Quite unfortunately, all is not well in the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) for some time, particularly during the last couple of months. The PNCA was established about five decades back with its headquarters in Islamabad and tasked with the care and custody of valuable artworks i.e. paintings, prints, calligraphy, sculptures etc of living and deceased prominent artists owned by the federal government.

Over the years, PNCA has evolved and developed the idea of a “Permanent Collection”, preserving and displaying art treasures either gifted to or acquired by the PNCA.

The PNCA permanent collection also included 10 artworks—five paintings and five prints—of famous Pakistani artist Anwar Jalal Shemza, known as the Root series and worth crores also in the international market.

These artworks of Anwar Jalal Shemza were handed over to an unknown person by the incumbent DG of PNCA around mid-August 2020 despite being advised not to do so by the PNCA officials in national interest. The lady who took these paintings quietly in the absence of the Federal Minister incharge and print and electronic media was reported to be Rukhsana Khan, wife of Syed Aqeel Anwar Kazmi on the pretext that the Britain based wife of Shemza was demanding the return of these artworks which were in the Permanent Collection of the PNCA since 1985.

The incumbent DG has deprived the nation from its art treasures on the pretext of recommendations by a Committee, set up by her, which had inter alia remarked just out of context or reference “Awar Jalal Shemza’s 10 loaned works must be returned to the family”. The Committee’s recommendations were implemented in a hurried manner by the PNCA management on August 15/16,2020 whereas the final report was signed by the Committee Chairman on August 19, 2020. How come the Committee’s only recommendation was implemented before the report was signed by its Chairman?

It is pertinent to mention here that the precious national artworks were so returned to Shemza’s family through an unknown lady without ascertaining her antecedents and more importantly without taking the Foreign Office or the British High Commission in Islamabad and the Pakistan High Commission in London, Britain, on board and in confidence about this dirty episode of virtually doing massive damage to the national art treasure preserved and displayed by PNCA over the decades.

As per the information so available, A J Shemza’s artwork exhibition including “The Roots” series comprising 100 paintings was organised by the Lahore Art Council in 1985 at the urgent initiative of National Artists Association of Pakistan (NAAP) to pay him tribute following his demise.

Following the completion of Shemza’s exhibition at Alhamra Art Centre Lahore, 10 paintings were selected by Shemza’s wife Ms Mery Katrina Shemza , who had come from Britain for her late husband’s artwork exhibitions along with her daughter, and were gifted—not loaned—to the National Art Gallery in order to ensure that her late husband’s creative art work remains on permanent display as a prominent Pakistani artist who had moved to Great Britain in the 1960s. The paintings so gifted were taken from Lahore by a PNCA official and put in the Permanent Collection there in Islamabad accordingly. They further opined quite categorically that it is a matter of record that these paintings have been on display and part of the Permanent Collection of PNCA for almost 35 years; PNCA should make every effort to protect and preserve national treasures.

Availing the opportunity, they also demanded that the Permanent Collection at the National Art Gallery Islamabad should forthwith be documented and catalogued and a complete list be made public on PNCA’s website for which the artist community members also offered help for documentation and cataloguing efforts to accomplish the task in the shortest possible time.

For want of space, details about the DG’s entry in the PNCA and her “achievements” at Lok Virsa Islamabad as its Executive Director cannot be included, but allegedly, she topped this current situation by selling 10 thousand hours of professional broadcast quality videos valued at crores of rupees of the largest cultural archives of Pakistan gathered over the years by Uxi Mufti to the Americans against a grant through her own NGO.