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Art affair: For the sake of arts

Updated June 30, 2012

To elevate art appreciation audiences need to step beyond passive viewership. In Farhad Aspy Fatakia we have an example of a young art aficionado who is walking the extra mile to make a difference.

An art enthusiast and collector of South Asian, specifically post-partition, art from the age of 18, he is an industrial engineer by qualification. He began a modest non-profit programme in 2003 called that designed websites for Pakistani artists, free of charge, in order to encourage them to digitise and publicise their work. Having had the good fortune to visit world famous galleries, he has acquired the insight to appreciate the technical merit and aesthetic appeal of Pakistani art. Here he talks about his ongoing journey of learning and contributing in his own small way.

Why did you join Foundation of Museum of Modern Art (Fomma) and when did you become a part of the Ali Imam archive project and what was the nature of your contribution?

My aim is to promote and enable Pakistani art to receive its due credit. I initially tried to do this through my own non-profit programme,, but having realised the far greater potential of Fomma Trust as a platform to the same aim I closed my non-profit programme and instead joined the Trust as the honorary joint secretary and director of audio-visual media.

As a collector and an art lover I discovered that there was literally no publicly available source of information about artists other than a few scattered articles on the web. This scarcity of available material was frustrating and I realised that Dr Akbar Naqvi was right when he pointed out that a lack of art historians in Pakistan has to do largely with a dearth of available material to study.

At the time, Fomma Trust had just received around 60,000 pages worth of Pakistani art history material from a multitude of sources, all in physical paper form, largely inaccessible to the public. Digitising that material and sharing it with the world seemed like what Ali Imam, Zubeida Mustafa and the many others who had donated their personal archives to the Trust wanted.

I became involved with the Ali Imam Archive Project in 2009 when the Trust required an individual to handle the task of digitising the entire Ali Imam archive along with other records donated over the years. An extensive IT background allowed me to manage a team of eight digitisation engineers to scan and Optical character recognition (OCR) each page of the archive in order to achieve full text search capability, so one could find a match to even a single word by having our search sift through the millions of words that make up the 60,000 page archive. This approach has far greater granularity and depth than the simpler alternative: a basic search that would only allow one to search through the file names of articles.

Can you detail the efficacy of the current digital version of the Ali Imam archives? How user-friendly is it?

The current digital version can be found at under the resources section of our website. It is 100 per cent free to use and will remain so indefinitely. The archive currently has some 16 GB of 21,000+ PDF files covering the life, work and times of some 600+ Pakistani artists all scanned in high resolution 400 DPI which means that each of the articles could be printed and reproduced at their original sizes.

That attention to detail when it came to the high quality of the digitisation was especially important to me because I see the archives as a living resource that will continue to grow and help others in their pursuit of knowledge with respect to Pakistani Art. It was therefore of supreme importance to me that we created as visually pleasing of an archive as possible; one that art historians, students and enthusiasts would be able to profit from. The archive is growing in size daily but can be accessed presently. It will be fully uploaded by the July 4, 2012.

Has this been a fulfilling experience for you?

I have been asked this question many times and my response remains the same. I think a lot of people are sceptical about what can be achieved working on an honorary basis on the weekends, and feel that if they aren't making a full time contribution of at least 40 hours a week that they are simply not going to make any tangible impact on their organisation or on society as a whole.

I never agreed with that view even when I took this project and now, a few hours a week, every week, and a handful of individual’s time has translated into what could arguably be one of the single largest publicly available archives on the subject of Pakistani art. Hopefully that is food for thought for others out there dreaming big but are hesitant about how much can be achieved. It has been an extremely fulfilling experience during which I have gotten to enjoy reading some of the best articles in the archive along with some incredible handwritten correspondences between colourful characters like Ahmed Pervez and Ali Imam that gave me insight into the lives of hundreds of Pakistani artists that I would have never, otherwise, known a thing about.