Artists and art experts have urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to form an independent high-level commission to investigate the Anwar Jalal Shemza painting scandal case and 137 other missing paintings from the National Art Gallery (NAG), run by Pakistan’s National Council. Arts (PNCA).
Speaking at the webinar, the participants agreed to have a jury, former PNCA director general, senior artists and art experts, representatives from investigative agencies, and representatives from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as members of the proposed commission of inquiry. Participants suggested that the proposed commission should be directly under the prime minister’s office for an independent and fair inquiry.
The participating artists also highlighted grave concern over the inability of NAB to take action.
“The top cultural organization of the Pakistani government will be of no use if urgent steps are not taken by the prime minister,” they added.
Organized and conducted by journalist and broadcaster Munir Ahmed, the webinar was organized by the Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) on Sunday.
Famous artist and former director general of the PNCA, Jamal Shah called the denial of Shemza’s painting scandal a “bunch of lies”. He said the current head of the PNCA should publish decades-old correspondence or any letter written to the government, by his wife, asking to return Shemza’s painting.
“He has committed a serious crime on the shoulders of the current PNCA BOG which must be examined by a high-level independent commission under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s office.”
Shah said that Naeem Tahir and Mian Ijaz ul Hassan had presented the facts about Shemza’s donation to the National Art Gallery and looked at the possibility of returning Shemza’s painting.
On the other hand, the famous Pakistani artist Mansur Rahi refused to take responsibility for the decision to return AJ Shemza’s painting as chairman of the PNCA BOG committee.
“I attended one of the events where I talked about art collections and art items and the importance of the national art gallery. I have a hearing loss lately, Haajra (his wife) facilitated me to find out what was going on there. They never asked me to join them again for any meeting, but one day a PNCA staff member came and asked me to sign a paper because I had attended the meeting. I signed it without asking Haajra to read it to me while he was sleeping, ”said Rahi.
Nahida Raza, Ahmed Habib, Riffat Khattak, Samia Nazir, Riffat Ara Baig, Zainab Qayyum, Shagufta Khan, Sumera Shehzad and several other artists also supported the suggestion of forming a high-level independent commission under the prime minister’s office to carry out a transparent investigation into missing paintings and the scandal surrounding AJ Shemza’s painting.
In a separate statement, Jamal Shah said, “I abstained from issuing any statement as former Director General of PNCA but the new regime is trying hard to hide their insincere draft by blaming the previous regime for being negligent so this is my version. “
Shah stated that at his appointment at PNCA, an investigation had been formed and an FIR report was filed against those responsible for the missing artwork, and forwarded to the board. In addition, PNCA has received notification of returning Shemza’s painting from the law firm Aasma Jahangir.
“This case was also filed with the council and council unanimously that work should not be returned and Mary should be contacted. Later, Rukhsana Khan came to me with the request and I politely told him that the matter was complicated and a certain investigation was also being carried out by the FIA, therefore, I would not be able to return the job. I told her to ask Mary to provide us with incontrovertible evidence and also reconsider her request to return. He understood what I meant and did not go after the notification sent by the law firm, ”added Shah.
“To be honest I haven’t seen most of the letters circulating lately with the exception of one list of 10 Shamza paintings from 1985 at prices like Rs4800 to Rs5000 plus, but I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to return the work. . I recently came across a BBC report and also learned that Mary was here in 2005 or 2007 with Shamza’s work on display at the NCA during Sajda Vandal’s tenure through Mariam Habib. Sajda had purchased two paintings for 30,000 each while Mary had one gifted to the NCA. “
Shah claimed the BBC’s report on the missing painting was “unprofessional and sensational” because it did not include comments from him, former DG, or Mian Ejaz ul Hassan.
“According to the BBC, these paintings were hidden somewhere through a malicious plot that was not true because Shemza’s work was always displayed with great pride and was even included in one of my curation exhibitions called Iconic Presence in 2007 and was widely publicized.”
He confirmed that there was correspondence between Naeem Tahir and Mary regarding the condition of Shemza’s painting, dated 2009.
“This email and some of the other letters that have appeared now have to be sent for forensic examination because I as DG never saw them, which is why I asked Rukhsana to provide me with undeniable documents.”
Shah added, “The question is why isn’t Mary interested in taking back Shamza’s painting when she’s here herself? I am sure Naeem Tahir Owner would comfort her because she also knew Shamza and could happily pay the fair price Sajda paid for the two paintings. “
Shah said that Mary never asked for the paintings because she didn’t want to claim them, however, after her work got a good price at auction, we suddenly saw Salima, as Mary’s agent, demanding the return of Shamza and then Rukhsana’s work. given the authority as the heir. “Rukhsana was always in Pakistan but he became his heir in 2017, it seems like a poorly cooked story but the new government without good reason decided to hand over PNCA and Lok Virsa to Shafqat Mehmood at his request. Everyone knows that Shafqat is related to Salima, that’s why the first thing he asked me on his first official visit to PNCA was a return of Shamza’s work. My answer to him was that the problem was complicated, which is why I couldn’t return the ten paintings. “
“As soon as I ended my tenure, he brought in new people, new administrators and the first thing on the agenda at the first meeting became Shamza’s job. He left the BOG meeting immediately after agreeing to the first item on the agenda and the work was hastily returned to Rukhsana. “Shah added.
The issue came to light after the Pakistan National Association of Artists (NAAP) wrote to Federal Minister for Education and Heritage Shafqat Mehmood warning him of the matter.
Renowned artist and former PNCA director general Naeem Tahir said that this should not have happened. He explained that if an artist has contributed his work and entered the national gallery inventory, then the work becomes a national treasure and no one has the right to claim it as their own or take the decision to return it, regardless of the circumstances. Becomes.