Karachi’s destructive monsoon rains brought life to a standstill in the city. While parts of the city were submerged and without power for days, many people suffered losses to their business and some even lost their lifetime’s work. Artist Wasi Haider is one of them. The 62-year-old year old has lost almost all his paintings.
His creations were stored in his studio located on Khayaban-e-Bukhari in DHA’s Phase VI. The canvases which were brought to life by Wasi Haider’s use of bright colours are now stained with mud.
The paintings – which used to depict many diverse topics – now just show a single subject: destruction of a painter’s prized creations.
Wasi Haider told SAMAA Digital that on August 27 he was at his residence, located at Sea View, Clifton, when he sensed unusual rise in rainwater and decided to head to his studio before his usual time and check the situation there. When Wasi Haider along with his son arrived at his studio – which is in the basement of a building – the water was already going in from the vent and water level had already risen over a feet. Wasi Haider says he thought of going out to get some labourers [to move his stuff out] but it was already too late for that.
Thunderstorm continued to batter the city and water entered the studio as if it were being engulfed by high-tides. Wasi Haider and his son soon realised that the water level inside the studio was rising rapidly and staying there would tantamount to risking their lives, so they hurriedly picked some paintings, which were partially destroyed, and left the studio.
In no time, the water reached the nine-foot high ceiling of the studio, and there was three-foot water outside the studio. The artist sat on his studio’s doorstep and mourned the loss of his work.
The painter said that he has been painting since the age of 11 and there were 6,000 paintings and drawings in the studio when rains lashed Karachi. This does not include the paintings which are now with different art collectors.
We felt that it would be disrespectful to ask an artist like Wasi Haider about the prices of his creations so we don’t have an estimate of the losses incurred by him. However, given his stature as an artist, the loss would be in millions.
Let alone the furniture, colours and other stuff in the studio, hundreds of rare books were also destroyed.
Wasi Haider’s paintings have been put on display at Parliament House, Islamabad Secretariat, University of Karachi, Academy of Letters, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s residence in Bani Gala and many other places. Since 1989, his work has been displayed in many cities across the world.
According to Wasi Haider, the paintings that were destroyed also include the collection of paintings that he had received from famous painters like Jameel Naqsh, Tasaduq Sohail, Mansoor A and Mansoor Rahi.
Only 10%-15% of the paintings can be salvaged to a certain extent, he said, that even after working extensively on them. These are the paintings that were framed. However, paintings on the canvas and the paper have been completely destroyed.
The destroyed collection of Wasi Haider includes one of its kind work that he had done for writer Akhtar Raza Saleemi. For 1,000 copies of Saleemi’s novel “Jaagay Hain Khwab Mein” (جاگے ہیں خواب میں), Wasi Haider had made as many paintings that were according to characters and the topics of the novel. Each separate painting was then pasted on a copy of the novel as a unique title page. Four hundred of those were still in the studio and now have been destroyed.
Earlier in August, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had inaugurated Peoples Square and an underground parking near Sindh Secretariat. Wasi Haider has painted one of its walls. The painting is 32feet by 11feet in size.
In such a disheartening situation where Wasi Haider has lost his work of last half a century, one consolation for him are around a dozen paintings that his wife had added to her personal collection and are put on display at his residence.
Wasi Haider said now he has to start his life again from scratch. But he has a question. He wants to know is he himself responsible for what happened to him or some institution.
With watery eyes, Wasi Haider said with half-heartedly curiosity: “I don’t want to do anything. I’ll forgive them but please tell me who’s actually responsible for this?”