Pakistani art collector-turned-gallerist aims to take local artists’ work to Middle East

Pakistani art collector-turned-gallerist Jawad Zia (center) is seen showing a calligraphy piece to the visitors at the Numaish Gah’s opening exhibition in Lahore, Pakistan, on April 9, 2023. (AN photo)
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Updated 18 April 2023
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Pakistani art collector-turned-gallerist aims to take local artists’ work to Middle East

  • Human resources expert Jawad Zia was born in Quetta but raised in UAE where he spent 25 years collecting art
  • Zia, who owns 300 works of Pakistani origin, has inaugurated art gallery in Lahore with exhibition based on Arabic script

LAHORE: You would find it difficult to imagine that Jawad Zia, a man who owns 300 works of art from Pakistan, who bought a signed cricket bat from the 1992 cricket World Cup final at an auction house and now runs an art gallery in Lahore, has spent almost the entirety of his life in the United Arab Emirates.

Such is Zia’s passion and his attention to detail when he talks about art that you assume he has always been in the business of producing it. Art seems second nature to him. So, you would find it even more difficult to imagine that up until he took early retirement a few years ago, Zia, 46, was working at MBC’s Dubai-based Al Arabiya news network, in the Human Resources department, rather than as a professional agent or curator in the global art world.

The only surprise is that the opening of Numaish Gah earlier this month in Lahore is Zia’s first formal foray into the art world, an attempt at “wider audiences, institutions, foundations and museums through collaboration.”

“I want to improve the outreach of younger artists in Pakistan, get them more exposure, both here and abroad,” Zia said about his sudden entry into a world he has only admired from a distance, for 25 years, as a collector.

“I want to bridge the gap between the old masters and contemporary art practices,” he added, using the term ‘old masters’ to refer to world-renowned Pakistani artists like Sadequain, Jamil Naqsh, Anna Molka, and Ustad Allah Bakhsh, among others in his collection.




Pakistani art collector-turned-gallerist Jawad Zia (center) speaks to Arab News at the Numaish Gah’s opening exhibition in Lahore, Pakistan, on April 9, 2023. (AN photo)

True to his word — and with courteous donations of two more collectors from the Middle East — Zia has works by Sadequain, often lauded as Pakistan’s greatest calligraphers, sitting across a calligraphic piece by a 28-year-old, recent graduate from Lahore’s, Punjab University, Samara Shahid. The old and the new truly do meet in Zia’s world.

Numaish Gah’s opening exhibition is curated by Sindhi artist, Irfan Gul Dahri, and features another ten artists, four from his home province of Balochistan, one young Pakistani artist residing in Germany and one from Hyderabad in Sindh. The collection is called ‘It Is Written’, an eclectic mixture of styles with one common denominator: the Arabic language. 




The photo taken on April 9, 2023, shows Sindhi artist, Irfan Gul Dahri standing next to his art at the Numaish Gah’s opening exhibition in Lahore, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

Samara Shahid’s work, titled ‘Pateela,’ has exquisite calligraphy in the Thuluth font, the same Arabic font used in the national flag of Saudi Arabia. If it wasn’t for Zia’s gallery, she would possibly have been one of the many burgeoning artists lost in transition.

In fact, a lot of contemporary artists in Pakistan, Zia said, did not know how to move from art education to engaging with the art world itself: “Around 8 out of 10 graduates struggle to make art for any sustained period of time, most give up, which is disheartening for art collectors like me.”




"Pateela", carved aluminum pot in Thuluth font by Samara Shahid, Numaish Gah, Lahore, April 9, 2023. (AN Photo)

Though born in Quetta, Zia chose Lahore as the city for his first gallery because he considers it the cultural hub of Pakistan, its heartbeat. He cited the examples of Shahzia Sikander, Rashid Rana and Salman Toor, contemporary artists who have found major international success but all hail from Lahore.

Speaking to Arab News, Zia said he wanted to bring together 10 foreign artists for the gallery’s next exhibition. As for this first one, it was so rooted in calligraphy and the Arabic script, he explained, partly because of the cultural and linguistic affinity Pakistanis have with the Arab world.

“I want young Pakistani artists to collaborate with other artists from the Middle East,” Zia said, hoping to see a reciprocal, mutually beneficial art and culture relationship develop between the two regions, both of whom the art collector considers home.




