LAHORE: “Ranks and authorities never last but Art - the symbol of life, prevails.” This is what Salmaan Taseer said while visiting Professor Saeed Akhtar’s solo exhibit at Ejaz Art Gallery in Lahore in 2009.
This statement speaks volumes about his love and understanding of art in a society where very few appreciate and understand it. Taseer was one of the main buyers of Saeed Akhtar’s work in Pakistan. In Akthar’s words, Taseer was a man who would not only appreciate good art but could also enjoy it.
With Akther’s masterpieces adorning his drawing room, Taseer never ceased to buy experimental and contemporary works of art. Amra Khan, a contemporary artiste, finds a special place in Taseer’s collection. “He appreciated my figurative and abstract work a lot and had a profound understanding of it,” she believes.
Asad Hayee, curator at the art gallery Rohtas 2, said, “Most of the people associate art and culture with performing arts like theatre, film and dance but Salmaan Taseer had a very different approach and had a great taste for fine arts. He loved to buy and appreciate the work of young artistes. In fact, he was the one who believed in the young lot to change the fabric of this society and break taboos”.
Ajoka’s Creative Director Madeeha Gauhar spoke about Taseer saying, “He was a great patron of art and culture. He had studied a lot of books on all topics ranging from fine arts to literature. I remember when he assumed office of governor, he called a meeting of intellectuals and people working in different fields related to art and culture. He wanted to promote the Sufi culture of Punjab and did all he could to succeed”.
Gauhar further said that Taseer converted the Governor House into a place where you could promote culture and music. “He held many cultural and musical events at Governor House. He supported Basant when everybody else opposed it. He wanted people to have a little bit of happiness that is left in this age of sorrow. He will be missed as a patron of art and culture and as a brilliant, enlightened human being,” she added.
Gauhar said that Ajoka will stage its plays Dara and Bullah to pay tribute to Salmaan Taseer. “Dara was hung for speaking against orthodoxy and Taseer died for the same just cause,” she maintained.
Ishtiaque Asif, a personal friend of Taseer, said, “He had a great taste in music and poetry. He remembered many verses of Faiz Ahmad Faiz [who was his uncle] and recited them. He had no airs about him and his taste was outstanding”.
Mian Yousaf Salahuddin, another friend of Taseer, said, “He was an extraordinary person, loving friend and an excellent human being. Very few people can cherish art and culture the way he did”. Unlike most of the politicians, Taseer was technologically savvy. He kept tweeting about his activities regularly. His tweets reflect that he started his day very early. His first tweet on January 4th, the day he was assassinated, was posted at 8:29am. The tweet reflects his literary taste. It read, “Mera azm itna bulund hae, paraey sholon se dar nahin. Mujhe dar hae to atishe gul se hae, ye kahin chaman ko jala na dein” (I am not afraid of the fire from outside. I fear that the house might catch fire from inside). Taseer’s recent tweet turned out prophetic as his own guard assassinated him later the same day.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2011.