Reviving art, reshaping youth

October 2, 2022

An art college is inspiring the youth in a militancy-plagued region

Reviving art, reshaping youth


In 2014, a group of enlightened scholars came together to set up an Arts College in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with the objective to revive the past glory and encourage the youth to bring forth art trends that lay hidden from the public eye owing to stereotyping in the name of traditions and customs.

Mardan has long been a hub of literary, art and cultural activities. Hence, it was only natural that the site for such an institution be the campus of Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) Mardan, home to numerous Gandhara civilization sites.

The idea was implemented and soon a college of arts was set up, allowing aspiring students from across the militancy-plagued province, including the recently merged tribal districts, to take up their studies. With this, the process of educating youth was back on track, making them tools of social change.

While there were departments in various universities in the KP, the founders envisioned an art college for the students that would encourage them to innovate to inspire social change. Prof Dr Fazle Sattar, director of the Pakhtunkhwa College of Arts – recently renamed as the Pakhtunkhwa Institute of Art and Culture (PIAC) – tells The News on Sunday that the institute was able to attract a large number of students, both girls and boys.

The PIAC has to its credit successful national and international seminars, symposiums, workshops and art exhibitions. Recently, it hosted its fifth graduation exhibition that attracted noted artists, scholars and art enthusiasts. The artworks produced by young students were highly appreciated.

Atiya Bakhtiar Ali, a young art student, hailing from a humble family from Yar Hussain village in Swabi district, grabbed the first prize with her amazing work. Her work was based on turquoise, a semi-precious stone locally called feroza, linked by some to metaphysical properties.

“I wanted to invite the attention of investors to the wonderful shades on the stone generally used in jewellery to ward off the evil eye. I carefully studied its structure and arrived at the conclusion that such colours should be used in the texture of cloth, shoes, carpets and lamps for commercial purposes.”

Reviving art, reshaping youth

To date, hundreds of students including a number of girls – with the potential of being self-employed in the future, have passed out from the institute.

“One of the most positive aspects of the event for students is that textile and fashion brands in Mardan city offer jobs and contracts to fresh graduates based on their art projects,” says Asfandyar Asfandi, curator and chief organiser of the event.

Pir Hamid, a senior art teacher at the PIAC, says that the institute offers BS, MS, MPhil and doctoral degrees. It also has a master’s in art history programmes along the lines of the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore. Presently, he says, the institute has departments of interior design, painting, communication design and textile and fashion design. To date, hundreds of students including a number of girls have passed out from the institute. Most of them have the potential for self-employment.

The PIAC hopes to add more departments as resources become available, he says.

Around 25 students, including 15 girls, passed their final examination this year. Many of them came from conservative Pashtun families.

Zarka Khan Afridi, a resident of Khyber district, says that she and her four friends received degrees in fashion design and are determined to apply themes from their thesis in their work.

The art students covered different topics, including local culture and the use of precious stones to promote and preserve national identity. Experts say the PIAC will help promote a narrative of peace in the region, in addition to enhancing utilitarian and commercial value of arts education.

Rashid Menhas, a local art expert, believes that such art institutions and academies not only reconnect communities to their roots but also help them explore new areas. These, he says, help the local population survive and sustain on their own.

“The KP has a rich and diverse culture. There are countless opportunities out there for art students who can paint, sketch and craft a medley of motifs through various media. Many of our girl artists have more potential compared to boys, owing to their better focus,” Menhas says.

Prof Dr Fazle Sattar says that the PIAC has managed to achieve success in a short span of time and that it continues to look for young talent passionate about image building, national identity and societal change.

“Not long ago, a photographer would have a bad day because a ‘picture’ was considered a sin. But now things have changed. The PIAC has imparted skills and enlightened its students through quality education,” says the director.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. He mostly writes on art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets at @Shinwar-9

Reviving art, reshaping youth