The photo taken on April 9, 2023, shows the curator of Gul Dahri (right) the curator of the Numaish Gah art gallery speaking with Saleema Hashmi (second left), a renowned Pakistani artist, and other local artists at the Numaish Gah’s opening exhibition in Lahore, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

His father was a military liaison officer from Pakistan — on deputation — in Abu Dhabi when the Emirates decided to leave the British Protectorate in 1971. He was only 6 years old when his family moved to the UAE. Now, what he truly wants is for Pakistani art to be more accessible, and bigger in scale, and to engage with the Middle East art world he knows best. And he certainly sees an appetite for it. 

“Pakistani artists have always performed well at Art Dubai and Art Abu Dhabi and other galleries in Alserkal Avenue,” Zia said. “Pakistani artists have [also] conducted workshops in Saudi Arabia recently with Misk [a youth program started by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman] and other foundations, which was all well received.”

Dahri, the curator of Zia’s first exhibition, himself has had multiple exhibitions in the UAE.

His idea for the inaugural show of the gallery, “Likha Howa Hay” (It Is Written) visualizes text as art. The Arabic script, via a Persian detour, is the basis for the Urdu alphabet, and many of the local styles of calligraphy, Dahri explained.

One of Dahri’s favorite pieces in the show, “a textual recreation of the big bang theory,” as he called it — ‘The Beginning’ by Shiblee Muneer — has a black canvas with an explosion of Arabic letters in gold scattering like stars across the cosmos: “The idea is that God uttered a phrase and suddenly the universe came into being.”




"The Beginning" by Shiblee Muneer, Numaish Gah, Lahore, on April 9, 2023. (AN photo)

Other memorable pieces include a garment that warriors used to wear under their armor, with Arabic inscriptions that were said to imbue spiritual protection from physical harm.

In Muslim cultures, Dahri said, the grandest ideas were often attached to scripture and text:

“The written word in the context of Islam is our way of conversing with the divine, text is sacred, and that sacredness is definitely coming from the Arab world. So, this exhibition is very strongly tied to the Arabic language ... This particular show is about text, its history and how text is related to human evolution.” 

“In our Urdu context and particularly in Pakistan’s context, a very significant role is played by the Arabic language,” Dahri said. “So, for Pakistan, Arabic is not a foreign language, it’s like the second or third language maybe in the country.”
 


Pakistani Christian community attacked in Punjab province after blasphemy accusation

Updated 25 May 2024
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Pakistani Christian community attacked in Punjab province after blasphemy accusation

  • The violence broke out after allegations of the desecration of the Muslim scripture, the Holy Qur’an
  • Police says they pushed back a crowd to rescue five injured Christians before taking them to hospital

LAHORE: At least five members of a minority Christian community were rescued on Saturday after a Muslim crowd attacked their settlement in eastern Pakistan, police and a community leader said.
The crowd, which accused the Christian group of blasphemy, hurled stones and bricks at the police, said Shariq Kamal, the police chief of Sargodha district.
A large contingent of police cordoned off the settlement, he said, adding that the crowd had been pushed back and five injured Christians had been taken to hospital.
At least one house and a small shoe factory was set on fire by protesters who had gathered after neighbors alleged that the Muslim holy book, the Holy Qur’an, had been desecrated by a minority community member, according to a police spokesman and Akmal Bhatti, a Christian leader.
“They burned one house and lynched several Christians,” Bhatti aid.
Videos posted on social media showed protesters looting items from burning properties. Others were seen throwing the items in a heap on fire in a street.
Bhatti said the videos were images from the scene.
Reuters could not independently verify the pictures.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the Christian community was “at grave risk to their lives at the hands of the charged mobs.”
Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan, where just an accusation can lead to a street lynching.
Human rights groups say Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws are often misused to settle personal scores.
While blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, no one has been executed by the state for it, though numerous accused have been lynched by outraged mobs.
A Muslim crowd attacked a Christian community in eastern Pakistan last year, vandalizing several churches and setting scores of houses on fire after accusing two of its members of desecrating the Qur’an.


