ISLAMABAD: For as long as one can remember Pakistan has been in constant turmoil. Hence it is no surprise when one hears professionals lamenting the country’s geo-political situation and expressing their desire to leave. One comes across very few people who have come back to Pakistan simply because they felt it was the patriotic thing to do. Ahmed Habib is one of them.
Raised in Oman with his family, Habib always knew he had the art bug in him. Sneaking out colourful chalks from his school, he would draw all over the floors of his home. His father, a poet and a furniture designer, encouraged his artistic ability. However, it was much later when Habib decided to pursue art as a career.
His decision came about after a chance visit to an art gallery in Muscat where he became fascinated with the glamour and influence of art. It was there and then he decided to take up art as a career and convinced his father to send him to an art school in Muscat. Although the school did well to train him, Habib with time began to realize the subtle dynamics of being a Pakistani in a foreign country.
“No matter how hard you work or try, you will always be treated as a second class citizen. I wanted to make a name for myself but I realised that my name would never go down in history in a foreign country,” said Habib.
Much to his family’s criticism, he decided to shift back. He said it was a tough decision as he was already settled in Oman and earning well; back in Pakistan he would have had to start from scratch, without friends and family. “Except for my Nani (grandmother) I knew no one here but I had to make a decision. I saved up as much as I could and after a lot of arguments with my family I came back to Pakistan in 1994.”
For three years, Ahmed remained in Gujar Khan with his grandmother and struggled to carve a niche for himself. Things finally turned for the better in 1997 when he exhibited his work at the Rawalpindi Arts Council, where art lovers appreciated his unique take on rural life in Punjab.
Things slowly started falling into place since, and from one exhibition to another, Habib became a renowned artist and also received national awards for his performance. He was conferred the best painter award during the All Pakistan National Award in 2003; best sculptor award by the Government of Punjab in 2006, and Artist of the Year award by the National Council of Arts in 2009. He also compiled an encyclopaedia of 100 portraits of artist for the Pakistan Academy of Letters, published a book on Urdu poetry and another on a TV personality.
With all these achievements Habib feels humbled. “I came back with one mission in mind and that was to make a name for myself in the field of art, but I had no idea I would grow so much.” Habib continues to paint, sculpt, and write poetry, while also mentoring and teaching young artists in various universities as well as at his own art studio, Tasweer Khana, in Islamabad.
On his take on the potential of young artists in the country, Habib said the new generation is more informed, far more creative, and is ready to experiment.
Looking back on his decision to return and all that he has achieved, Habib said, “I have accomplished far more than I had planned, have made lifelong friends, and my family is glad that I went with my decision. I am content.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2012.