PNCA confirms decision on return of Shemza paintings

September 28, 2020

Islamabad : The Board of Governors of Pakistan National Council of the Arts Sunday made it clear to the public that they unanimously decided on the case of returning the Shemza paintings to their...

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Islamabad : The Board of Governors of Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) Sunday made it clear to the public that they unanimously decided on the case of returning the Shemza paintings to their rightful owner.

The case of returning Shemza paintings by PNCA to his wife after 35 years is talk of the town these days with social media gurus giving hype to the issue by terming it a loss to the country. “This was a task that should have been done decades ago. Keeping someone’s artwork by force without their consent or renumeration is violation of artist’s rights. Both PNCA and Mery Shemza are clear that paintings were loaned for some time and were to be returned. These two are the main stakeholders therefore matters should not be complicated,” said another press release issued by PNCA. It said that PNCA’s Board gave a unanimous decision on this issue.

Mery Shamza, the wife of Pakistan’s famous painter Anwar Jalal Shemza brought an exhibition to Pakistan in 1985 called Roots, consisting of more than 100 paintings of her husband. A J Shemza, who had moved to UK and married Mery, a British national, years ago, had just died by a sudden heart attack. The exhibition was organized at four places all over Pakistan. Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) was the host. At the time of her return to London, PNCA asked her to loan five drawings and five paintings for continued display. We have the receipt in our records.

Mery Shamza asked for the return of paintings but after three years, Ghulam Rasool, a famous artist and at the time the person incharge of PNCA and the National Art Gallery, wrote to her, offering Rs 40,000 for the paintings, explaining that a national institute does not have much resources. For many years Mery Shamza kept demanding the paintings back. This includes letters to Naeem Tahir and Jamal Shah and several secretaries and DGs. In 2017 Asma Jahangir sent a legal notice on behalf of Mery Shemza to Jamal Shah, the then DG, but no progress was made.

In late 2019, the current Government placed PNCA under National Heritage and Culture Division, in the leadership of Shafqat Mehmood, Federal Minister for Education and National heritage. A new Director General, Dr Fouzia Saeed was appointed in January 2020. A reform in PNCA began under the guidance and able leadership of Shafqat Mehmood. Massive efforts were made to organize the systems and clean out the long standing/ pending issues that gave the institution a bad name, inside and outside the country.

A statement issued by the Board on Sunday says the Board on 15th of July 2020, deliberated on the issue and agreed that keeping Anwar Jalal Shemza’s paintings at the National Art Gallery, which Mary Shemza loaned to PNCA in 1985 and has been continuously asking to be returned, was a violation of her rights. It was an embarrassment for PNCA and for the country to keep this work by force, and also shows criminal neglect on the part of past managements.

“We feel strongly that it is important to do the right thing. The wishes of the Mary Shemza, wife of the late artist, need to be carried out for future generations to understand that loaned art is only borrowed and needs to be returned to its rightful owners. Under the leadership of the Federal Minister, Shafqat Mehmood, we are also committed to make PNCA and all its offices professional as per international standards and will fully support the current DG in executing full reforms of PNCA,” says the Board statement.

The Board is constituted of experienced and credible artists and literary figures from all arts and from every province of Pakistan. There are 20 outstanding experts in culture and arts including Shahid Mehmood Nadeem, Naeem Pasha, Asma Khan, Mansoor Rahi, Parveen Malik, Amjad Islam Amjad, Deepak Perwani, Samina Peerzada, Farhan Bogra, Abdulla Baloch, Zaid Bashir, Tina Sani, Taqi Akhundzada, Ghazala Rehman, Rashid Rana, Akram Dost, Ahmad Shah, Muniza Hashmi, and 8 ex-officio members from different government departments like PTV, PBC, MOFA and Heritage Division, the administrative Ministry. Federal Minister Shafqat Mehmood is the chairperson.

The statement says that after the paintings were returned to the legal representative of Mary Shemza, there was a letter written by Ijaz ul Hassan which the Board received, objecting to the return of artworks. “In addition, there were several news articles with one-sided point of view, accusing PNCA of illegal action. We want to make it clear that what PNCA’s Board decision was not only legal but ethical and a precedent that needs to be set for future,” the statement states.

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