by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai, Barakah exclusive
A portrait painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting was adapted from a photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam that appeared in Ismaili publications around the world during his Golden Jubilee Year from July 11, 2017 to December 13, 2018. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

_________________

Princess Zahra Aga Khan portrait painting by Azeez Khanbhai
A water colour painting of Princess Zahra Aga Khan by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The painting was adapted from a portrait photo of Princess Zahra taken by Bahadur Hirji that appeared in UK ITREB’S Ilm magazine in 1979. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Prince Rahim Aga Khan Birthday Tribute Barakah
A water colour painting of Prince Rahim Aga Khan by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The painting was adapted from a portrait photo of Prince Rahim taken by Bahadur Hirji that appeared in UK ITREB’S Ilm magazine in 1979. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Prince Hussain Aga Khan portrait paintings by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai, Barakah exclusive
A water colour painting of Prince Hussain Aga Khan by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The painting was adapted from a portrait photo of Prince Hussain taken by Bahadur Hirji that appeared in UK ITREB’S Ilm magazine in 1979. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

_________________

Aga Khan by Azeez Khanbhai
A portrait painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting was adapted from a photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam that appeared in Ismaili publications around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.
Aga Khan Chitral portrait by Azeez Khanbhai Barakah
A portrait painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Ismaili artist Azeez Khanbhai. The water colour painting was adapted from a portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam taken in Chitral, Pakistan, that appeared in Ismaili publications around the world. Photo: Azeez Khanbhai Collection.

Date posted: October 30, 2021.
Last updated: November 09, 2021 (caption update)

___________________

Due to challenges in creating electronic copies of the paintings (through scanning or photographing the paintings), the images of several paintings shown in the post are not true representatives of how they actually appear. Readers may note glass reflections and other abnormalities and deficiencies in the digital versions shown in the post, for which Barakah offers its sincere apologies to readers as well as the artist — Ed.

Barakah welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or send your comment to simerg@aol.com. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Barakah requests readers to search their old albums and archives for historical photographs of Mawlana Hazar Imam and members of his family. Please share your treasured collections through Barakah, a website dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam and members of his family. Write to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com to discuss your collections. Please click Collections to see photographs we have received from families around the world.

Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 275 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat.

24 comments

  1. Malik again you have shared both history and unique talent of Azeezbhai, who from his heart expressing the love of Mawla and the RuhanI family by his outstanding painting talent in footsteps of Guljeebhai.

    Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

    Thank you some much for sharing and composing his amazing work. Mawla always bless you and His hand be on your shoulder.

    Like

  2. Absolutely amazing work! You are truly blessed by Allah with your talent. Your passion comes through when one views your paintings. These works of art are an inspiration to all.

    Like

  3. Absolutely awesome and profound collection of photographs and paintings from an accomplished and master artist. Hats off to you Mr Khanbhai.

    Like

  4. Selected comments from the Social Media:

    Salim Kanji: Such great Ismaili talent
    Laila Devji: Aziz how talented you are! Just amazing! Thank you for sharing.
    Shams Ud Din: Beautiful ❤️
    Mehmood Ankleshwaria: Beautiful 💯
    Amir Suratwalla: Awesome 👍
    Zeny Shariff: Excellent!!!
    Sanam Mamadnazarova: Bravo 👏
    Shafique: Thank you for this beautiful piece by Azeez Khanbhai.
    Sadroo Lalani: Some really nice paintings of Mawlana Hazar Imam
    Moh Ebrahim: Beautiful ❤️❤️❤️❤️
    Ghulam Hyder: Very nice picture you painted mashallah, stay blessed.
    Hakam Bhaloo: Azeez is a remarkable artist; par excellence!!👍👏👏👏
    Ali Ahmed Jan: Mola aap ko kameyaab karay aameen

    Like

  5. Amazing work and talent Azeez. I was close friend of your late wife Rashida.

    Your son, a famous psychiatrist, and your daughter are a credit to you and Rashida.

    Many thanks for sharing the photos and your work; I am breathless.

    Like

  6. What a talented and humble person Azeez is. I salute him and admire him for his talent. Azeez makes us proud as Ismailis.

    And I wish and pray for him that his future brings him lot of happiness and barakat and want to thank him for sharing his passion for his work with us.

    God bless.

    Like

  7. Azeez,

    I remember you since our days in Nairobi when we were meeting during Scouting at Agakhan Girls School on Limuru Rd. Most memorable days. You had a lot of energy and enthusiasm for life and enjoyed singing. You are blessed and have enjoyed looking at your beautiful achievements. May Mowla always keep you Healthy, Happy and Blessed.

    Mamunali Esmail.

    Like

  8. Thank you Malik for sharing
    Azeez bravo for the drawing
    The shadows hues varying
    Done with so much caring
    The pleasure in your daring

    Then the blessing
    A final dressing
    Nothing can this surpass
    Everything is encompass
    To posterity it will pass

    Like

  9. We feel very proud that we have got such an intellect and a fine artist in our community. We appreciate the great work of Mr Azeez Khanbhai.

    The paintings of Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Noorani family are amazing and must be preserved by all of us.

    Like

  10. This is truly wonderful. Azeez reading this brought tears to my eyes.

    We are the past Mukhi of Town Jamatkhana in Nairobi and we have had a number of exhibitions at our exhibition hall in the Jamatkhana including Prince Hussain’s marine photographic exhibition.

    I sincerely hope that there is an opportunity for your paintings to be displayed here. Please contact us.

    Thank you.

    Like

    • This lifetime journey of Mr. Azeez is inspiring. The charismatic personality of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan not only inspires Ismaili community but also young non Ismaili Muslims. I have also treaded this path from my childhood. Mr. Azeez’s love for the Imam reflects clearly in his work. He is fortunate to have received His Highness’s blessings. I hope that one day, I also find an opportunity to present my hand carved and hand painted portrait to His Highness.

      Like

  11. Salute to Azeez! Shukar, we have so much talent within our jamat. The paintings of the Noorani family are excellent.

    May Mawla rest the departed souls in Azeez Khanbhai’s family in eternal peace and may he comfort the family, Ameen.

    Like

  12. Malik this is a very interesting posting about one of the very talented Ismaili artists. All the paintings of Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Noorani family are amazing and must be preserved by all of us.

    Coincidentally, I knew the brother Late Zool Khanbhai and met him a few times when he was serving in Karachi, Pakistan during my educational visits to Karachi during 1973 and 1974. He later joined the Aiglemont Secretariat.

    Pray that the soul of Zool and all other deceased members in the family rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

    We also pray for your good health so that you can continue to provide your readers and, indeed the entire community with such wonderful information through your meaningful and educational posts.

    Kamrudin A. Rashid
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
    October 30, 2021.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s