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Have you ever helped an artist?

August 26, 2011

In her short write-up which appeared in Dawn’s Independence Day special edition, artist and art educationist Salima Hashmi raised a very important question: ‘When was the last time you helped an artist?’ Then, quoting Faiz, she wrote words to the effect that artists find for people (the beauty, the good) what people are unable to find for themselves (in times of distress). Pakistani art is happening and the whole world can see it, she informed us, and then asked, “Can we?”

Yes, Pakistani art is happening, be it visual arts or those from the performing category. Just look around and you’ll know what Mrs Hashmi meant. So many of our artists and performers have gained international recognition in these very challenging times that it is truly a phenomenal development. With so much negative stimuli around, they really have found for us the beauty and the love which we ordinary mortals fail to find in our midst every day. Be it the team at Coke Studio, the many crusading boy bands or the inimitable Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, or now four, very mature, generations of ace painters and sculptors who exhibit at international venues and bring our troubled country a good name – it is happening. Writers and poets too are an integral part of the art community, and they are also making waves at the global level.

While the ones who have had the opportunity to showcase their talents shine bright, there remain thousands more who just don’t have the modern day wherewithal to market their genius, and that’s what success really boils down to these days. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had to be picked up by Peter Gabriel to make himself known in Pakistan and India! If he had died unsung, the world of music would have been poorer today.

Ask Faizan Peerzada of the Rafi Peer Theatre group who keeps finding new singers and performers from across the country literally every few days; my colleague Salman Peerzada (not related to Faizan) tells me of one or the other amazing new writer or a poet that he keeps discovering; and not a week goes by without one coming across a new, amazing visual artist. It is worth sparing a few moments to think about the question Mrs Hashmi raised; take it further and ask yourself what you as an individual can do to help one struggling artist.

A performer can be invited to perform at a birthday, a wedding or a get-together, etc. to entertain friends or family. Visual artists can be helped by buying a piece of their art; they can be invited to help conduct a painting session with your children and their friends; poets and writers can be invited to your home and requested to bring their published or unpublished works for recital, with an offer to help them publish the work or sell their published work. The opportunity to support art and artists is there in everyone’s life in any big or small way one chooses—until such time that they get the big break they deserve.

I am writing this with the specific purpose to help a very talented, young artist in Karachi who has made it his mission to document Pakistan’s crumbling architectural heritage. He has created series of paintings on Thatta and Lahore, for instance, where the wind-catchers and Basant kites, respectively, are now no more a part of the skyline, and stand preserved only on his canvases. But because he does not blow his own horn or lectures about his work before an audience that may not really be interested in what the artist has to say, especially when the language spoken is not English, he is far from the culture vultures’ radar.

A friend of his, an art connoisseur and collector, has thankfully arranged for his show to be taken to Dubai and exhibited at a hotel there, but the artist needs help with arranging his air ticket, framing the artworks and getting a brochure of his works printed. The cost of media publicity in Dubai, which his hosts have said he’ll have to arrange himself, is another area where help is needed. A few ads can cover the cost of his brochure and hopefully other expenses. One can also buy a painting, for one’s home or office, or as a gift for friends visiting from abroad, who might wish to take a piece or two of Pakistani cityscape back with them.

Do think about it. I can guide you in confidence to the painter concerned. This might be the big break the artist has been waiting for.

—The writer is a member of the staff at Dawn Newspaper. He can be reached at