For Central Jail’s inmates, ‘I’ve been framed’ takes on a whole new meaning
KARACHI: For the first time in its history, the Karachi Central Jail held a drawing and painting exhibition entirely featuring the struggles of some of its enterprising inmates.
The jail has 6,000 prisoners and 13 of them were encouraged to take part. They put on display 131 works which the public was invited to see on Sunday along with a range of handicrafts that the inmates are famous for.
There seemed to be no difference between the prisoners, jail management and the members of civil society and NGOs who all milled together in the exhibition hall. There was plenty of laughter and smiles and the artists shyly smiled as compliments poured in. “We change behaviours” was the jail management’s aim for this exhibition, while the prisoners’ aim was “We are the best and can be the good boys.”
The prisoners were introduced not as prisoners but as painters and artists. Their work covered many areas, touching upon society and people, examining problems, troubles and difficulties faced by society. They interpreted elements of poverty, life in jail, loneliness, love.
All prisoners expressed thanks to the jail management and supporters. They said they did not have the words to express their feelings and showed much excitement. They mixed with people not in their uniforms, but in trousers and shirts and shalwar kameezes. For many of them, it was unbelievable that such an exhibition was possible, especially since their arrest and incarceration.
The artists had been working on their paintings for up to three hours a day. Asghar Khan, one of them, told Daily Times that he has been imprisoned for nearly four years, on drug-related charges. He hails from Balochistan and came to Karachi with his uncle for medical treatment. However, some of his relatives had him arrested in a fake case because of an old enmity, he claimed.
“I was very disheartened when I was arrested and shifted to jail,” said Khan. “I always heard jail is very strict and there is no life for the prisoners.” He was afraid of the jail environment but after sometime, his thinking changed when he saw and experienced the management’s behaviour and attitude. “I was never interested in becoming an artist but now I am very excited to be one,” he said.
Another prisoner, Ziaullah, who achieved first place in the competition, was so excited that he could barely find the words to express himself. “I was never interested in drawing and paintings before and learnt this art in jail,” he said happily.
IGP Prisons Yamin Khan said that this is the first effort and that the jail administration would try its level best to do as much as is possible for the prisoners. He said that one aspect common to most of the paintings and drawings was the indication that the artists wanted to be free. However, Khan added that since these prisoners did not previously have any work or employment options they had learnt one skill.
All the credit went to Jail Superintendent Nusrat Mangun, who initiated the project. “When I was posted to Nara Jail, a man came to me and asked me to purchase his paintings,” said Mangun. “After a conversation with him, I was compelled to think about such activities for the inmates. I started this there, but could not continue because I was transferred, but then started this at the KCJ.” He added that this should be a common feature for all jails in the country. Mangun also said that he hired an artist to teach these prisoners.
The teacher, Sikandar Ali, said that he himself learnt much from the prisoners, who he found brilliant and highly motivated.
At the conclusion ceremony, awards were distributed among the prisoners and to the management as well. The paintings and drawings were priced between Rs 1,000 and Rs 6,000. Apart from them, handmade woollen carpets, key chains and other items were also on display. A majority of the visitors went away with at least one item.
French Consul-General Pierre Seillan was the chief guest at the ceremony, while Fatima Surraya Bajia, Nahida Raza from the Central Institute of Arts & Crafts (Arts Council Karachi), teacher Sikandar Ali, IGP Prisons Yamin Khan, Jail Superintendent Nusrat Mungan and others attended and addressed it.