From Rafique to Feica

13 Jan 2017


A SCENE from the documentary.—White Star
A SCENE from the documentary.—White Star

KARACHI: Having witnessed the highs and the multiple lows of Pakistan’s tumultuous history, Feica is considered by many as a permanent fixture to their morning, ritualistic consumption of the daily newspaper. And at T2f on Thursday, the documentary titled Feica vs Feica was aired, which painted a broad canvas of what makes him Pakistan’s veteran political cartoonist.

It is easy to assume who Feica is as an artist, but one particular incident narrated while the artist and director Faisal Sayani exchanged ideas, offered the audience an intimate glimpse. With the recent defacing of the murals of female civil society activists at the Karachi Press Club, many have shared the story of how the murals were restored within days. But what is missing from the narrative is the name of the person who actually carried out the restorative act — Feica.

Feica narrated his sadness at viewing the defaced murals. He narrated how he initially assessed the vandalised murals to assess the kind of paint used, which turned out to be an ordinary spray. “After two days I decided myself that I would clean the murals.”

Contrary to what most believe, and what has been reported about the restoration and who carried it out, in reality it was Feica, in tow with his two daughters, and a can of paint thinner.

Sayani’s documentary, a project he worked on years ago, deserted and then picked up again, was a reductionist perspective of the life of Feica that tantalised those who knew the artist in person as well as those who didn’t.

For Sayani, in all his interactions with the artist, he has seen two versions, two contrasting personalities emerge. And thus came about the premise of squaring off the versions against each other; one an antagonist, full of anger and fire, and in contrast a man who loves and is loved, and is a disciplined cartoonist.

Thus, the documentary had Feica questioning Feica, about life, his loves, his scrapes with the law and his several arrests, Pakistani politicians and how the powerful oppress, as well as his contribution to the country.

“An artless society is doomed,” says Feica at one point in the documentary. The message reverberated in the hall of T2f which has seen efforts to stamp out its creative spirit through the murder of Sabeen Mahmud.

“Anger is my energy. I make things which make me angry,” he says at another point. He recalls his anger during the era of Ziaul Haq, when sculptures were being destroyed and figurative art denounced by religious organisations as sinful. That made him angry and this anger translated into some of his best and more stirring work.

“I am a thinking artist,” he elaborated. He claims his life is a “double-edged sword, of being part of journalism as well as being an artist.”

The slap of an uncle in his youth for making figures was in Feica’s words a “turning point.” His reaction to the incident was to make a caricature of his uncle on a wall where all the neighbourhood children could view it, using charcoal picked from burnt wood. “Charcoal then became my favourite medium.”

When asked about his favourite politician to draw, Feica’s immediate response was Ziaul Haq. “I thought of taking a day off the day he died as a character was dead.”

Feica has no regrets about the life he has led. But his one lament was that the nation has not progressed while the rest of the world is progressing by leaps and bounds.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2017