Pakistani art export grows enormously amid Covid

Pakistani art export grows enormously amid Covid

According to SBP data, exports of works of art, collectors’ pieces and antiques was valued at $36.6m this fiscal year.
28 Apr, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has badly affected, in some cases destroyed, the economies of many countries. Although Pakistan has, so far, kept its head above water, the situation with another lockdown likely to be imposed is still a little difficult to control. Experts in financial matters are keeping an eye on the country’s exports upon which its economy depends to a great extent. But much to the surprise of many, pleasantly at that, something positive has emerged in terms of numbers — and in a field that not an awful lot of business analysts would expect Pakistan to do well in: art.

In the ongoing fiscal year, as per data provided by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on Monday, the country’s export of works of art, collector pieces and antiques has increased exponentially. Even a cursory look at the figures will make practitioners and lovers of art in our part of the world feel mighty proud of ourselves. In the last financial year, exports of works of art, collectors’ pieces and antiques were to the tune of $386,000 (July-March) whereas in the current year it increased to $36,594,000. Unbelievably good!

According to SBP data, exports of works of art, collectors’ pieces and antiques valued over $36.6m in the first nine months of this fiscal year

This begs the question: if the Covid-19 situation has impacted all sectors of the economy with varying degrees of highs and lows, why does art come across as a shining exception?

Talking to Dawn, Khaleel Ahmed, who owns the Ocean Gallery, said, “I’m not surprised by the rise in export. In the past what used to happen was that people (buyers) from abroad would come to Pakistan to attend art events, buy artworks and take them to their respective countries. But because of the pandemic, for the past one year, they have begun to buy paintings online. They would look at a work of art on a website or on WhatsApp, and place an order. Just a few days ago, I sent abroad four boxes in which there were 17 paintings. To boot, they pay the delivery charges themselves.”

That’s not the only reason for the steep rise in art selling abroad. For the buyers, Mr Ahmed says, importing art from Pakistan proves to be a cheaper proposition for them for a significant reason: framing (of a painting) in Pakistan is far less pricey than it is in North America or Europe. Therefore, they get their favourite artworks ready-to-hang in their houses. “The other thing is that coming to Pakistan and taking works of art back home can be time consuming. Import saves them that time. Also, they don’t pay taxes on art import,” he said.

Pakistani art reaches almost everywhere in the world, mainly the US, Canada and Europe. Countries such as Egypt and Turkey, too, are on that list. And it travels overseas from art galleries in all major cities of Pakistan.

Shakira Masood, who is an artist herself and runs Art Chowk, the Gallery, took the figures released by the SBP with a pinch of salt. “I know the number has increased. People are buying art, it is going out, but the figures that you’re quoting are mind boggling. There is a positive turn, for sure. Our gallery has an upturn in sales in recent times, but still…Unless they are selling antiques out of museums.”

Ms Masood agrees that framing in Europe and America is expensive. “As are labour charges but these numbers boggle the mind,” she added.

Artist R.M. Naeem said, “It’s not my area of expertise, since I deal with local art galleries, but if such a number is being quoted then it’s a good sign. However, I do feel that it may largely be due to antiques rather than paintings.”

Originally published in Dawn, April 28th, 2021


M. Emad Apr 28, 2021 09:39am
Low quality Pakistani arts compare to India & Bangladesh. Mostly the overseas Pakistanis buy these paintings.
Kk Apr 28, 2021 11:30am
Salman Toor, that’s it. That’s the reason that the number went up. His main body of work was in Pakistan. A single painting fetches 200,000 usd in the over seas market and a lot of paintings went abroad once he auctioned for 800,000 at Christie’s.
Mahmood Apr 28, 2021 12:52pm
People are beginning to appreciate ethnic art and antiques to connect to their rotes. Civilization began in this part of the world. Mohijodaro and Texila ruins are a testament of that, with thousands of years old artifacts, coins, pottery, ancient artisitc techniques inspired many artists.
Abdul Ghafoorl Apr 28, 2021 02:07pm
@M. Emad nothing can lower than you you are the lowest of low
Ali da Malanga Apr 28, 2021 02:56pm
@M. Emad - "Low quality Pakistani arts compare to India & Bangladesh. Mostly the overseas Pakistanis buy these paintings." As usual, couldn't digest good news about Pakistan.
HashBrown® Apr 28, 2021 03:25pm
@M. Emad "Low quality Pakistani arts compare to India & Bangladesh. Mostly the overseas Pakistanis buy these paintings." The article itself was the first enjoyable experience...the second was reading your angry little tantrum. Very satisfying, thank you.
Mehreen Apr 28, 2021 03:45pm
@M.Emad - go find a job, help out in the covid-19 efforts in your country or in India, go sell some of that wonderful Bangladeshi and Indian art that you are crowing about. Let us deal with our covid-19, politics, art, literature and other things. Most importantly in the horrific times we are living in compassion, love and empathy is needed in bucket loads rather than doing the easiest thing that comes to people like you - hate. You must be one bitter, lonely person to have to find joy in spewing hatred (hate is the easiest emotion to spew out, love and empathy takes effort, time and understanding). What a sad person you must be to waste your time like this.
ABE Apr 28, 2021 04:30pm
@M. Emad Well, Einstein, here's a simple question for you. If every thing is so wonderful about India and Bangladesh (your paymasters promoting anti-Pakistan hate), why are you wasting your time loitering on these sites? Why aren't you busy painting the village misery of Rohingyas in Bangladesh instead?| Have you even thought about drawing wonderful art work of Pandemic sufferings in India, and selling the painting for Millions in New York or Paris?? That alone could by millions of liters of Oxygen for some souls. How about a rendition of mass burial sites or funeral Pyres?? I bet someone will be happy to dish out a few dollars for that art! Get a life mate! Your mission is as vivid as Corona all over the globe!
Parvez Apr 28, 2021 11:56pm