There are just a few artists who know how to make replicas of Gandharan art. Shafique Ahmed is one of the artists who have kept working despite the many hurdles those making Gandharan art face.
Mr Ahmed belongs to Taxila and started his career 36 years ago. He has exhibited his work in Sri Lanka and the various cities of the Rawalpindi division.
Dawn caught up with Mr Ahmed at the Rawalpindi Arts Council during one of his exhibitions to talk about his work.
Q: What inspired you to recreate Gandharan art?
A: The Gandhara civilisation is one of the oldest in the world and the art recovered from the ruins of the civilisation in Taxila has been acknowledged around the world. Taxila and its surrounding areas are known for the artists who carve stone into masterpieces.
The art is handed down from one generation to another. Renowned artist Zardar Khan and his son Mustafa Khan taught me the art when I was 22 and when they saw I had talent, the insisted I learn the skill.
Now, I am working to keep the art alive. Traditionally, stones from the Swat Valley are used to make Buddha statues in order to tell his story from childhood to when he became Lord Buddha. I do not use any drawings as I have memorised the images of Buddha.
I also use Gandharan art when carving the names of Allah or Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Quranic verses on stone. I use kaolin, which is China clay, gypsum plaster which is also called plaster of Paris and bronze for this.
I have been working for the last 36 years and I want to be known as an artist now, not a ‘buth faroosh’
Q: What are some of the hurdles you face?
A: Most religious people do not like me and say making statues is haram. I work in my house [for that I am not seen making statues]. Many people who make Gandharan art cannot work properly as they face resentment from religious circles. But things are changing. My work was recognised internationally and my art has also been displayed in the country.
I want to hand down the skill to the younger generation as well so the work can continue and so people will continue remembering Taxila as the centre for Gandharan art.
Q: Is the young generation interested in learning the art?
A: Many people are interested in fine arts and performing arts but there is no place for them to learn Gandharan art. Gandharan art is the identity of Pakistan in the world but the art is declining due to lack of interest in it, especially of the government. The government should establish institutions where the younger generation can learn the art and where other artists and I can teach them the techniques of Gandharan art and stone carving.
I have a cardiac disease and cannot make large statues of Buddha but I offer my services to the government for handing down the art to the younger generation. The government needs to ensure artists can work without any hurdles, especially that of extremism.
Originally published in Dawn, August 24th, 2017