Prison art exhibition opens at Arts Council

KARACHI: Very seldom does one see works of art and craftsmanship by, for want of a better word, non-professional artists and get completely blown away by them. An exhibition of artworks and handicrafts by inmates of Karachi central prison that opened at the Arts Council of Pakistan’s Ahmed Pervaiz Art Gallery is a show worth marvelling art.

First of all, it is hard not to get impressed with the large quantity [177 paintings and other material] of exhibits on view that carry a delectable mix of subject matter, technique and craft. It is more than evident that the learning which these prisoners are getting is top-notch. But, and one says this with all honesty, that the output of the artists more than justifies their training. The primary reason for it is the creative passion and sincerity of belief with which they have expressed themselves. Expression is the key word here.

How does one express oneself in a cell or in a situation where to come out of confinement seems distant or unlikely? It is a difficult question to answer, but one of the responses could be: not to let hope fade away.

A story can be extracted out of each artwork on display. For example, there’s a kid in the lap of an old woman who is wearing a pair of spectacles that needs to be repaired. In the background there are things floating in water. Touching.

Around 200 paintings and other materials by 35 prisoners are on display

Then, for obvious reasons, there’s a painting in which a prisoner can be seen behind bars holding his head. In front of him, vertically, is the scales of justice and a pen. The artist has used the colour yellow to depict the background. It indicates that he understands the importance of symbols because apart from sunshine yellow symbolises deceit and disease.

Lovers of calligraphy will be happy to see the exhibition as well. Some of the calligraphic works are astoundingly delicate and thoughtful. Spirituality is something that all human beings seek, most of all those for whom hope doesn’t come easy.

All in all, it’s a fantastic show and art buffs should visit it not just to help the artists but also to appreciate the high quality of creativity.

The exhibition was inaugurated by Sindh Governor Kamran Tessori and attended by Arts Council president Ahmed Shah, caretaker Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Murtaza Solangi, Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, caretaker home minister Haris Nawaz, Jail Superintendent Hassan Sehito and others.

Speaking on the occasion, the governor said that Ahmed Shah always took steps to encourage artists, just like Jailer Sehito did. “We should hate the crime, not the perpetrator, when a person is punished, he must realise what he did good and what was bad, looking at these pictures, we realise that even a bad person can change.”

About 200 works of art by more than 35 prisoners have been placed in the exhibition, which will continue till Monday (tomorrow).

Published in Dawn, September 24rd, 2023

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