Youth Matters

A search for identity: The woes of being a sculptor in Pakistan

By Abdul Rehman and Emaan Khan

Along the bustling University Road in Karachi, the streets are lined up with nurseries; amidst these stands a lone shop with sculptures of various birds and animals lined upfront.  

You can see an eagle, some flamingoes, and a few ducks. Syed Mubarak Hussain Abdi the owner of this shop, is the son of a religious scholar who was expected to follow the footsteps of his father; instead he discovered a completely different kind of talent.  

Mubarak started his career as an artist painting walls of cinemas at a very young age, for a meagre of Rs200-500 per day which he then spilt with the man who was his ustad (teacher). “There is magic in your hands! My ustad used to tell me," smiles the bearded man, reminiscing the past. 

 

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He gazes up with flickering eyes; appearing to go down memory, “I never got formal training from anywhere, I just paid attention to each stroke and tried recreating it and soon became quite good at the job,” he says.   

After the passing of his teacher, Mubarak took over his business as his ustad had willed. With the passage of time, Mubarak found himself experimenting with diverse forms of art and came across sculpturing. Soon sculpturing became a catharsis, and his passion. He never went back to doing anything else.  

He spent hours at end self-teaching himself and practicing until he became one of the best. One day Mubarak decided to sculpt the statue of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, “A lot of people discouraged me and questioned that there is not a statue of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the city, then why am I spending so much time making one of Bibi; I did it anyway!”  

Mubarak did not let this discourage him and spent six months sculpting the statue.

 

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 “One day an MNA from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) approached me and asked me to give him the statue to take to Larkana as part of a rally in their truck. I felt honoured that the statue I spent so much time and money on will actually be taken to Garhi Khudha Baksh where all the members of the Bhutto family are buried.”   

Mubarak was assured that after the rally, the statue wil be returned to him and if they decide to install it anywhere, he will be given a hefty amount. But nothing of the sort happened, the statue was never returned to him, and he all his efforts to contact this MNA went in vain.  

A few years later, he woke up to the news of this sculpture of Benazir Bhutto being installed in Clifton, next to the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Park. 

“The government took the statue from me and inaugurated it with a ceremony on June 21, 2014. However, I was not invited to the event and neither was I compensated,” claims the artist, visibly filled with grief. 

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He adds that, “Since the last four years I am working for Independence Day and have sculpted many national heroes. I did this on my own, without any aid from the government. I did this for the love of my country and in hope to promote this art form.”

On August 14, 2017, ( Pakistan Independence Day), Mubarak displayed the sculptures of Liaquat Ali Khan, Allama Iqbal, Mohammad Ali Jinnah  and Fatima Ali Jinnah at the Quaid's Mausoleum. 

“I receive more orders on Independence Day from other countries than our ministry of culture and heritage,” he says wiping sweat off his forehead. “I even travelled to China to work with artists on a sculpture of Mao Tse Tung.” 

Mubarak set up an art academy in Shah Faisal Colony where some underprivileged students used to come to learnsculpturing.

“lt seems that these kids were really intrigued by the idea of sculpturing and thought that it would earn them a good living to support their families,” he further adds rather disappointingly that, “However, my financial instability resulted in the academy shutting down.” 

 

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Today Mubarak has six to eight students under his training, but they are unable to pursue this art because of the setbacks invovled.

“My students are quite talented yet they choose to work in factories and retaurants because they want to play it safe; sculpturing invovles a lot of hard labour with not so much appreciation and earning is minimal,” laments Mubarak.

Pointing to the statues of birds placed in a row on the footpath he says that the statues from China which are light weight and made with fibers are being sold for Rs5000-8000, where as the ones locally produced made with iron mesh and cement are barely being sold for Rs800.

“Even then the people bargain a lot,” he says wistfully. “I hope they realise that they should at least pay us the price of the raw materials used. But sometimes I just let it go in hope that I will win the heart of the customer and they will come back to purchase items.”

 Working as a sculptor in Pakistan since the past 25 years, Mubarak’s shop remains on a footpath. He wishes to display his work to a larger audience and receive more appreciation for his passion which he refuses to give up on. “My family is struggling with me as I struggle for recognition, all I know is that I am not going to give up,” says Mubarak. He hopes to live to see the day his art is placed in museums across the country.

 

 The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Big Picture or The School of Writing.

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