Police pursue leads in murder of local journalist in Sindh amid outcry over media safety

Updated 25 May 2024
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Police pursue leads in murder of local journalist in Sindh amid outcry over media safety

  • Nasrullah Gadani was killed in Ghotki and succumbed to his injuries at a Karachi hospital on Friday
  • Police chief in Ghotki says Gadani’s killers will be arrested after his family members register a complaint

KARACHI: Police in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province said on Saturday they have secured leads in the murder case of a local journalist, Nasrullah Gadani, who was killed for fearlessly carrying out his professional responsibilities, according to media community leaders.
The slain journalist, associated with the Sindhi newspaper Awami Awaz, was attacked by gunmen while traveling near Korai Goth, Mirpur Mathelo, on Tuesday.
Initially, he was shifted to Punjab province for medical treatment due to the lack of adequate health facilities in his home district. However, he was later airlifted to Karachi, where he succumbed to his injuries on Friday, leaving behind a widow and six children.
“We have already obtained leads but are waiting for the family to register an FIR [first information report],” Dr. Sumair Noor, senior superintendent of police in Ghotki, told Arab News, adding the police would apprehend the killers soon.
Earlier on Tuesday, Zia Ul Hassan Lanja, the provincial home minister, told the media that geofencing had been done to gather evidence in the case, and some people had already been detained.
Gadani’s death came three days after a young tribal journalist, Kamran Dawan, was killed in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district, shedding light on the threats to journalists in the South Asian country.
Gadani mostly focused on stories related to corruption and injustices, making some powerful enemies. He confronted influential figures in his area and shed light on the struggles of the common citizen. His videos on social media often criticized feudalism, the military and the misgovernance of ruling classes while bringing attention to the plight of his community members.
In his last video, seen by Arab News, he criticized a feudal and local leader belonging to the province’s ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Shehbaz Khan Lund, for receiving police protocol in Ghotki, where incidents of dacoities and other crimes have surged over the years.
“Nasrullah was a brilliant and fearless journalist for whom journalism was a mission,” said Jabbar Khattak, editor and owner of Awami Awaz. “He constantly highlighted the issues of the people.”
G.M. Jamali, President of Pakistan’s Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), strongly condemned the murder but expressed little hope that the killers would be brought to justice.
“The killers of Gadani are unknown, while we have been protesting for the arrest of known accused in the Jan Muhammad Mehar case for the last few months and have seen no progress,” he said, referencing another journalist who was shot dead in Sindh last August.
“He [Gadani] also reported on the mismanagement of funds for developmental projects, shed light on the condition of hospitals and bravely spoke about police complicity in releasing criminals while offering preferential treatment to landlords,” he added.
Shoaib Ahmed, Secretary of the Karachi Press Club and convener of its Joint Action Committee, which includes all unions and associations, informed media leaders were in contact with the family of the slain journalist.
“Police have assured us that an FIR will be registered with the family’s consent and the perpetrators will be arrested soon,” he said.
“We will not let the killers go free,” he pledged.


Pakistan to establish safe city project for security of Chinese workers in its northwest

Updated 25 May 2024
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Pakistan to establish safe city project for security of Chinese workers in its northwest

  • The development comes two months after five Chinese workers, Pakistani driver were killed in suicide attack on their vehicle
  • The assault near the Dasu hydropower project was the third major one in a little over a week on Chinese interests in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi has formed a committee to prepare a plan for the establishment of Dasu-Chilas Safe City Project to ensure foolproof security of Chinese nationals working in the country’s northwest, the Pakistani interior ministry said on Saturday.
The decision was made at a meeting Naqvi presided over in Islamabad to review security of the Chinese and other foreigners. the newly formed committee will present its recommendations in 15 days.
The development came two months after five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver were killed in a suicide attack while they were on their way to the Dasu hydropower project in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The hydropower project falls under the ambit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, for which it has pledged more than $65 billion for road, rail and other infrastructure developments in Pakistan.
“The prime minister has instructed that Daso-Chilas safe city be established. It will be established according to modern requirements like the project’s establishment in Islamabad and Lahore,” Naqvi was quoted as saying by his ministry.
“The aim of safe city is not just to install cameras, but it would be a system equipped with modern technology and artificial intelligence tools. Through this project, the surveillance and security of this area will be ensured.”
The committee, which includes Islamabad police chief, Hazara regional police officer and a Water & Power Development Authority (WAPDA) representative, will jointly prepare a comprehensive plan in this regard, according to the Pakistani interior ministry.
Chinese projects and interests have increasingly come under attack in recent years. The Dasu assault in March was the third major one in a little over a week on Chinese interests in Pakistan.
It followed a Mar. 20 attack on a strategic port used by China in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, and a Mar. 25 assault on a naval air base, also in the southwest. Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in Balochistan.
Dasu, the site of a major dam, has been attacked in the past, with a bus blast in 2021 killing 13 people, nine Chinese among them, although no group claimed responsibility, like the Mar. 26 bombing.
On Thursday, Pakistan’s top economic body approved $2.5 million in compensation for families of Chinese workers who were killed in the Mar. 26 Dasu attack.


