• Art Review: 'Her Stories on Stone' by Fauzia Minallah

    Art Review: 'Her Stories on Stone' by Fauzia Minallah
    Written by: Shahnawaz Ramay
    Posted on: March 29, 2022 | | 中文

    On a quiet Saturday evening, Islamabad paid homage to the natural environment in the form of an art exhibition curated and made by Fauzia Minallah. An avid nature lover, she has been involved in the protection of Islamabad’s heritage by mobilizing everyday citizens to intervene with Captial Development Authority. The Capital Citizens Committee led by Fauzia Minallah, has managed to create a sanctuary for the historically important Banyan trees. The exhibition served as a way to bring more awareness to the need of doing more, as well as lend an artistic ambience to her artwork.

    As you walk into the clearing, a giant Banyan tree rests in the center like an anchor. The branches spread out protecting you from the sun and provide cool shade. The tree is surrounded by a ring of natural rocks, while the ground around it remains untouched. The roots of the Banyan tree peek through, creating an uneven footing. Inside the circle, grey and weathered stone slabs are displayed. At first, the positioning reminds one of Stonehenge. On closer inspection and as the angle of the light hits the slab, the artwork starts to become visible. Using a predominantly round shape, the slabs are adorned with faces, flowers, movement and stories.

    The artist, Fauzia Minallah, recalled playing in the village as a child and noticed the slabs that adorned the local cemetery, which had stories about those buried there. As a child she marveled at the ability of being able to give form to an immovable object like stone. The exhibition serves as a celebration of her childhood memories of playing in the ancient slate cemeteries of the Gangar Hills of Hazara, and even as a child marveling at the rock carvings in Gilgit, where her parents lived in the 70s. She was also mesmerized by the Gandhara art that she saw at the Peshawar Museum, and it was this rich heritage which was an inspiration for her body of work.

    “The wonder of rock carvings is such that, even after thousands of years, they tell stories of a world gone by. If my work survives a thousand years, I wonder what stories my markings on the stones will tell.” she said

    Upon being asked why she choose stone to represent femininity, she said “I want people to think past the notion of femininity where it is fluid and compromising. There is a strength to women as well, to the work we do and the pain we endure. I want to symbolize it through my artwork on stone slabs, so despite the passage of time, people can still see it”. The stone slabs were procured from the quarries of her childhood village, while the bases came from Taxila. “Taxila has a rich history of Gandharan art as well, and through this I want to bridge the two regions” Fauzia said.

    The artwork itself gives off a very delicate vibe. The holes, although drilled, are still precisely and methodologically applied. The use of negative space to give form and shadows is exemplary and eye catching. Female symbology is drawn in serene, calm and self-assured poses that still somehow radiate strength. Walking around the Banyan tree, hearing the rustling of the leaves and the whoosh of the wind through the branches, viewers had an uplifting experience. The work is a feat of artistic commitment to the environment and her love of trees and our Gandharan heritage. She admitted to finding it difficult to work because of her poor health, but gave her heart and soul to the work for six months and completed it.

    The exhibition was attended by a small band of well-wishers and prominent activists, who have worked tirelessly for the conservation of Islamabad’s natural history. They lauded Fauzia’s efforts to preserve natural history, her drive as an environmental activist and her talent in creatively expressing it. The audience was informed that the sanctuary was made by hand, without the use of machinery in order to limit the damage to the existing ecosystem. The area is being developed as a walkway for nature lovers to enjoy and appreciate. The park management said that a lot of work still has to be done, but they feel very happy that the citizens of the capital are helping them preserve the natural flora and fauna.

  • Asymmetrical Architecture of Concerns and Creativity

    Asymmetrical Architecture of Concerns and Creativity

    By Niilofur Farrukh
    Posted on October 29, 2021
    Posted In CapsuleCurrent

    Critics and historians seldom know what to do with art practices that evolve along an unpredictable trajectory. They are difficult to pigeonhole and discuss in relationship to established frameworks. The discourse around such art practices, however challenging, can also be about the freedom to discover new modes of thinking and expressing ideas.

    While reading about Ceclia Vicuna from Chile, an artist from the 1960s who was fully discovered and understood almost five decades later, I came to the realization that perhaps this was because she followed her creative voice more than the canons and isms of her time. Mediums, often ephemeral and unconventional carried her concerns; genre was something to be synthesized into a new expression like fusing the visual, performative and poetic to the extreme at a time when interdisciplinary boundaries were less fluid. The artist liked to start with nothing—no pre-notions; this gave her the autonomy to chart new territories of thought that were both visual and textual, with sound and movement. In an exhibition dedicated to her entire oeuvre, curator Miguel Lopez brought the desperate strands together to unveil how the artist spontaneously crossed frontiers to be true to herself.

