Faisel, a doctor by training who runs Galley 6, organised an exhibition of the vandalised paintings titled "Resilient Ambassadors".
When artist and gallery owner Arjumand Faisel was invited to bring an exhibition of at least 50 paintings by Pakistani artists to India in September 2102, he was excited. “We selected 17 artists to be part of the exhibition and it was highly appreciated when we went to Mumbai in February 2013,” he said.
In Mumbai, people spoke to him more about the November 26 terror attacks and killing of Indian soldiers than about the paintings, he recalls. But in August 2013, he was in for a rude shock when the exhibition was vandalised by Bajrang Dal members in Ahmedabad’s “Amdavad Ni Gufa” gallery to protest the killing of Indian soldiers by Pakistani army men on the Line of Control. The miscreants tore down the paintings, which included some of his work. The story didn’t end there.
After the incident, the International Creative Art Centre (ICAC) which had invited him, refused to respond to his calls and demands to have the paintings back. He had to keep writing and calling them for months, before the ICAC said it couldn’t send the paintings back to Pakistan because no courier agency was willing to do so.
“Finally I asked them to send the paintings to Dubai and the whole thing proved very expensive for me,” he said. He even contacted the India Pakistan Friendship Association president in Mumbai who refused to help saying it didn’t want to enter into this volatile situation.
When he got the paintings back with great difficulty last December, he realised that three of them were missing. Two of them were by Akram Spaul and one by R M Naeem. He said that he kept contacting ICAC but had received no response on whether the paintings were damaged beyond repair or sold. He said if they were sold, he would have to pay the artists, but he till now he has no news on them.
On Wednesday, Faisel, a doctor by training who runs Galley 6, organised an exhibition of the vandalised paintings titled “Resilient Ambassadors”. A small computer played video footage of the Ahmedabad incident where young men on a rampage could be seen tearing off the paintings and breaking the frames. Some of the paintings on display have been torn, removed from their frames and Mr. Faisel had to cut alarge painting of his which was damaged badly. “I cut my three ft by two ft painting and repainted it. You can still see the scratch marks and other damage,” he said pointing to a large brightly coloured frame. Some of the paintings have been ripped apart and some slashed.
Hajra Mansoor and her husband Mansoor Rahi were both shocked at the Ahmedabad incident because they had been having regular exchanges in the past. “When a painting is destroyed, for me it is like killing a child. No art lover would do this, so many people in India loved our work,” Ms. Mansoor told The Hindu.
She had studied from the Lucknow Art College and was keen on showing her work in India. ”We have so many friends there and we sell many paintings,” she said.
Mansoor Rahi said artists had an important role to play worldwide and these exchange programmes kept friendship alive. “These people who damage art want to destroy that friendship. Even though our paintings were damaged, we are not discouraged. We will keep up the interaction and retaliate with love and persistence,” he remarked.
Pakistani artists - Abid Hasan, Abrar Ahmed, Akram Spaul, Aqeel Solangi, Arjumand Faisel, Hajra Mansoor, Irfan Gul Dahri, Mussarrat Nahid Imam, Mughees Riaz, Mudassar Manzoor, Mutaib Shah, Omar Farid, Mansoor Rahi, RM Naeem, Sana Arjumand and Wahab Jaffer had taken part in the exhibition in India. It was to travel to New Delhi and later to Pune after Ahmedabad. There was also a proposal to bring Indian painters to Pakistan.
Out of 47 paintings, 30 survived with minor damage, 14 are badly damaged and three are missing. Painter Rubina Qazilbash said, “Art is a way of binding two countries and learning from each other. The minute you learn, you dissolve barriers.” For India and Pakistan that’s a lot of dissolving of barriers to be done.