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The Art of Investment

December 19, 2008



Pakistani expatriates fuel the local market
Come December, and Pakistani expatriates return to their homeland, many of them ready to invest in art. Although works by Sadequain, Ismail Gulgee, and Jamil Naqsh have sold well at international auctions, expatriate buyers return to the local market for good deals and to invest in the work of newer artists. 
'People are aware now more than before about the value and quality of Pakistani art. Not only do they go for established names, but also for new artists that are breaking through,' says Salima Hashmi, a Lahore-based artist, critic, and gallery owner.
Samira Raja, the proprietor of Karachi's Canvas Gallery, adds that expatriates are motivated to purchase art locally for two reasons to 'buy a work of art that reminds them of their homeland' or simply to 'make a wise investment.' The difference, she points out, is between buyers who choose works that have cultural resonance and those aiming to make a long-term profit.
Investors are attracted to Pakistani art because of its high valuations - in recent years, prices have multiplied 10 to 20 times over. According to Raja, expatriates prefer investing locally because the deals are better. Once Pakistani art is exhibited in foreign galleries, it is priced at far higher rates. For example, Sadequain's works can sell for over US $ 100,000 at international auctions while a Bonhams auction in Dubai last month valued an Ismail Gulgee piece between US $ 50,000 and US $ 70,000. Earlier this year, at Bonhams' inaugural Middle East auction, Gulgee's 'Polo Player' broke the world record for auctioned Pakistani art by selling for US $ 336,000. 
Sales of Pakistani art have also been boosted by the internet. According to Hashmi, online access to local work has helped spread interest among expatriates leading to a corresponding rise in online purchasing. Popular online resources include the South Asian Visual Arts Centre, Green Cardamom, and Gandhara Art. But Hashmi explains that Pakistani expatriates often use these resources to browse their options before purchasing locally. 'I personally make recommendations to clients [about works they discover online],' she says.

A testament to the vitality of the Pakistani art market is that despite the recent downturn in the global economy, expatriates are expected to continue investing. The financial meltdown of the past few months has affected the purchasing power of customers, but interest has remained as strong as ever, says Raja.

Sana Arjumand - Courtesy Canvas Gallery

For those thinking of investing in Pakistani art this winter, offers tips about what to keep in mind before buying.
Big names, big returns
Not surprisingly, expatriates go for the best in the business because big names are considered safe investments that are more likely to pay dividends in the future. Sadequain remains the most sought after big name, but other artists such as Imran Qureshi, Ayesha Khalid, and Khadim Ali have also shown to have good resale values.
Zohra Hussain, who runs Karachi's prestigious Chawkandi Art Gallery, explains that an artist's economic viability can be judged by auction sales, while going rates do not reflect an artist's true value, they are a good indication of what others are willing to pay. 
That said, Raja also recommends that investors seek out pieces from the 15-year bracket, which includes the work of artists who graduated from art school in the early 1990s and have recently made an impact. After all, the work of artists such as Sana Arjumand, Hasnat Mehmood, Imran Qureshi, Talha Rathore, and Sumaira Tazeen is sought after. 

 Does Medium Matter?
During the 1990s, watercolours were in demand. Pakistani expatriates preferred buying landscapes and still life compositions with a distinct desi touch. But now, almost anything goes. According to Hussain, miniatures are in great demand along with calligraphic works, acrylics, and oil on canvas. Pieces reflecting the nation's political and social turmoil, such as Sana Arjumand's paintings, are also increasingly popular. 
Beware forgery
Hussain cautions buyers wishing to purchase the works of renowned Pakistani artists. She reminds investors that even Sadequain pieces selling for hundreds of thousands of rupees have previously proved to be forged.
Raja suggests that buyers show the work they're planning to purchase to experts. 'I myself refuse to place works of artists like Sadequain, Rashid Rana, and Gulgee my gallery for exhibition until I've had it verified by at least three art experts.'
To browse the work of Pakistani artists, Click Here