‘Preserving Legacy’, a special exhibition of portraits of the Quaid-i-Azam by Prof Saeed Akhtar, on the occasion of the Father of the Nation’s 142nd birth anniversary opened at the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Museum here on Tuesday.

Prof Akhtar, the artist, has dedicated his life to painting portraits of the Quaid. “This is a 60-year journey of my life,” he said while speaking at the opening of the exhibition. “When I made my first painting here in Karachi only, my maternal grandfather encouraged me to study art and refine my talent in Lahore,” he said, adding that he was very lucky to have studied under the best teachers in Lahore for the next four years.

He recalled how he had been approached to do a three feet by four feet portrait of the Quaid for the National Assembly after it was moved to Islamabad. “But a portrait of that size would have looked like a stamp in the big hall and I thought much bigger one made against the backdrop of the Pakistan flag would be more appropriate instead,” he said. “But then I was told that getting a canvas of that size wouldn’t be easy. Still I managed to find one thanks to my teacher and principal of the National College of Arts at the time.”

The artist, who also has the honour of seeing 27 of his pencil sketches of the pioneers of the freedom movement for Pakistan issued as stamps together on the 50th anniversary of Pakistan, said that similarly he had done many valuable portraits of the Quaid that have added grandeur to places such as the Assembly Hall, Quetta, the Punjab Assembly, the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, the governor houses of Karachi and Lahore, the Chief Minister House in Sindh, the State Bank and the Nadra office in Islamabad.

“But,” he said that the portrait which hangs in the National Assembly currently is a copy of his original. “I did not make that,” he said.

He also said that just like an old man like him needed medicines to live, paintings, too, needed some help. “Their are ways to restore art and preserve it now so I was hoping to restore and preserve my old paintings scattered all over the country. I requested the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan to collect my work for this exhibition today and am glad to see it actually happen. I have cleaned the paintings and restored them to their original condition, and after the exhibition they will be returned to where we got them from in a much better condition,” he said, becoming slightly emotional as he thanked all who made it possible for appreciating his tribute to the Quaid.

SBP Governor Tariq Bajwa said the SBP had been highlighting and promoting Pakistan’s culture and art at its museum where they also organised tours and visits of schoolchildren to help them know and appreciate these. He said that they also intended taking this to the next level by also exhibiting arty from other museums too. He also said that it was a pity there was no portrait of the Quaid-i-Azam that was made in his lifetime but they were proud of Prof Akhtar thanks to whose work they could offer this unique opportunity of seeing all his portraits under one roof.

Chief guest and former SBP governor and adviser to the prime minister on constitutional reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain appreciated the innovative way of paying tribute to the Quaid on his birth anniversary rather than talking about his vision and mission which everyone did every year only to forget it all. “This exhibition should also travel to other cities of the country to highlight the work of the artist and remember the Quaid,” he suggested.

Originally published in Dawn, December 26th, 2018