In a beach-sketching competition held in 2019 in Gwadar, the city witnessed the emergence of a sand-sketcher named Sameer Shoukat. The 21-year-old Sameer hails from Gadani, Balochistan and was ranked second out of the group of 80 sketchers who participated in the tournament.
Beach-sketching is the art of making temporary art next to the sea, using only sand as a medium.
The competition ignited Sameer’s dream of pursuing this artform and fuelled his desire to gain recognition as one of Pakistan’s best beach-sketching artists. Since then, Sameer has explored the world of beach sketching and received great fame, not only in Balochistan or Pakistan, but also across the globe.
In 2022, Sameer posted a sketch of the Indian cricketing star Virat Kohli on his social media accounts. Sameer’s remarkably accurate and impressive sand-portrait of Kohli soon went viral. The news of the sketch reached Kohli through Shahnawaz Dahani, a Pakistani national cricket team fast bowler, during their time together in Australia for the T20 World Cup in 2022. Kohli responded by thanking the Pakistani artist for his love.
A young Baloch artist is looking to attain new heights and global recognition in the relatively new art of beach-sketching
However, Kohli isn’t the only popular figure whose portrait Sameer has brought to life on the beaches on Pakistan. Some of Sameer’s other popular and well-liked artworks include sand portraits of footballer Lionel Messi, cricketers Babar Azam and Imran Khan, humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi, and the late politician Benazir Bhutto, among many others.
Sameer joined his brother’s arts club, the Rashidi Arts Club, as an active participant in 2019. Although he had been a member of the club since 2014, he became a more active participant when he realised that, if he didn’t harness his talent, his artistic potential might go to waste. The support and training he received at the club helped him become a full-time artist and beach-sketcher in 2021.
“I joined the club in 2019 to learn sand art,” Sameer says, recalling that it was the Gwadar tournament that kick-started his career. “I wanted to do something rare in the arts. I chose beach-sketching because not many people were doing it.”
He credits his team for keeping him steadfast in his pursuit of artistic excellence and for always encouraging him to aspire for more. According to Sameer, “It is all about teamwork. With the right effort, we hope to bring more success and attention to the country through our artwork.”
Sameer and his team — his brother Zabiullah, Kabeer Ahmed, Sameer Khurshid, Waheed Hanif and Waqar Noor — are new to the profession of beach-sketching and are contnouisly striving to make a name for themselves in the field of beach art.
But they are not the only ones. In recent times, a group based in Pasni, Makran, led by the famous Baloch poet Zubair Mukhtar, has also ventured into the field of sand arts and helped to increase its popularity in Pakistan.
Despite the gradual growth of this nascent art form in Pakistan and the emergence of more beach-sketching artists, Sameer does not feel threatened by the slowly rising tide of competition in his chosen discipline. In fact, he enjoys it, saying, “There remains plenty of space for other artists to fill the field with different colours.”
Sameer and his brother rely on each other to help pave the way for beach artists in Pakistan. “He always believed in doing things differently — I always found ways of supporting him in one way or another,” says Zabiullah, Sameer’s older brother and head of the Rashidi Arts Club.
“Our club currently has its own YouTube channel, where we stream videos for any viewers who are interested in our work. I believe Sameer can help us reach new heights by expanding our presence to other social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”
Sameer tells Eos that, among the Baloch, art is treated as an acceptable career option for students to study as a discipline and pursue as a full-time career. However, sand art is still something very new for most people in the region and isn’t necessarily what springs to mind when one thinks of art in a more traditional sense. Because of this, there are doubts as to whether this artform presents a viable career path for Pakistan’s artists, especially for someone living in the coastal areas of Balochistan.
Despite the team’s painstaking efforts to work from dawn to dusk, in order to make a plethora of beach art for their customers, Sameer and his team receive “no monetary assistance from any outside source”, so they have to incur all the costs of making the artworks themselves.
While Sameer is unsure as to whether beach art will help him develop and sustain a well-paying and fruitful career, he remains extremely interested in and passionate about beach-sketching and appreciates the recognition he has received so far.
After his sand portrait of the late Benazir Bhutto went viral, he was awarded a drone camera by the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, along with a shield of honour to encourage him to pursue his passion.
“I would like to thank Shahnawaz Dahani for morally supporting us and Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari for providing us with a drone camera,” Sameer adds. “There are plenty of other tools which we lack, but we are trying our best to continue excelling in our craft, with the few resources we have available to us.” The team led by Sameer has drawn various beach sketches over the past few years. When asked about how they select who to sketch next, Sameer replies, “We sit together to discuss names and public figures who we can sketch. Any time we are confused about how to resolve a particular issue, we all simply sit together and solve it as a team.” He further says that it is his brother who handles the logistical challenges which arise due to their work.
In his initial days as a sand artist after the tournament in Gwadar, Sameer did not receive a very positive response from the public. However, after his sketches began to go viral, he received some coverage from national and international media outlets. Despite his work garnering worldwide attention, Sameer says that he and his team were rarely credited or acknowledged individually for their artistic creations.
In an attempt to circumvent these hurdles, Sameer’s team steadfastly, and successfully, continued to seek out the attention of sportspersons, politicians and media houses across the country in the hope of gaining greater coverage of their work. Their dogged determination has now born fruit. “Efforts always pay off,” Sameer exclaims. “It has been a sensational feeling to see our work go viral.”
Sameer plans to continue beach-sketching and wants to pursue a degree in Fine Arts in the future. His eventual goal is to participate in an international competition and represent Pakistan.
He hopes his art will cultivate a deeper appreciation for the arts in a country where such skills are often neglected and he also hopes that the Pakistan government will award him and his team a grant to assist their ambitions.
The writer studies Law at the University Law College Quetta.
He tweets @Alijanmaqsood12
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 12th, 2023