This young Lyari artist’s portraits of celebrities, world leaders will blow you away
KARACHI: Contradictory to widespread negative perceptions about their area, the residents of Lyari have quite an abundance of talent. The town gets its bad name due to years of gang wars and criminal activities but with time, that has settled down a bit and a ton of athletic talent has risen from the ashes. We often hear stories of kick boxers and other athletes from Lyari, but not often do we hear about impressive achievements in field of art.
But in late 2016, singers Asim and Adil Baloch made a name for themselves when they got featured in Hamza Jafri’s project Braadri Broadcast. And now, the work of a 17-year-old painter, especially his portrait of Hollywood legend Morgan Freeman, has been doing the rounds on social media. The young Jawad Baloch not only makes portraits of Hollywood celebrities but is also fascinated with Bollywood, having drawn everyone from Nana Patekar to famous composer RD Burman amongst others.
I drove through Liyari in search of Jawad and found the hidden gems in a small studio near Moosa Lane. The walls were adorned with several sketches of entertainment personalities and leaders, including Amitabh Bachchan, A R Rahman, Dwayne Johnson, Noor Jehan, Benazir Bhutto and spiritual teacher Osho, all painted by different artists at the studio. Upon trying to strike a conversation, I found the shy Jawad to be more expressive through his pencils than words. He shared he had been training and working for five years under his father Jan Muhammad Baloch’s tutelage.
Otherwise lost in thought, Jawad’s eyes sparkle whenever he talks about his journey. “I got inspired by my father, a railway employee who also paints. He used to work and I’d watch him do it. He soon realised I was interested in painting too.”
Thanks to their mutual love for painting, Jawad began his journey as an artist. Within the last week or so, Jawad’s online popularity has risen but he’s not letting it get to his head. “I’ve only gotten this popularity because I come from Lyari,” he stated. “The first thing that people think about when it comes to Lyari is gang wars. I just want to tell them there are no wars anymore. The people of Lyari are talented and they can excel not only at sports, but also in artistic fields. So, if the government supports it, we will also prove ourselves and come to the fore.”
Jawad, who has completed his matriculation, wants to pursue painting full-time. “The only training and guidance I have received is from my father and my mentor (Prem). But I want to pursue it academically, so I can become a full-time professional artist.”
Talking about access to and familiarity with the celebrities he paints, Jawad said he hears about them through films his seniors share. Hassan Asif, sports officer at Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University in Lyari, is among the students Jan Muhammad has taught. He and his friends form a group where they discuss art and culture and watch films and Jawad comes to know about the celebrities through them. “I watch the films not because I’m interested in them but to watch people. I observe their postures and then find photographs of them to draw,” shared Jawad, adding that he was inspired to draw Morgan after he watched Shawshank Redemption.
Jawad proudly talks about his father who teaches painting free of cost to promote the art in Lyari. “He thinks it’s better for children to indulge in art rather than get involved in negative activities. He shares the lineage of art inclination in Lyari goes way back to his father, my grandfather, learning from other local painters,” he said.
“With time, the use of paints has declined. Now there are printed boards. But still, we financially sustain this studio by painting and doing calligraphy for clients,” explained Hassan, adding onto Jawad’s point. He emphasised the importance of an art institute in Lyari. “There are many children like Jawad in Lyari. All they need is an institute where they can learn and practice their craft. This one studio is only our effort for keeping art alive here.”
Jawad mentioned that they were even planning an art exhibition in Lyari after Eidul Fitr, as a tribute to Lyari legends – social workers, leaders, artists and athletes who have contributed to the area’s positive image and progress. “There are many people who have done their bit for the people of Lyari such as Rahim Lal Baksh Rind, Rahim Baksh Azad and others. If it weren’t for them, all these positive activities in this town wouldn’t be happening today. The exhibition will include their portraits as a tribute to their services.”