Decision to return Shemza’s paintings taken unanimously, says PNCA board

Updated 28 Sep 2020

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Anwar Jamal Shemza’s paintings were kept at the National Art Gallery. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan
Anwar Jamal Shemza’s paintings were kept at the National Art Gallery. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan National Council of Arts’ (PNCA) board of governors announced on Sunday that it had made a unanimous decision to return Anwar Jamal Shemza’s paintings to their rightful owner.

In a statement, the PNCA said that the board, which was appointed by the present government, is committed to making the council a professional and national council. It said it would stand by exemplary standards and would not bow to pressure from those resisting reforms.

On July 15, the board deliberated on the matter and agreed that keeping Shemza’s work - which Mary Shemza loaned to the PNCA in 1985 and has continuously asked to be returned - in the National Art Gallery was a violation of her rights.

The statement said it was also an embarrassment for the PNCA and for the country to keep this work by force and showed criminal neglect on the part of past managements.

The board consists of 20 experts in art and culture, including Shahid Mehmood Nadeem, Naeem Pasha, Asma Khan, Mansoor Rahi, Parveen Malik, Amjad Islam Amjad, Deepak Perwani, Samina Peerzada, Farhan Bogra, Abdulla Baloch, Zaid Bashir, Tina Sani, Taqi Akhundzada, Ghazala Rehman, Rashid Rana, Akram Dost, Ahmad Shah and Muniza Hashmi, eight ex-officio members from government departments such as Pakistan Television, the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Heritage Division, and federal minister Shafqat Mahmood as the chairperson.

The PNCA said that after the paintings were returned to a legal representative of Mary Shemza, a letter objecting to the return was written by artist Ijazul Hassan andseveral news articles presented a one-sided perspective accusing the PNCA of acting illegally.

It said the board’s decision was legal and ethical, and set a precedent for the future.

PNCA Director General Dr Fouzia Saeed said: “This was a task that should have been done 35 years ago. Keeping someone’s artwork by force without their consent or renumeration is violation of artist’s rights.

“Both PNCA and Mary Shemza are clear that paintings were loaned for some time and were to be returned. These two are the main stakeholders therefore matters should not be complicated.”

The DG stressed that PNCA’s board gave a unanimous decision on this issue.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2020