LAHORE: The Artists’ Association feels that the Pakistan National Council of the Art’s (PNCA) letter regarding the return of paintings by renowned artist A J Shemza to his wife was unsatisfactory and have said that the paintings were removed illegally, Pakistan Today learnt here on Sunday.
The chairman of National Artists Association of Pakistan (NAAP) wrote a letter to Federal Minister Shafqat Mahmood in August stating that Shemza’s paintings had been illegally removed from the National Arts Gallery’s permanent collection.
The letter further said that Shemza’s paintings had been removed from the collection since August 2020. Reportedly, hundreds of paintings have been removed from the Permanent Collection of the PNCA since 2016. The letter called on the federal minister to recover the stolen paintings of Shemza and take action against those responsible.
In response to the letter, PNCA Director General Fauzia Saeed wrote a reply in September, stating that, “It would have been an embarrassment for the PNCA to have internationally been declared to carry usurped property in its collection. There is no loss incurred by returning the paintings to the owner or the rightful claimant by a gallery as it was never theirs in the first place.”
“The exhibition of A J Shemza’s paintings was organized in Pakistan in 1985 right after his sudden death. Mary Shemza brought the paintings from the UK and they were exhibited at four places in Pakistan. Three of the exhibitions were organized by the PNCA. On her return, she was asked by the PNCA to loan ten paintings for display in PNCA gallery for a slightly longer period and a receipt for the ten paintings was duly issued to her.
“Mary Shemza hung on to the receipt slip and asked for the return of paintings in response to which the then Director of the PNCA, Mr Ghulam Rasool offered her an amount of Rs. 40,000 for purchase of the paintings in 1988. Mary Shemza refused the offer. She persistently continued to demand her paintings over the years,” the letter stated.
The letter went to say that Shemza wrote to almost every DG of the PNCA and there were some responses that stated they would look into it or would pursue it.
“None of the DGs ever wrote back or claimed ‘Mary Shemza you gifted them to us why are you asking for the paintings.’ This is because all of them knew well that the paintings were loaned while all ownership and IP rights vested in Mary Shemza. All the internal communications and official noting about the paintings expressly, unambiguously and categorically mentioned that these paintings were LOANED,” the letter stated.
The letter made it clear that the paintings were never put in the records of the ‘permanent collection’ of the PNCA and were never a part of the inventory where artworks are recorded when they are acquired or gifted.
Later, Mary Shemza was asked by the former DG PNCA, Jamal Shah to send documentation of her legal representative through the Pakistan Embassy. She did accordingly, but still no decision was made by the PNCA.
Regarding the return of the painting, the letter added, “I am proud that the current Minister, Board of Governors and the PNCA management have corrected a longstanding wrong. Mary Shemza is very pleased to get her paintings back and has handwritten a letter to PNCA thanking for doing the right thing. I am glad that she has not pressed any legal claims for retention and use of the paintings besides the costs incurred by her in regaining her paintings.”
The NAAP on October 17 wrote a reply to the DG PNCA, in which NAAP said that the facts presented by her in the letter were unsatisfactory as there was no presented by the DGP PNCA. Rather, these ‘facts’ seemed to be the personal opinion of the DG.
The letter also questioned about the qualification criteria of appointment of verification committee by stating that, “Why was Ms Samina Iqbal added to this verification committee (and allowed to comment on 10 Shemza Paintings aspect) when Ms Mary Shemza was personally known to her and she even presented handwritten letters to PNCA on Ms Mary Shemza’s behalf?”
The letter further states, “It does not appear that the verification committee ever considered the very obvious questions that have occurred to us as a reasonable and concerned observer. In sum, the whole “verification committee” process smacks of a cover-up and nothing else.”
The letter directed the entire record be handed over to the investigation officer appointed by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to carry out an inquiry into the matter so that the Punjab Forensic Science Agency can verify the authenticity of the documents.