IT is misty early morning. The towering Attock Fort is encircled by a mystical haze of grey clouds. The mighty Abaseen River lends a reflection of majestic heritage landmark, built by emperor Akbar 500 years ago.
Dr Ghulam Shabbier has brought to life in art this vintage masterpiece of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The interplay of grey and white shadows bestows the piece a magical quality.
A professor of pulmonology, but an artist by passion, he creates outstanding objet d’art in water colours. This is a difficult medium to paint; for an amateur to accomplish a position of a leading artist in the subcontinent is a singular feat. Attock Fort is one of the 50 other gems of art created over the years by a self- taught expert.
His recreations in the exhibition “The Walled City of Peshawar” reflect a bejeweled city of eclectic cultures blending diverse religions and faiths in composite harmony. Hence one can find a “Star of David”, a temple and gurdwara among many tangible and intangible heritage symbols of a living 3,000 year old city.
“My paintings are a contribution to the rich culture of Peshawar where I was born and lived all my life before moving to Hayatabad like many other old residents of Peshawar,” observes Dr Shabbir. “It breaks my heart when I see one beautiful site being pulled down after another,” he rues.
Art exhibition concludes at Nishtar Hall
The meticulously crafted masterpieces by the artist transport one to a world of bygone beauty. Despite the ravages of time and raging conflicts, mass exodus of old residents of walled city, Peshawar still has over 200 heritage sites one can take pride in to showcase to the outside world.
Though many vintage structures painted in the collection, do not exist anymore, having been pulled down by predatory market forces, one can still conserve a semblance of glorious heritage if these are notified and conserved by the government like the Sindh and Punjab governments have done in the 1990s.
We cannot wait till eternity till the last vestige of history is pulled down. It would be criminal on our part and posterity shall not forgive us.
After many years, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa culture department has indeed put a great effort in holding this rare exhibition in Nishtar Hall from November19 to November 22. For the art lovers of Peshawar it’s a rare treat. It would be even better if renowned artists like Jahanzeb Malik, Tayyeba Aziz, Abdur Rehman, Abbas Ali, Sajid Ali and others have their masterpieces exhibited permanently in Peshawar. Besides, these artists have regularly exhibited their work all over Pakistan and in foreign capitals fetching high bidders.
Even better would be the fact, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government works towards establishment of “Walled City Development Authority” in Peshawar, to be assigned the development, conservation and contacting donors on the pattern of “Lahore Walled City Authority”. Let it be a living city for world tourists as in the bygone days.
Though all paintings are a class apart, one painting really ignites imagination. It is symbolically titled “Kacha Garhi” a wasteland with two crumbling mud structures demolished when the Afghan refugees were forced out to make way for new conflict ridden IDPs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
It is now fenced, a highly lucrative security “Defence Housing Scheme”. No one dares go near it being one of Peshawar’s many emerging speculative prized land people would die for.
The artist’s imagery breaks one’s heart. It’s scorching summer high noon; sun sizzles in the glow of vivid orange, saffron and bright yellow. Two abandoned mud structures speak volumes. A tinge of red blood nearby symbolises millions ravaged by the Afghan war, and later bloody conflicts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This is a metaphor for the broken Peshawar that stood up to turmoil of imposed wars upon its soil. Yet it prevailed.
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2015