An 8,000 square feet portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been “rotting away” in a storage room at the Capital Development Authority (CDA) for the past 10 years.
Liaquat Ali Khan, the painter, said the thought of the fate of his masterpiece makes him “restless”. There was a time when Khan could not pay the admission fee (Rs120) at the Fine Arts department at the University of Peshawar (UoP), but he went on to make a painting that cost 40,000 dirham.
Now teaching at the Fine Arts Department at Kohat University of Science and Technology, Khan, born in 1949, expressed an inclination towards creative expression since early childhood. He went against his father to make cinema hoardings.
In 1972, he received a diploma in Commercial Art from the department of Fine Arts at UoP and joined the Abu Dhabi municipality as a horticulture designer, where he worked for around 30 years before returning to Pakistan.
One of his landmark paintings, a 512-square meter portrait of Sheikh Zayed, still adorns the corniche near the Emirates Palace since 1997. After painting more than 1,000 portraits of the princedom founder, Khan decided to return to Pakistan.
Khan decided to paint a 2,830 square feet portrait of Quaid-i-Azam in 1999. However, he got a whiff that someone in India was also painting a 4,000-square feet portrait of Gandhi. He decided to resize his canvas to 8,000 square feet. Prudent enough, Khan did not let air of his plan out till the completion of his painting, which took some seven months and at least 40,000 dirham to finish.
Khan dispatched the 2,970 kg painting to Islamabad. However, it did not see the light of the day, and landed in CDA storage. The painting is made on 500 pieces of plywood, fitted into 32 crates, each containing 18 pieces.
During the second tenure of Nawaz Sharif, he met former federal minister Sartaj Aziz and informed him of his painting. The government promised to install the painting but the plan did not materialise. Later he met President Musharraf and Premier Shaukat Aziz in Abu Dhabi and they assured him that his painting will be put up. He was also called to GHQ for a meeting. He was told his painting would be installed in Islamabad on March 23, 2001, which was later rescheduled to August 14. Nothing happened.
Later, Khan also offered the CDA to bear the installation charges of Rs1 million, after selling his house. However, he was told that the Islamabad air was not good for the painting, and it may be installed in Karachi. However, the custodians of Quaid’s mausoleum said that the portrait’s height far exceeded that of the mausoleum, so it could not be installed there.
Khan has lived with a number of rumours in the past 10 years. Some time back, a rumour surfaced that his painting had gone missing. Later, it was found in CDA storage no 19.
“I was speechless when I visited the location,” Khan said. “A whole crate containing at least 18 pieces was missing. Someone had taken it away.”
When he opened the present crates, he was “surprised” to find frogs in them. Even though he is willing to repaint the missing pieces, his resolve seems weak. He said he devoted a year’s worth of his income, time and energy to the painting, and got nothing in return.
“I painted the portrait as a gift for the nation,” he said. But it seems he has learnt his lesson. “I apologise to this nation and want my painting back.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2011.