Dr Ajaz Anwar paints Old Lahore back to life
By Mariam Qureshi
LAHORE: Most people recognise Dr Ajaz Anwar as a talented painter who has made the grandeur of old Lahore the chief subject of his paintings. But his landscapes also disseminate a larger social message: that the cultural heritage of Lahore must be preserved.
“In my paintings, I highlight the parts of Lahore that must be preserved. I remove skyscrapers and instead incorporate tongas and sweetmeat shops,” he said. The main focus of his paintings are not human figures. “The human figures are only used to bring these crumbling buildings to life. People are not important aspects of my art because they are born and reborn whereas these buildings, once destroyed, will be lost forever.”
The artist said the government could play a pivotal role in saving these buildings from falling to neglect. “It could buy some of these buildings from the old city and renovate them,” he said. “It could allow tax waivers for the inhabitants of these old houses or grant interest free loans to facilitate their renovation.” However, the single most important step that the government must take is to make the public aware of the fact that these houses are beautiful and an asset to the nation, he stressed.
But has the government taken any of these measures? “The Punjab Special Premises Act was passed in 1986 but was never put into practice,” he said. For example, the government recently passed a law that no high-rise building would be built on The Mall, but there is one being built right next to Aitchison College.
Dr Ajaz commended the constructive efforts of the press in spreading awareness. “The three most influential spheres for the preservation of heritage are the public, bureaucracy and media.” He said that most Lahoris felt very close to his cause. “I sold my first painting for Rs 75 to Intercontinental Hotel which was quite a lot in those times. That shows that a five star hotel considers the heritage of Lahore very important. There are a number of young people who have taken up my cause, which is a heartening experience.” Dr Ajaz also narrated a discouraging incident when the Turkish ambassador to Pakistan refused to buy his paintings because he did not like the fact that the artist had only depicted the poverty of Lahore and not the posh buildings of Gulberg.
Dr Ajaz has exhibited in Istanbul and Rome. “I depicted the culture of their people,” he said. “They were pleased to see that somebody appreciated their land and was trying to communicate its indigenous beauty to them.”
Dr Ajaz said he wanted to dislodge the notion that the preservation of heritage went against the cause of modernism. He said that very few accidents used to take place with the old lane system whereas recent statistics showed that many serious accidents have taken place on the new bridges and bypasses.
Dr Ajaz Anwar is an enthusiastic conservator who studied the conservation of cultural property from UNESCO Rome in 1978. He has written many books on old Lahore and is currently a professor at the National College of Arts and a director of the art gallery there. He was awarded the Pride of Performance for his paintings in 1997.