The writing on the wall

February 23, 2020

Murals of iconic women on the outer walls of Karachi Press Club have been defaced again. For a proud, clean and colourful Karachi, the citizenry needs to wake up too

Ongoing restoration efforts.

Unidentified groups vandalised the murals of iconic Pakistani women on the outer wall of the Karachi Press Club (KPC) at night on February 8 by pasting posters and slogans inviting people to attend the chehlum of an Iranian major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who was killed on January 3, in a US airstrike in Baghdad. Additional posters, inviting the people to participate in a procession in connection with chehlum of Pir Syed Sikander Shah Badshah, were pasted on the murals on February 11.

The women depicted in the murals at the KPC include Pakistan’s first female architect Yasmeen Lari who was awarded the prestigious Fukuoka Prize in 2016, eminent Urdu writer Fatima Surayya (Bajia), journalist Zubeida Mustafa, Orangi Pilot Project director Parveen Rehman who was assassinated on March 13, 2013, and social activist Sabeen Mehmood who was gunned down by terrorists in 2015.

Defaced murals.

These portraits were made by a team of truck art experts called Phool Patti. They were selected for I Am Karachi which is a city beautification project funded by an international NGO. These murals were painted on the KPC wall on October 27, 2016.

Uzma Noorani a human rights activist and the co-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP), tells The News on Sunday these murals on Karachi Press Club’s wall are a tribute to their services for the city and the country. She says the fact that certain groups have been showing their aggression by pasting posters and writing slogans on the faces of iconic women is representative of societal attitudes.

“We have to create awareness among people through dialogue and campaigns to remind people of the contributions of our iconic women,” she says, adding that Karachi Press Club’s management and the governing body should also take strict measures to preserve these murals. “The KPC should restore the murals with the help of artists and put a notice on the wall asking people not to deface the murals or to write slogans on them”, she says.

Imtiaz Khan Faran, the Karachi Press Club (KPC) president tells TNS that it is hard to control and monitor what people do outside Karachi Press Club. The KPC management does talk to the leadership of political and religious parties when someone from their parties vandalises the premises, he says.

“We have to create awareness among people through dialogue and campaigns to remind people of the contributions of our iconic women,” says Uzma Noorani

“People who paste these posters and write slogans on these murals have sick minds and cannot see the contributions of these incredible women”, says Faran, adding that the club will soon to restore these murals.

This is not the first of such incidents. The wall was vandalised first on January 5, 2017 when the members of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) sprayed paint and wrote slogans on the murals.

Yasmeen Lari’s portrait was defaced with spray paint. A line in Urdu demanded immediate arrest of Shaan Taseer for reiterating his father Salmaan Taseer’s views on the blasphemy laws and support for rights of religious minorities.’ Another remark left on the wall was a call for the execution of Asia Bibi, who was on death row at the time having been convicted on blasphemy charges. Next to Zubeida Mustafa’s face, was written “Jewish Media”. On writer Fatima Surayya’s face was written: “Release Khadim Hussain Rizvi.”

“On January 6, 2017, we started repairing the damaged murals by using thinner and cloth to clean the ink, which had been used to damage the paintings,” says Feica, a well-known cartoonist and artist.

“I had already alerted the artists who painted these murals and asked them how they would preserve these paintings from street protesters in the future,” he says.

Feica says that now all murals have been covered with posters pasted by protesting groups. “Recreating these portraits will be a big challenge for the artists”, he says.

Founder and creative director at Phool Patti, Ali Salman Anchan says that the religious and political parties involved are responsible for the damage caused.

“Islam teaches us not to damage any one’s property,” says Anchan, adding that they have painted portraits of iconic figures all over Karachi but cannot also protect them from people writing slogans and posters. “We painted these murals with the help of the Phool Patti team and other artists to make Karachi beautiful but we have failed to preserve it”, he says.

“It is tiring to keep restoring these murals. If the people want a clean and colourful Karachi, then they will have to come out and support us,” he says.

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

Paintings of women on outer walls of Karachi Press Club defaced