Motorist who killed two pro-Palestine protesters in Islamabad identified as army officer — police

Updated 25 May 2024
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Motorist who killed two pro-Palestine protesters in Islamabad identified as army officer — police

  • Protesters encamped at Islamabad’s D-Chowk for several days to raise awareness about the Gaza war
  • Earlier this week, a speeding car lost control and ran over several demonstrators, killing two of them

ISLAMABAD: The driver of a car, which ran over and killed two pro-Palestine protesters in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad this week, has been identified as an army officer and handed over to the military police, the Islamabad police said on Saturday.
The protesters have set up their camps at D-Chowk in the Pakistani capital for the past several days. On Monday, a speeding car ran over a few demonstrators, killing two of them and injuring four others.
The driver of the car had sped away from the scene, but was arrested by the police shortly afterwards.
“The driver who crushed two people to death [on Jinnah Avenue] was arrested from the scene and identified as an army officer,” Taqi Jawad, an Islamabad police spokesman, told Arab News.
“He was nominated in the FIR [police report] and later handed over to the military police for further legal action.”
While the protesters condemned the incident, they said this week it would not dampen their spirits and they would continue to urge the government to do more about Israeli military actions in Palestine.
“We feel that the State of Pakistan and the Government of Pakistan should do far more than it has been doing till now,” Humaira Masihuddin, a lawyer, told Arab News on Tuesday.
Pakistan does not recognize Israel and supports an independent Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital. In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war in Gaza at the United Nations through its permanent representative.
Rabail Shahid, a student, criticized the government for failing to provide security to the protesters in Islamabad.
“This incident happened here, I cannot even imagine, and [that too] in the Red Zone, in this Red Zone, which is a highly, strictly secured area,” she said.


Pakistan welcomes ICJ ruling on Gaza, reaffirms support to Palestinians

Updated 25 May 2024
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Pakistan welcomes ICJ ruling on Gaza, reaffirms support to Palestinians

  • The ICJ decision added to the pressure on an increasingly isolated Israel, coming just days after Norway, Ireland and Spain announced they will recognize Palestine as a state
  • The case against Israel was initiated by South Africa in December 2023, where it labeled Israel’s actions in Gaza Strip as ‘genocidal’ and said they intended to destroy Palestinians

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Saturday welcomed additional provisional measures by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordering Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, reaffirming its support for the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
The ICJ decision on Friday added to the pressure on an increasingly isolated Israel, coming just days after Norway, Ireland and Spain said they would recognize a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor of a separate international court sought arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The case against Israel was initiated by South Africa in December 2023, where it labeled Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip as “genocidal,” asserting that they intended to destroy the Palestinian people in ways specified under the 1948 Genocide Convention.
On Saturday, Pakistan’s foreign office said Islamabad supported the application filed by South Africa before the ICJ against Israel under the 1948 Genocide Convention, in follow up to which the ICJ announced additional provisional measures for Rafah.
“Pakistan demands immediate and unconditional implementation of the latest orders of the ICJ... We call on the UN Security Council to play its role in ending Israel’s ongoing brutal military campaign across Gaza; allowing unhindered flow of humanitarian assistance; taking effective measures to protect civilians in Gaza; and holding Israel accountable for its crimes,” the foreign office said in a statement.
“Pakistan reaffirms its unwavering support for the inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinians for a viable, secure, contiguous and sovereign State of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders and with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.”
Israel besieged the Gaza Strip and launched airstrikes following a surprise attack by Hamas on October 7, prompted by the deteriorating conditions of the Palestinian people living under the Israeli occupation.
To date, the Palestinian death toll has reached about 36,000, predominantly women and children, as Netanyahu’s administration continues its military campaign that has demolished hundreds of residential neighborhoods along with hospitals and educational institutions.
Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza, launched last October, at the United Nations through its permanent representative, Ambassador Munir Akram.
“As required by the latest ruling of ICJ, Israeli occupation authorities should keep the Rafah crossing open for unhindered provision of humanitarian assistance, and ensure unimpeded access to the Gaza Strip of any commission of inquiry, fact-finding mission or other investigative body mandated by the United Nations to investigate allegations of genocide,” the foreign office added.