Holding his paintbrush to a canvas, Babar Salman transforms two broad strokes of bottle green into a tree next to a beige mud house. He then uses six different shades of brown to meticulously paint a charpoy to bring to life a scene taken straight from Swabi.
Salman, 28, a resident of Swabi Khas, wishes to capture the beauty of nature and cultural life of Swabi as realistically as possible. He believes this style of life is vanishing from the countryside. He uses his water colours to give people better insight into the district’s customs and rich vegetation which is being lost in the new trappings of technology and modernity.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Salman said, “We are losing our indigenous heritage and if I don’t paint, people will forget any of this existed.”
He pointed at the painting with bullocks around a Persian wheel and said, “Both the Persian wheel and the fields the bullocks worked have disappeared.” Salman said agriculture in his rural area diminished and where it was still practised, it had altered into an increasingly modern profession.
“Children these days will never know how things worked in the past and I feel it is my duty to play a part in preserving these ancestral traditions,” Salman said.
Salman did not study art as a degree or a profession. He described himself as an amateur artist who had been inspired by his culture, traditions and nature. “I have never studied under any renowned artist but I try to meticulously capture my surroundings,” he said.
Against the tide
Although a lot of artists from Swabi captured scenic beauty in their paintings and works of art, Salman’s work distinguished itself by interpreting its own existence as a bulwark against modernity. “With advances in technology, traditional methods have been replaced by modern ones but my paintings still capture Swabi’s mud houses, its bullocks, its scrubland and thick trees,” he said.
Time to bring changes
Painting since 2001, Salman has managed to save almost all of his work. His walls are papered with his paintings though he has gifted a few to friends and family. However, he has not been able to exhibit his work outside his village.
“I realise I need to show my work to the world but due to financial constraints, I cannot hold an exhibition,” he said. “The government or authorities responsible for art and culture never help young artists like me and I cannot gather sufficient resources on my own.”
While Salman agreed cities had more space for art, he disagreed with the premise that art only thrived in the urban areas. “This mentality needs to change and art should be promoted at every level and at every place,” he said.
The artist said the government should step in to help the talent within the province and assist in its appreciation in other areas. “I have been unable to explain my work to the world and no one has paid attention to it – this attitude and unfortunate situation needs to change,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2015.