You may not know his name but you must have seen his work – the I heart Karachi image that, more than any other symbol, with the exception perhaps of the Geo Jeem, has entered Karachi’s public space. In the art world, this is a sure sign of success for any artist. And in Asim Butt’s case, as he is no longer among us to enjoy it, the success is all the more poignant.
After the young artist died in early 2010, family, friends and fans pressed for his work to shown. And today the Mohatta Palace Museum opens with ‘Rebel Angel’, a collection of nearly 70 pieces of work, images, photographs and film by Asim Butt. “Asim had a message,” said museum director Nasreen Askari while talking to The Express Tribune. “He was a social commentator.” He did not do art for art’s sake and his work is rich in its socio-political narrative.
His ‘I heart Karachi’ graffiti, for example, encapsulates for many residents of Karachi an often usurped or neglected feeling that persists despite the challenges of living in one of the world’s most difficult places. Its beauty lies in its ability to mean something to even an unlettered person. Similarly, Asim’s ‘Eject’ sign was the perfect answer to dictatorship – an artist’s spectacularly naughty comment on the military establishment.
According to the Mohatta Palace Museum, in the short span of his career, Asim produced a critical body of work within and outside his studio. “He was innovative in his aesthetic oeuvre, painting large canvases in which he addressed issues concerning human behavior and social norms.” He was deeply committed to the socio-political issues of his day and went out into the streets to paint graffiti and murals that invoked public reaction against war and injustice using trenchant symbols and hard-hitting messages.
Asim Butt was born in Karachi in 1978 and lived abroad for some years before returning to Pakistan. He obtained a BSc from LUMS, Lahore and a fine arts degree from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.
He was well-informed and widely-read and his rebellion against social injustice continually manifested itself in his works. The exhibition runs till July 31.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2011.