The College / Introduction
  • Introduction
  • Introduction
  • Introduction
  • Introduction
  • Introduction
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“…At the National College of Arts (NCA), we imagine a world. Not one world, but many. One for each of us, one from each of us, with these we write the autobiographies of our times, in objects, in lines, in mortar, and in perishable clay. In tracing ourselves, we leave traces. These are the traces that make our cities. Turn us inside out like pillowcases with that remembered smell, like shed skins. These are the traces that populate our nights, and from these traces we dare to dream again…” (Excerpts from NCA teacher-students conversations)

The NCA offers a number of professional undergraduate and graduate degree courses. Conceived in a way in which the student’s unique creative and internal impetus is aligned with the requirements of the job market in an increasingly diverse world. Tradition and individual talent both form an integral part of the history for a more meaningful participation in the future. Freedom, plurality and an interdisciplinary approach allows ideas, histories, theoretical positions and technical procedures to be located within a critical space. The diversity of both the faculty and the student body ensures that no particular ideological or theoretical position is sacrosanct. Discussion, critique and, research form the backbone of all the courses offered. We are unique as we draw both our faculty and our student body from a diverse cultural mix. This facilitates allow a pluralistic culture within the College. Students benefit from exposure to a wide range of ideas, sub-cultural identities and practices drawn from often conflicting and contested geographical, socio-political and historical locales.

At the National College of Arts (NCA), we believe that education is a fluid process, where students are assisted in the exploration, investigation and expression of their ideas. The visual is a language that must be learnt. The knowledge of technique and medium forms the basis of personal expression, and that innovation comes through understanding and learning of visual language. We believe that creative expression has the power to change the world. An artist is a philosopher, linguist, idealist, writer, critic, theorist and above all human at the same time.

Our students have made their mark and moved on to become respected professionals in a number of creative fields both locally and internationally. Professor Mark Ritter Sponenburgh, the first principal of NCA, introduced the modern art college curriculum at the NCA, in 1958. The modern movement in Pakistani art had already begun with Professor Shakir Ali, teacher and principal at the NCA. The students of Professor Mark Ritter Sponenburgh spearheaded modern art education at the NCA, the first art college in Pakistan.

The Renaissance man Bhai Ram Singh was an architect, designer, and craftsman who in one short, inimitable lifetime discovered in himself, both a builder and a wood carver. Atchison College, the NCA itself and the Lahore Museum bear the testimony to his greatness.

The history of the NCA is bound up with the incredible legacy of personalities that have emerged from it. Nayyar Ali Dada’s eclectic expression bears much of Pakistan’s creative expression in architecture; Professor Emeritus Khalid Iqbal gave us the sensitive soul of the Punjab in painting; Zahoor ul Akhlaque, the reflective artist, left behind an imperishable legacy; Mian Ijazul Hassan’s works of art and Mian Salahuddin the ceramicist generated provocative controversies; Nayyara Noor, whose music and voice has touched the hearts of generations; Graphic Designers Niaz Ali Shah Sahib, Ahmad Khan and Mehmood-ul-Hassan Jafri established the technical, perceptual, theoretical peripheries of publicity and graphic design and what is now called communication design. Teachers and artists like Salima. Hashmi and Colin David trained an entire generation that studied at the NCA. Such has been the contribution of many like Kamil Khan Mumtaz, Javed Najam, Tanveer Hussain, Abdul Rehman Khan, Shehrazad Alam who earned name and repute in their fields. The Textile Design Department was established under the leadership of Professor Abbassi Akhter, who later on became the principal of the NCA. The product designer Professor Qadir Bakhsh was the founding father of the department of product design established a venerable reputation nationally and internationally; the same arena where Ustad Mohamed Ali carved numerous and finest woodcarvings. Shirin Pasha, the film-maker with the sensibility of a painter; Professor Iqbal Hassan the eternal academic who took charge of teaching art history and headed the department that can rightly be called the intellectual backbone of studio programs offered at the NCA.

The contemporary miniature painting movement started from this institution. The M.A. Visual Arts students have participated in the conservation of the Lahore Fort. The first musicology and film and television degree programs offered in Pakistan began at the NCA.

Our library archives section houses original documents spanning over a hundred years as well as a continuously updated bank of contemporary publications; this makes it one of the best visual art research libraries in South Asia. The environment in the NCA is professional, creative and research oriented, and has, over the years, attracted a number of professionals and educationists of repute from all over the world, who have come to this institution for teaching and learning. All of our faculty members are practitioners in their fields.

We believe that the cutting edge of creativity and expression is to be discovered within ourselves and for that we individually nurture the potential in each student. We teach our students to reject nothing, to examine everything; we teach them how to think but never what to think. In this lie freedom, ours and theirs.

