A personal observation about Pakistani elderly citizens is that the moment they cross sixty, they inadvertently deem themselves cleared of any semblance of artistic interest, and feel incapacitated to channelize any degree of their aesthetic sensibility towards independently creating something unique. The larger chunk of this social segment turns into crotchety individuals, dedicates their time tale-tattling and adding to the archetypal family-politics discussions circulating in every other conventional Pakistani household. Amidst the COVID-19 house-bound situation, I happen to be staying at my cousin’s place where I have discovered someone who inexorably feels unaffected by this isolation. This is because he is mentally attuned to spending his afternoons in his little workstead amidst dozens of palettes, countless paint brushes and ample of materials.

Mr Jamal Rashid, 71, is a silent artist and undoubtedly the country’s unexplored diorama talent. He dedicates his leisurely time to his workstation that is suffused with creativity and inventiveness, single-handedly fashioning unique exhibits of miniature and large scale diorama art.       

The word “diorama” is something that most of us, if not all, in Pakistan are unfamiliar to, let alone knowing the complexity, concern and concentration it takes to create one. Typically, a diorama is a model with three-dimensional figures displaying a scene.

He introduced me to his workstead and a personal library at home that I was dumbfounded at being exposed to. His library houses some five-thousand collectibles, out of which there are around three-thousand classic-vintage and contemporary toy automobiles, sporadically ranging from matchbox Mini-Coopers and tractors to 1:18 scale Sedans and Coupés.

Mr Rashid is a food engineer by profession, who received his Master’s degree in Food Sciences from the Agriculture University of Faisalabad, and later went to America, followed by Britain, to pursue specialist training in Food technology. He started his professional practice in the departments of dairy, milk, juices, handmade/industrial ice-creams, gelato and confectionary products from 1973, working for Unilever Pakistan, and the giant ice-cream companies like Galadari and Igloo. Owing to his paramount experience in the food industry, he continues to get work-based contracts across the world till date.

Extensive travelling has always been a part of Mr Rashid’s work and so he has travelled across the world, extending a range of his consultation services from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Algeria, Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to France, Singapore, Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. His most recent work experiences include offering consultation in Moldova and within Lahore, Pakistan.  His wide-ranging travels are the reason why his library of toys contains exceptional articles from Middle-East, Asia, Africa and Europe. While sitting in his library, he told me how the first dinky-car he bought was in 1962 from Lahore’s Anarkali Bazaar for 5 rupees, and since then he developed an interest in cars and model-making that has grown exponentially with each of his travels.

 “It was while being on one of my work-related tours to England’s countryside that I developed a thing for English pastures and creatural life. After work in the factory, I would go for long walks and observe the rustic farmlands. The same beautiful views of the landscapes inspired me in the Canadian countryside as well. In Saskatoon, I was delighted to the see the Rail Road Club, which served as a muse for my first project—the Railway City”, he explained.

The “Railway City” is a fully-functioning model and undoubtedly the most extensive of Mr Rashid’s diorama projects, showcasing hundreds of three-dimensional figures in an appealing rustic scene of a small town, surrounded by railway tracks. These are electrical tracks, and once the train starts moving, it sketches a picturesque show of the tranquil, rustic life realistically depicting the unadulterated serenity of this place, miles away from the pandemonium of the noisy, mechanical routine in the cities. The piece that Mr Rashid is currently working on is a scene from an abandoned farm. So far, the alternations of dark against light tones from a faded color palette that have been used in this piece, have an inimitable effect on the observers, and transcend the artist in terms of its artistic complexity.                          

Mr Rashid has an intrinsic eye for fine, intricate detail and the materials that he uses are very simple and minimalistic, however when they are worked into a model, they get elevated in their character. In almost all of his projects, the fundamental materials used are Styrofoam, muslin cloth, glue, balsa wood and fabric. For different effects and figures, he also makes use of plastic from spare bottles and paper from old newspapers at home to ensure that his projects have more than just a literary-thematic significance to offer. The more the recycled materials used, the more important these models become in terms of delivering a discourse on how diorama art is a discursive pastime with an eco-friendly vision to it.

Mr Jamal Rashid is someone that the older and the younger generation of this country needs to learn spending time-in-leisure from. Without being ambitiously demonstrative about his very prolific hobby, he silently makes his time productive by creating these unique models.