Prime Minister Imran Khan and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) have been requested by senior artists to launch an urgent probe into an alleged art heist in the heart of the country’s capital city, a report published in The Express Tribune states. Members of the National Artists Association of Pakistan (NAAP) wrote to the Federal Minister for Education and Heritage Shafqat Mehmood, alerting him about the issue.
A webinar was held in which it was discussed that around 10 paintings of renowned artist AJ Shemza were allegedly removed from the National Art Gallery (NAG) of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) before being handed it over to a woman claiming to be the heir of the late artist. The webinar had been organised by the Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan).
Renowned artist and former PNCA director-general Naeem Tahir said that this should not have happened. He explained that once an artist has donated their work and it is included in the national gallery’s inventory, it becomes a national treasure and no one has the right to claim it as their property or to make a decision on returning it, whatever the conditions may be.
Jamal Shah, who headed the PNCA before the appointment of the incumbent, disclosed that he had received a letter from apparent ‘heirs’ of Shemza in 2017 along with a notice from the late Asma Jahangir for the return of the paintings. However, when they asked for proof that it was loaned to the NAG, no evidence was received.
“I had summoned a meeting of the PNCA board on the issue, and all members were unanimous in that Shemza’s paintings were a national treasure after he had donated it to the NAG, and they cannot be returned to any of his ‘heirs’,” he said, adding that he even had a conversation with the federal minister on the issue.
He also said that Shemza’s painting was recently sold at a very high price at Christie’s in the UK. He suggested that there seems to be a filthy game afoot by some powerful people to make money and deprive the NAG of its treasure. Jamal Shah went on to add that around 137 paintings have been stolen from the NAG so far. An inquiry had nominated some officials and Shah said he had “lodged a complaint with the FIA but no action was taken that shows the approach of the ‘culprits.”
He further suggested that PM Imran Khan forms a high-level commission including senior-most artists to probe the issue of lost paintings and Shemza’s paintings.
PNCA’s former executive director of Visual Arts, Amna Ismail Pataudi said she had been forced to handover these paintings to the ‘heirs’ of the artist but she refused to do so, knowing that it was illegal. Pataudi claimed that it may have happened after July 9, when she retired.