The work of a relentless artist

A 68 years old man has been making portraits with beads for more than 40 years now.

Zulfiqar Baig October 29, 2010

ISLAMABAD: Forty years and going strong. Ishtiaq Ahmad is 68 years old and has been making portraits with beads for more than 40 years now. It’s a meticulous process, often taking months to complete just one portrait. His latest portrait of President Asif Ali Zardari took him eight months to finish.

Ahmad starts by making a tentative sketch. He then goes out to the market and finds beads with the right colours. The last step in the process is the meticulous and extremely detailed arrangement of beads to capture the likeness of the person being drawn. The final portrait is made up of many threads of beads placed together such that the person’s face is reproduced.

The process is hard because one wrong bead placement and the whole thread has to be re-beaded.  The minimum size of a
portrait is 10 x 12 inches. There is no limit on the maximum size. The veteran painter does not make these portraits to make money – he does not sell them. He gifts them to politicians in the hope that someone will finance his dream of opening a large academy spread over about 5,000 square yards in Hyderabad, where he will pass on his skills to students.

He also wants to make a portrait of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The portrait, he says, will be 14x16 feet and controlled by machines that will automatically unwind the bead-threads. The portrait will change up to four colours without the aid of special lighting, he says.
For this purpose, he plans to import diamond cut beads from Japan.

So far he has made portraits of many prominent political figures including Benazir Bhutto, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Ayub Khan. All political figures received his portraits happily and praised Ahmad for his art and craftsmanship. But, as Ahmad recalls, no one has offered to help him make his dream academy.

Ahmad’s love for his art dates back to his childhood. He learnt the basics of bead-making from his teacher Rasul Baksh. He remembers how his teacher used to make garlands for cattle. “He taught me the art of the needle and the thread,” Ahmad says.

Since then he has been scolded by many a teacher in school for his disinterest in other subjects. Eventually his family realised his love for the art and left him to pursue his interests.

But this elderly artist from Hyderabad feels that his art is wasting away without recognition. He believes there is “no one else in the world” as good as him.

Ishtiaq Ahmad is not rich. But he does not need to be to pursue his art. While he would not mind a little appreciation from the government, and some funds, the lack of attention, he says, will not deter him from his craft. He is 68 years old, and time is running out, if his dream is ever to be fulfilled.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2010.

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