Painter Zahoor, daughter shot dead
Dawn Report


LAHORE, Jan 18: One of Pakistan's leading artists Zahoor ul Akhlaq and his daughter, Jahanara, were shot dead and two other people were injured by a young man in the artist's home here on Monday.

The killer is identified by the Shahbaz who was apparently known to the artist and his family. Raids were being made to arrest him.

The tragedy brought desolation to the country's art world and to a happy household getting ready to celebrate Eid. Zahoor's house at 90, Upper Mall, was filled with grieving artists, writers and friends.

The shooting occurred around 2.45pm. The SSP of Lahore said the artist was sitting with a friend, National College of Arts teacher Anwar Saeed, on the terrace of his house. His daughter, Jahanara - a well-known classical dancer in her own right and a student of the late Maharaj Kathak - was in the guest room with her fiancée, Al-Noor.

It was then that Shahbaz walked in. He was introduced to the artist a few months ago by a musician, Pappu Sain, and had then become a frequent visitor to the house.

When he walked in on Monday afternoon, he was said to have joined Jahanara and Al-Noor in the guest room. They reportedly had an argument over some issue and Shahbaz started shooting from a Mauser. Jahanara, 24, sustained bullet injuries and crumpled to the ground. On hearing the noise of the firing, Zahoor ul Akhlaq and Prof. Anwar Saeed came down from the terrace to find out what had happened. Shahbaz then fired at the artist, who died on the spot, and when Prof. Saeed tried to grapple with the assailant, he too was shot and injured.

Al-Noor tried to stop the suspect from escaping and was resultantly shot and injured. Shahbaz escaped from the scene on foot, the SSP said.

The police were informed about the killing by a neighbour. They rushed the injured people to the Services Hospital where doctors pronounced Zahoor ul Akhlaq and Jahanara dead on arrival. The others were still under-treatment when this report was written late at night.

The SSP said Pappu Sain or Al-Noor was not aware of Shahbaz's address. The police took Pappu Sain into custody. During interrogation he provided police with the address of the suspect. He said raids were made and expected that the suspect would be arrested within the next 24 hours.

As news of Zahoor ul Akhlaq's death spread in the city, friends, admirers, writers and journalists flocked to his home. He was part of the progressive scene of Lahore and was respected as an activist for civil rights.

NCA principal Salima Hashmi said Zahoor was acknowledged as a major influence on modern painters in Pakistan. The painter was steeped in the tradition of Mughal miniature, Islamic calligraphy and Islamic geometry," she said. "And yet," she added, "his work was totally modern."

Salima said he reinvented tradition. She said was also a sensitive sculptor and printmaker. He had designed the logo for Agha Khan Cultural Foundation, prepared a major monument at Tarbella and one of his creations was placed at the entrance of the federal capital.

He was in the first batch of NCA graduates which included famous names like Nayyer Ali Dada and Bashir Mirza (BM).

Zahoor ul Akhlaq was born in 1941 in Delhi. He received his early training in art from his father's calligrapher friend Hafiz Yusuf Dehlavi. He was also a student of Shakir Ali who called him his adopted son.

Ms Hashmi said that the artist was among the pioneers and they looked up to him.

Salima said the artist had a distinguished career as a teacher, as well. He took an earlier retirement from NCA in 1992 after 25 years of service as a professor of fine arts. He taught at Yale University in the US from 1988 till 1990 and also at Bilking University, Ankara.

She said Zahoor's work was recognised the world over. He participated in an exhibition of "Contemporary Art from Islamic World" which opened in Venice in the summer of 1998 and recently it was shown at Dolman Bach Palace in Istanbul. His work had been exhibited in almost every country of the world, including Japan, the USA and several European countries.

He is represented in public collections in France, Belgium, British Art Council and Lalitkala academy in Delhi.

Senior journalist I. A. Lehman, RCP chairperson Asma Jehangir and Architect Nayyer Ali Dada were among those who rushed to the artist's residence after hearing the news of the tragedy. They expressed their disbelief and shock at the gruesome murder. Asma said one could not find words to explain such a tragic death of a non-controversial person who had no enmity with anybody.

NCA teacher and painter Quads Mirza said: " Zahoor ul Akhlaq did not influence only the generation of artists after him but influenced the art of the past also, as we tend to look at the calligraphy, Islamic geometry, miniature painting and the art of illuminated manuscripts through his eyes."

In a recent interview with an English-language daily, Zahoor described an exhibition of his works held in Karachi last month as "a kind of departure". "I personally feel that if I continue to do what I am doing, I will be confined to a realm of past resolutions. For me the creative process is a continuous cycle which takes time and takes on new meaning. This show is a venture for another possibility."

The Karachi art scene came under instant gloom as soon the news of Zahoor's death spread across it. The artists here felt extremely shocked at the violent death one of over the violent death of one of the top-most painters of the country.

Veteran painter Ali Imam said: "I was astounded to hear of the tragic death of one of the most cerebral and creative artists." He said during the last 35 or 40 years Zahoor's imagery had been constantly taking new directions, fully conscious of his rational growth as a painter of significance.

Ali Imam said Zahoor was one of the very few painters who was well versed with the history of art, history of thought and also the philosophy of visual imagination. "I could safely say that he was one of the most outstanding painters who had persistently been building up his reputation as a painter of substance," he said. Ali Imam said.

Leading painter and a batchmate of Zahoor's, Jamil Naqsh paid glowing tributes to the artists. He said Zahoor was one of the most imaginative painters in Pakistan and had exemplary command over his medium.

Jamil said he was so shocked that he could not bring himself to continue painting.

Painter Mehr Afroze said: "I'm at a loss for appropriate words to convey to you my feelings." A visibly emotional Mehr said: "It is shocking that we have been are reduce to a bestial society when people like Zahoor are made target of terrorism."

She said the country hardly had a few genuine painters and Zahoor was one of them. He was bestowed with a unique style of painting by nature.

Expressing profound, painter Nahid Raza said the entire community, whose number of was very small though, had been badly shaken.

According to her, Zahoorul Akhlaq was a humane and harmless person who had never caused harm to anyone in his entire life, she added. Nahid said Zahoor was an institution by himself and the gap created by his death would hardly be filled.

She said Zahoor's work was among the most valuable assets of the nation.

"A man who could hardly hurt a fly should have met such a violent and senseless end is really shocking and highly unbelievable," said Zohra Hussain of Cawkandi Gallery where Zahoor had held his last exhibition only last month. She said his death was too shocking not only to her but to most of his friends, contemporaries and juniors.

She said Zahoor was one of the greatest artists the country had ever produced. He would be least bothered whether his work sold or not and he never tried to please anyone for gain, Mrs Hussain said.

"He would be less bothered whether his work sells or not, he never made any attempt or effort to please someone from his work," she said.

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