Another (near) aborted exhibition

December 1, 2019

Painter and conservationist Dr Ajaz Anwar has dedicated this dispatch “to Fauzia Qureshi and Lala”

Dancing Girls in bronze. — Image: Supplied

Still a new entrant at Fine Arts Department of the University of the Punjab, while leaving for morning walks with my dog Rocky, I had always wondered why my teacher Colin David (his mother was a Burmese), left so early — a secret that I got to learn only a couple of years later.

Daily, he would pick up our head of department Mrs Anna Molka Ahmad and, more importantly, Zahra (then Ahmad) from their house at 32-A Queen’s Road in his unique, gold-painted Volkswagon, on an onward journey to the varsity. The phenomenon matured when the girl, still a student, was set to marry David. It was a marriage (made in heaven?) that a ferocious mother of Jewish/Polish and Russian descent failed to prevent.

“She should have sensed the looming tsunami,” said Irshad, a studio attendant at Alhamra evening classes.

In the ensuing forage, Profs Naseem Hafeez Qazi, Khalid Iqbal, and David left the department, a loss from which the institute has not yet quite recovered; because a generational gap cannot be filled by fresh graduates. Services of Iqbal and David were readily grabbed by Prof Shakir Ali, much to the envy of his other staff members, who later conspired for his removal and upon HIS demise became mujawars of his legacy. Qazi, who had been on deputation from Lahore College (she was an authority on Muslim art and architecture), returned to her original posting. She was promoted to be the principal of the college, but upon her insistence, her Lt General brothers pleaded that she be allowed to remain the head of the department. That she was an exceptional painter, especially of children engaged in various activities, shall be discussed on another occasion. Naeem Tahir, then secretary of Arts Council, retained her services as in-charge of evening art classes with compassion.

That Zahra and David becoming a couple could be the subject of a novel, is another story. To have married out of colour and creed was a bold decision that rocked the art circles of Lahore. Only it was an inconclusive event. When the newlyweds went to Karachi to seek Sheikh Ahmad’s blessings, the bewildered father having initially agreed to meet, courtesy Ali Imam of Indus Art Gallery, was seen walking away just before the appointed time. After the couple had had two children, there was a coup d’état. Enter another woman.

Colin David has been my teacher even posthumously, but I fail to condone his decision. He should have endured come what may, because Zahra made the supreme sacrifice in our society.

After their marriage, he got a volunteer model to pose in every imaginable angle. This was the finest phase in David’s art. An exhibition was held at the official residence of Shakir Ali at the NCA Hostel (Ali’s fabled house had not begun to be built back then). I was fortunate enough to have the privilege of having toured this closed-door exposition, which was like Sadequain’s Holy Sinner at Mohatta Palace, where some section was reserved for the select few.

After marrying the second time, another model became available and as such another exhibition was overdue. They decided on a private showing. With a well-designed ‘invite,’ aptly illustrated, it turned out to be not that private — it caught the attention of the moral vigilantes of Jamiat goons. Not expecting any gallery bold enough to consent to the showing, David decided to hold it at his newly built house. The exhibits were bold renderings of the varicose vein, though not that explicit as witnessed in the earlier edition. It, however, attracted a lot of visitors, especially the fair sex, maybe out of curiosity that once killed a cat.

In the far-off place in a posh locality, a motley crowd ventured. A long trail of cars of every make parked wherever they possibly could be. As the exhibits were being viewed with judgmental eyes in the not so big house, there was a sudden outburst of the ‘jihadis’. Some guys never seen at art events took out thick but small cudgels hidden in their shalwars, and started destroying the paintings. There was mayhem, and everybody ran for cover in every which way. Mrs Siraj was seen taking a break, sitting on a concrete block, shaking. The invaders had retreated after having accomplished their mission.

PQ, as Pervaiz Qureshi is affectionately called, went around frantically, enquiring about his wife. As the vigilantes were leaving the crime scene, they were chased by two frail-looking ladies — Fauzia Qureshi and Lala — in a Pajero, up and down the sold and unsold plots, and the newly dug foundations. Sensing trouble, the villains tried to mingle with the people present in the newly-built marketplace but were apprehended. Police in uniform appeared from nowhere to rescue them, as per the SoP, and declared the culprits “innocent.”

The ladies insisted that the duo be brought back to the scene of crime. A police officer, a Ravian, having risen to the highest position, was approached on phone; he gave orders for on-the-spot punishment, because a legal procedure was a sure way to acquittal. A proverbial dressing-down was administered, the likes of which can only be compared to innocents in private torture houses.

My then neighbour, a physics professor at FC College, told me that the mischief makers were from FCC Jamiat.

The following day, Shahid Nadeem of Ajoka Theatre and others held a protest with banners in front of NCA — with the Kim’s Gun in the background. But David, fearing a backlash on communal grounds, did not participate. Instead, he applied for Canadian citizenship which could not be granted due to lack of requisite financial ‘Panama’. His ability to paint nudes was not a qualification for the Canadian government that was more interested in workforce willing to do menial jobs not liked by the whites. A painter out to paint their females in the nude was not welcome. Never promoted to full professorship, he died a dejected man. He was buried at Gora Kabristan on Jail Road, lowered in his grave by Ashraf and many others. His mentor, Prof Khalid Iqbal, was also seen shedding tears. As his second wife received condolences perched on a separate place, Zahra sitting elsewhere was approached by old-timers including Irshad who had seen and sensed the tsunami.

Outside, the Jail Road service lane was packed with cars of every make, many of which had witnessed that exhibition all but aborted at the hands of the Jamiat elements (Janki Devi, Jamiat Singh came to my mind).

My revered teacher, I whispered to myself, I shall always pray for you even if I happened to differ with you on (just) one point!

The issue was only recent. The sculptor who cast the Dancing Girl in bronze almost 5,000 years ago, far better than the ballerinas of Degas, had faced no such moral vigilantes.

Note: A show of vintage cars and motorbikes is being held at the House of Nannas this Sunday, from 11am to 3pm

To be continued


The writer is a founding member of the Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]


My teacher Colin David and another (near) aborted exhibition