Artists and art experts have urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to form a high-level, independent commission to probe the disappearance of some 137 paintings from the National Art Gallery (NAG) and the case of returning Anwar Jalal Shemza’s artworks to his heirs.
Speaking at a webinar organised by Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) on Sunday, participating artists and art experts suggested including having judges, former director generals of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) - which runs the National Art Gallery, senior artists and art experts, representatives of investigation agencies and a representative of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as members of the proposed inquiry commission.
Renowned painter Mansur Rahi, who is included in the incumbent Board of Governors of the PNCA, refused to accept any responsibility for the decision to return AJ Shemza’s paintings to his heirs.
“I attended one [meeting of the board] where I spoke about the art collection and art stuff and the importance of the national art gallery,” the 81-year-old Rahi said, adding that he has hearing and sight problems due to his advanced age and that his wife Hajraa usually facilitates him in day to day matters.
“They (PNCA) never asked me to join them again for any meeting but one day a PNCA staffer came over and asked me to sign a paper as I had attended a meeting. I signed it without asking Haajra to read it to me as she was sleeping,” Rahi said.
Artist and former PNCA director general Jamal Shah termed the PNCA recent stance on returning Shemza’s paintings as a bunch of lies.
He demanded that the incumbent PNCA chief should make public all the correspondence between the council and Shemza’s family over the past three decades and for their forensic inspection.
In a separate statement, Shah further disclosed that he had been approached by Rukhsana Khan, who is an heir of AJ Shemza, had approached him during his tenure and he explained that the artworks could not be returned because of legal complications, least of all a probe by the FIA apart from asking for irrefutable proof of the works being loaned.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2020.