Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Murals of Pakistani female activists vandalised

Artwork on outer walls of Karachi Press Club has been plastered with posters of Qassem Soleimani's chehlum

Vandalised wall-murals outside the Karachi Press Club. Photo: Pireh Amar

Wall-murals in Karachi of iconic Pakistani women have been vandalised once again by religious and political groups in the city.

The public artwork, painted on the outer walls of the Karachi Press Club, was on Sunday plastered with posters and slogans inviting people to participate in the chehlum (religious observance) of Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian major general killed in Baghdad last month.

The vandalised murals include that of Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan’s first female architect, who was awarded the Jane Drew Prize recently for raising the profile of women in architecture. Others are of Zubeida Mustafa, a renowned journalist and author and Fatima Surayya Bajia, an Urdu novelist and drama writer.

However, paintings and frescos of two prominent figures that graced the wall, Sabeen Mahmud, a social activist gunned down by terrorists in 2015 and Perween Rahman, the director of the Orangi Pilot Project, have been spared and remain untouched.

Imtiaz Khan Faran, the president of the Karachi Press Club, was dismayed. He called those who damaged the art as the work of “sick minds”. 

Faran told Geo.tv that he had requested the men, putting up posters, to not destroy the memorable images. 

“We can’t control what is happening outside the press club’s walls,” he added, “But whoever these people are they should respect Pakistan’s legends and heroes.”

The murals were painted in 2016 by artist Haider Ali, the chief executive officer at Phool Patti, as part of a “I am Karachi” campaign.

A year after the paintings were completed, vandals defaced the images with black paint and graffiti. Journalists later also found derogatory comments etched into the walls about the media and Asia Bibi, a poor woman who at the time was on death row in the country.

The offensive messages carried the initials of religious groups Pakistan Sunni Tehreek and Tehreek-i-Labbaik. The murals were later restored by local artists, but they were attacked again on Sunday.

Haider Ali, the man behind the images, told Geo.tv that he was shocked to learn of the vandalism and destruction of his artwork. 

“How can people not understand art?” he asked, “I really have no words to describe how I feel right now. He added that the last time the murals were attacked, he had to repaint them. 

“I really don’t know what we will do this time, or if this keeps happening again and again.”

Amar is a Karachi based journalist. She tweets @amarpireh