'Golden hand': Meet the Pakistani artist who has spent a lifetime painting UAE royals

An undated photo of Liaquat Ali Khan, a Pakistani artist, seen posing in front of a portrait he made of UAE's founding father and then ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (Photo courtesy Liaquat Ali Khan)
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Updated 04 December 2020

'Golden hand': Meet the Pakistani artist who has spent a lifetime painting UAE royals

  • Liaquat Ali Khan went to the United Arab Emirates as a daily wage laborer but acquired the reputation of a skillful artist
  • He has now returned to Pakistan and set up an art academy in his hometown of Kohat

KOHAT: Four decades ago, a man traveled from Kohat in northwestern Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates in search of a better life. He was part of a group of daily wage laborers, all of them from poor families and looking for better prospects.

But one thing set Liaquat Ali Khan apart: his passion for art, which would go on to change the course of his life.

“I went to watch a Pashto film in Abu Dhabi,” Khan, now 70, told Arab News at his office in Kohat, recalling his time in the UAE in the early eighties. “On stepping out of the cinema, I saw a man who was struggling to paint a billboard. I walked up to him and volunteered to help.”

As Khan painted, another man, a bank executive, observed him for a while and then walked up to him and struck a conversation. The man wanted to know if the painter could draw portraits. He said yes. A few days later, the banker took Khan to see his boss, who commissioned a portrait of UAE’s founding father and then ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, to be unveiled on UAE’s national day. 




Liaquat Ali Khan, a Pakistani artist, speaks to Arab News at his office in Kohat, Pakistan, on Dec. 1, 2020. (AN photo)

That moment marked a new beginning for Khan, who had a degree in fine arts from the University of Peshawar but never thought he could have a career as an artist. But his first portrait landed him a job with the Abu Dhabi Municipality where he went on to work for 29 years.

“I adorned my canvas with UAE royals and painted over a thousand portraits,” said Khan whose work has been displayed in public parks and along major thoroughfares in Abu Dhabi ahead of the UAE national day, celebrated each year on December 2.

Emirati officials also bestowed on him the title of “golden hand” as his reputation as an artist spread.




Liaquat Ali Khan, a Pakistani artist, writes an Urdu inscription at his office in Kohat, Pakistan on December 1, 2020. (AN Photo)

“Over a period of time, officials and locals began to recognize me through my work and started calling me the golden hand,“Khan said. “But it was a huge portrait of Sheikh Zayed that captured the attention of the royal family.”

In 1999, he was invited to meet the UAE ruler himself. 

“He was clearly interested in the world of art and knew a lot about it,” Khan said. 

Ten years after his meeting with Al Nahyan, Khan returned to Pakistan — not an ‘easy decision,’ he said — where he began teaching art at Kohat University. He also set up an art academy in his native town, where 17 students, both boys and girls, are currently studying.




Students of Liaquat Ali Khan, a Pakistani artist, seen practicing calligraphy at his art academy in Kohat, Pakistan, on December 1, 2020. (AN Photo)

“Creativity and art have brought me closer to nature and I am focused more on them than ever before,” said Omar Shahid, a second-year medical student who took up drawing as a hobby and joined the academy about a year ago.

Today, Khan says he is proud of his journey. The walls of his office in the art academy are decorated with photographs and shields. Some of the photos capture his interactions with high-profile Pakistani personalities such as former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The artist said he had also completed a 500-piece portrait of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and requested Musharraf to display it at Jinnah’s mausoleum. He smiled as he said he had no idea where that work had disappeared.

“He [Musharraf] agreed and instructed officials [to display the Jinnah portrait at his tomb],” Khan said. “But the painting has disappeared. It’s probably gathering dust in some government storage facility.”
 


Diplomatic spat breaks out between Pakistan, India in United Nations General Assembly

Updated 48 min 34 sec ago

Diplomatic spat breaks out between Pakistan, India in United Nations General Assembly

  • The incident took place after Saudi Arabia introduced a resolution to protect rights of minority religious communities around the world
  • Pakistan described the adoption of resolution as 'a rebuke to the Hindutva extremists in India' who were trying to 'eliminate the heritage of Islam'

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations General Assembly once again witnessed some diplomatic wrangling between Pakistan and India on Friday as representatives of the two countries questioned each other's track record of dealing with religious minorities.

The debate took place after Saudi Arabia introduced a resolution, "Promoting a culture of peace and tolerance to safeguard religious sites," on Thursday which was co-sponsored by Pakistan and other Muslim countries.

Pakistan's UN Ambassador Munir Akram described the adoption of the resolution as "part of the efforts initiated by Prime Minister Imran Khan to combat Islamophobia and outlaw attacks on Muslim religious shrines, symbols and sacred personalities in certain countries."

"The adoption of the resolution is also a rebuke to the Hindutva extremists in India who have launched a systematic and government backed program to eliminate the heritage and legacy of Islam in India through the destruction of Islamic shrines and monuments and to the transformation of India's Muslims into second class citizens, or non-citizens," he was reported as saying by the Associated Press of Pakistan.

However, India called it "ironic" that Pakistan was one of the countries sponsoring the resolution, claiming that a recent attack on a Hindu shrine in Karak was fully supported by Pakistani law enforcement agencies.

In response, Pakistani delegate Zulqarnain Chheena told India not to "feign concern for minority rights elsewhere," and called it "the most egregious and persistent violator of minority rights itself."

"The clear difference between India and Pakistan with respect to minority rights can be gauged from the fact that the accused in the Karak incident were immediately arrested, orders were issued for repairing the temple, the highest level of judiciary took immediate notice, and the senior political leadership condemned the incident," he said. "Whereas in India, blatant acts of discrimination against Muslims and other minorities take place with state complicity."

Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations expressed satisfaction after the resolution was adopted by UN member states.