Artists urge probe into PNCA’s lost paintings scandal


Zubair Qureshi

Pakistan’s well-known artists and art experts have urged the Prime Minister Imran Khan to form a commission to probe the case of 137 lost paintings from the National Art Gallery (NAG), being run by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA).
Speaking at the webinar, these celebrated artists and the art experts proposed former judges, ex- director generals of PNCA, senior artists and art experts and a representatives of the investigation agencies and a representative of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as members of the proposed inquiry commission.
They suggested that the proposed commission should be directly under the prime minister office for independent and fair probe.
The participants also showed their grave concerns over NAB taking no action on the affairs being questioned by everyone. They said the apex cultural organization of the Pakistan government would become useless if urgent steps are not taken by the prime minister. Hosted and conducted by journalist and broadcaster Munir Ahmed, the webinar was organized by the Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) on Sunday.
Well-known artist and former director general PNCA Jamal Shah termed the PNCA recent rebuttal over the Shemza’s paintings scandal as a bunch of lies. He said the present PNCA chief should have made public all the decades old correspondence or any letters written to the Pakistan government by his wife asking to return AJ Shemza’s paintings if she has any. She has committed a severe crime on the shoulders of the PNCA present BOG which should be probed by a high level independent commission under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s office.
He said that Naeem Tahir and Mian Ijaz ul Hassan had already stated the facts about the Shemza’s donation to the national art gallery. They also see connivance in the return of the Shemza’s paintings. On the other hand, renowned Pakistani artist Mansur Rahi has refused to accept any responsibility for the decision to return AJ Shemza’s paintings as a chairperson of the PNCA BOG committee. “I attended one where I spoke about the art collection and art stuff and the importance of the national art gallery. I have hearing deficiency these days, Hajraa (his wife) facilitated me in learning what was happening there. They never asked me to join them again for any meeting but one day a PNCA staff came over and asked me to sign a paper as I had attended a meeting. I signed it without asking Haajra to read it to me as she was sleeping,” Rahi said.
Nahida Raza, Ahmed Habib, Riffat Khattak, Samia Nazir, Riffat Ara Baig, Zainab Qayyum, Shagufta Khan, Sumera Shehzad and several other artists also supported the suggestion to form a high level independent commission under the Prime Minister Office to have transparent probe on the lost paintings and the scandalous case of AJ Shemza’s paintings.
In a separate statement, Jamal Shah has said, “I had abstained from issuing any statement as former DG PNCA but the new regime is desperately trying to hide their not-so-sincere designs by blaming previous regimes for being negligent hence here is my version.” Jamal Shah stated: “When I joined an enquiry into missing paintings had just been completed and the report had suggested that FIRs against people responsible for the lost work be filed. I sent the case to FIA with the approval of the newly formed board. Meanwhile PNCA had also received a notice for the return of Shamza’s work from Aasma Jahangir’s law firm.”