Muhammad Zahid Rifat
Quite unfortunately and regretfully, all is not well in the national institution of its kind, Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) for sometime particularly during last couple of months. The PNCA was established about five decades back with its headquarters in Islamabad and tasked with the care and custody of the valuable art works i.e. paintings, prints, calligraphy, sculptures etc of living and deceased prominent artists owned by the Federal Government.
Over the years, PNCA evolved and developed the idea and concept of “Permanent Collection” preserving and displaying the art treasures either gifted or acquired by the PNCA.
According to the latest duly verified list of art treasures of 2016 in the Permanent Collection of the PNCA the number was more than 1700 or so. These included art works of Abdul Rahman Chughtai, Ahmad Khan,Ahmed Parvez, Afshar Malik , Aftab Ahmad Khan, Akram Dost Baloch, Ali Imam, Anna Molka Ahmad, Anwar Jalal Shemza, Anwar Maqsood, Aslam Kamal, Bashir Mirza,Bashir Ahmed, Colin David, Ghulam Mustafa, Ghulam Rasul, Gulgee, Haji Sharif, Hajra Mansur, Haneef Ramay, Hanif Raza, Ijazul Hasan, Iqbal Hussain, Jamil Naqsh, Sardar Asssef Ahmad Ali, Mansur Rahi, Mashkoor Raza, Masood Kohari, Mehboob Ali, Mian Salahuddin, Misbahuddin Qazi, Moyene Najmi, Mussarat Mirza, Nighat Idrees, Quddus Mirza, Rabia Zuberi, Rahat Saeed, Raja Changez Sultan, Sadequain, Saeed Akhtar, Salima Hashmi, Shahnawaz Zaidi, Shakir Ali, Syed Jamal Shah,Ustad Allah Bux,Zubeida Agha, Zahoorul Ikhlaq,Zulfiqar Haider, Zulfiqar Ali Zulfi among several others in alphabetic order and in varying numbers besides foreign artists hailing from Iran, Nigeria, South Africa, Turkey, Italy,France, Egypt, China.
Verification by the committee also found out that more than 100 art works of various artists were shown in the record but were physically unavailable or untraceable.
It was feared that these had been gifted by some senior PNCA officials to either their friends, patrons or those treading corridors of power to please them from time to time. Inquiries findings if at all held in this regard were pushed under the carpets by the vested selfish interests.
Cutting the long story short, the PNCA Permanent Collection also included 10 art works, 5 paintings and 5 prints, of famous Pakistani artist Anwar Jalal Shemza known as the Root series and worth crores also in the international market.
These art works of Anwar Jalal Shemza quite mysteriously in a sinister move were handed over to an unknown lady by incumbent lady DG of PNCA around middle of August 2020 despite being advised not to do by the PNCA officials in the national interest.
The lady who took these paintings quietly in the absence of the Federal Minister incharge and print and electronic media was reported to be Rukhsana Khan wife of Syed Aqeel Anwar Kazmi on the pretext that Britain based wife of Shemza was demanding return of these art works which were in the Permanent Collection of the PNCA since 1985.
The incumbent lady DG had done this mischief act of depriving the national art treasures on the pretext of recommendations by a Committee , set up by her, which had inter alia remarked just out of context or reference “Awar Jalal Shemza’s 10 loaned works must be returned to the family”. The Committee’s recommendations were implemented in a hurried manner by the PNCA management on August 15/16,2020 whereas the final report was signed by the Committee Chairman on August 19, 2020.
How come the Committee only most wanted recommendation was implemented before the report was signed by its Chairman ?
It is pertinent to mention here that precious national art works were so returned to Shemza’s family through an unknown lady without ascertaining her antecedents and more importantly without taking Foreign Office or the British High Commission in Islamabad and Pakistan High Commission in London, Britain, on board and in confidence about this dirty episode of virtually doing massive damage to the national art treasure preserved and displayed by PNCA over the decades.
According to the information gathered by this scribe from senior members of the artists community of Pakistan in response to some pertinent queries, the contentions, actions and intentions of the lady DG are fairly, firmly and strongly belied outright.
As per the information so available, A.J.Shemza’s art works exhibition including “The Roots” series comprising 100 paintings was organized by the Lahore Art Council in 1985 at the urgent initiative of National Artists Association of Pakistan (NAAP) to pay him tributes following his demise. At the close of the exhibition, PNCA Islamabad was requested to hold Shemza’s exhibition at the National Art Gallery Islamabad but the permission was declined.
Following completion of Semza’s exhibition at Alhamra Art Centre Lahore, 10 paintings were selected by Shemza’s wife Ms Mary Katrina Shemza and gifted and not loaned to the National Art Gallery in order to ensure that her late husband’s creative art work remains o permanent display as a prominent Pakistani artist who had moved to Great Britain in the 1960s.
They further opined quite categorically that it is matter of record that these paintings have been on display and prt the Permanent Collection of PNCA for almost 35 years, PNCA should make every effort to protect and preserve that national treasures i.e. paintings and other art works that constitute our national heritage and any removal of Shemza’s paintings would be misappropriation of public property and may lead to strict legal consequences for all involved in this mischief game directly and indirectly.
Availing the opportunity, they also demanded that the Permanent Collection at the National Art Gallery Islamabad should forthwith bed documented and catalogued and complete list be made public o PNCA’s website for which the artists community members also offered help for this essential documentation and cataloguing efforts for accomplishing the task in the shortest possible time.
For want of space, details about lady DG entry in the PNCA and her “achievements” at Lok Virsa Islamabad as its Executive Director topped by making of 10 thousand hours of professional broadcast quality videos valuing crores of rupees of largest cultural archives of Pakistan gathered over the years by Uxi Mufti and others were sold to the Americans against a grant through her own NGO, her going abroad and then returning as PNCA Director General after the Selection Committee headed by the Federal Minister Incharge waited for her coming back, interviewed and being appointed on a yet another coveted post through the courtesy of her PTI Senator nephew some other time, please .