History and Heritage

The Mayo School of Art was established along with Lahore Museum in 1875, with the intention to have a centre that served the requirements of the museum by preserving and patronizing the craft of Punjab. This was twenty four years after the ‘Great Exhibition’ of 1851 in London The world at that point in time was busy in arguing about how to tame designers in response to machine rigidity. John Lockwood Kipling was made curator of the Lahore Museum and principal of the Mayo School of Arts. His vision and his genuine regard for indigenous art, allowed the craft of the region to sustain at a time when it was under siege in industrialized Britain. The London School of Design, now Royal College of Arts, was already there since 1835, functioning and debating the curriculum for industrial design. It was perhaps due to this dialogue that the thinker and artist Lockwood Kipling took up the task of teaching the artists and designers the critical function of craft and traditions.

The industrial change had to be accepted; and in 1958 the Mayo School was restructured by the Government of Pakistan as the National College of Arts. Professor Mark Ritter Sponenburg (1916-2012), a guru in art and design education, and a great agent of change was given the charge of Principal. He, too, established the links of craft with modern art and design. The exhibition ‘Folk Arts of Swat’ based on research in Swat area by him and the students of National College of Arts, still stands in a remote corner of the Lahore Museum. Primarily three departments were established: Fine Art, Design and Architecture.


The new breed of artists, designers and architects filled the professional gaps in the society. In 1963, the government recognized the College as the premier art institution in Pakistan. It was consequently taken away from the Department of Industries and placed under the Education Department with its own Board of Governors. The new policy in 1972 recognized the achievements of the College and planned its development into a centre of excellence in the visual arts. A unique measure of autonomy, under the Federal Government, was ensured from this point on. In 1985 the College was granted a degree awarding status. This also empowered the NCA to institute graduate programmes in the field of visual arts.

M.A. in Visual Arts and an M. Phil leading to Ph.D. in Communication and Cultural Studies were initiated in 1999. In the same year, a Research and Publication Centre was established that has produced a number of books on history, art and various other disciplines within the social sciences and humanities. A project for the restoration and conservation of the archival records of Mayo School of Arts was also initiated, which has broadened in scope to include the archives of the NCA.

In 1999 the College started a two years Master’s degree program in Interior Design. Acknowledging the importance of information technology in the creative fields, the NCA initiated a graduate programme in Multimedia Arts in September 2001. The College has established departments of Musicology, Film & Television in the first decade of the 21st century. It has also established the Centre for Conservation and Cultural Heritage Management.

Lahore Campus

The Lahore Campus is ideally located in the heart of the cultural capital and enjoys a historically rich neighbourhood. The College is flanked on one side by the Lahore Museum and the Town Hall on the other side, with the Punjab University Old Campus across the road. The lure of the city for students is not just limited to the magic of history and the world heritage sites. The area between the Badshahi Mosque and the NCA is a treasure of a vast array of materials, from the conventional to the contemporary. This is a city where people make things on site and livings are made from ideas; from metalwork and plastics to print workshops and digital art. These are the techniques and methodologies that have remained unchanged for centuries and also those that are new. This is an extraordinary space for research, collaboration and innovation and one that is utilized by NCA students as a second home from day one of their entrance into the College.

Not far away is Royal Park, the iconic cinema district, the Pakistani film industry lived and worked here in an air of its own creation. Cinema hoardings with their unique style were painted and repainted in its narrow lanes.

Recently Lahore has begun to reclaim its own in South Asia, the city is host to theatre, art exhibitions, music festivals, symposia and lectures conducted all year round and with local and international participation, all of which are accessible to the students of NCA.

What is unique about study at the NCA is that students are not merely voyeurs in the drama of a city. Students of the NCA take their performances into the public sphere, in its streets, galleries and work in its industries.

Rawalpindi Campus

The Rawalpindi Campus of NCA is envisaged as a second campus to enable larger enrolment for students in the arts and to provide greater geographical access to students from the northern parts of Pakistan. The NCA, Rawalpindi campus was set up in the historic, “Liaquat Memorial Hall” in January 2006. The iconic Liaquat Hall was designed by the Greek Architect, Doxiadis. This multi level building lies in the heart of Rawalpindi city. It has a long thriving history of performing arts. The Rawalpindi/Islamabad area has an active body of professionals, many of whom are the NCA alumni, as well as other groups who have been working towards the setting up of art schools. Their resources are utilized in addition to the inputs that the current NCA faculty provides.

The project is a turning point in the history of the NCA. Bearing in view the ethos and model of the NCA, the academic plan has been developed to ensure continuity in the integrated teaching of the visual arts through the combined foundation course. To ensure cultural diversity and gender parity in the student body, the Rawalpindi Campus admits students countrywide, following the same procedure of testing and criterion of eligibility as already established at the NCA, Lahore. It had initially started with two departments: Architecture and Fine Arts. The first intake was 20 students in each department. It is envisaged that more departments will be instituted in the Campus.

The campus offers residential facilities for students, a visiting faculty hostel, equipment for studios and laboratories, academic buildings and a library. The faculty, in keeping with the NCA model, comprises of a core permanent faculty, visiting, guest and contract faculty, both national and international.