    One of my earliest memories of Fauzia Minallah, which dates back to two decades, is her face lighting up in the dark potter’s workshop in Saidpur as she spoke about the ustad’s special skills that created the timeless ceremonial vessel and his ancestral practice that was fast disappearing. Later I was to learn that the rapport I saw between her and the potter was typical of the way she relates to people who she feels have an intrinsic connection to the valley of Islamabad.

    In the early years I was trying to absorb, rather than trying to understand, Fauzia Minallah‘s creative practice which can be best described as something where diverse strands converge; a catchment of ideas that constantly often overlap to lend each other strength and evolve into an asymmetrical architecture of concerns and creativity. As I followed it for all these years my training insisted on compartmentalizing her work till very recently, when l stood under the 100-year-old banyan tree—the site of her recent exhibition. As I opened myself to the experience, it somehow all began to make sense in a way I had not grasped earlier.

    Our critical receptors are often trained to accept established patterns and theoretical constructs which are easier to develop arguments around, critique and validate. Once you begin to open yourself up to the experience, all senses respond at levels that had not been a part of your intellectual processing. Usually, this awareness is informed by emotion, intellect and intuition and as you learn to trust your instinctive intelligence, it can shape fresh discourses. Minallah’s creative impulses are informed by a desire to change and preserve, her creativity trusts intuition to create experience and memory. In her recent show, the visual and the sound were in sync with the vibrations of a 100-year-old miracle of nature, the Banyan tree. It displayed her current work dedicated to women who have suffered violence, created on fabric, translucent and almost disappearing in the sunlight. It was as fragile as the lives of the victims; the most recent one being Noor Mukkadam. It came together with a recital of Kishwar Nahid’s fierce feminist poetry and they both, the artist and poet, transformed the space by anchoring it to something deeper, something unexperienced, in the exhibition rituals that take place inside a ‘white cube’.

    Minallah’s deep connection to the land comes into focus as the pivot of her practice. When she speaks of her walking on the trails, along the ancient pathways into the Margalla hills as a youth, she remembers the location of the most breathtaking old trees, like the homes of friends in a familiar neighborhood. To save, preserve and bring attention to them, she began to unveil the history of the Potohar valley, where Buddhist pilgrims to the region, venerated the Banyan and Pipal trees. Muslim and Hindu Shrines were invariably built and expanded under trees. In the light of oil lamps the artist created a meditative moment; she arranged her own slate carvings of Buddha below Banyan trees, at the heart of a city obsessed by concrete and steel. Fauzia ancestors come from the mountains of Sirikot; her frequent travels to her village have connected her to the slate mountains and the craftsmen who carve it. She began exploring big sharp-edged slabs painstakingly carving portraits, mostly of Buddha, leaving the surface and its patina undisturbed. With this she began to draw attention to the material and artisans who practice this atrophying craft.

    Her paintings are where you catch a glimpse of her inner world. The artist layers washes of pigment and patterns crafted from dots to masterfully emulate that flow of the energy; a salve for the women and children—her protagonists—whose lives have been devastated by violence and injustice.

    For Minallah, genres and disciplines only are seen as forms of extending her message. Her two books are compendiums of Islamabad’s land identity and chitarkari (slate carving). The title of her first book, Glimpses into Islamabad’s Soul, takes you on a walk down the history of this part of the ancient Soan Valley of the Potohar Plateau, with its living legacy of the ancient trees—on which an urban plan, insensitive to its natural landmarks, is being imposed with the bulldozer. To this day she continues to fight, for the survival of every tree, with endless protests and negotiations. These are many more strands of her practice: environmental conservation with sculptures from plastics and foil waste, and the AMAI books series where illustrations carry stories of peace and universal connectedness to children. Moved by conflict and lives of young refugees in the past decades, Minallah began to use art to create moments of hope. I remember accompanying her to a refugee camp, where for a few hours the children painted memories of flowers and butterflies of their village gardens, and even if for a short time, it helped them deal with their violent flight.

    Artists who follow an unorthodox path to understand the times they live in, and instrumentalize art in response to their conscience, can easily be marginalized as they defy the canons validated by the academy and the market. The academia which tends to focus on established frameworks is cautious in its response to the rapidly changing realities, while the market that looks at artists as products that generate profits on which they thrive support ‘stable’ models. The art critics have more agency, as they are relatively free to push the discursive boundaries and change the rules in the evolving creative landscape of un-tread creative paths.

    Title image: Ancient Banyan tree in Giri Valley near Taxila.
    Photo Credit Fauzia Minallah, from her book Glimpses into Islamabad’s Soul


    Zohreen Murtaza- 24 May, 2020

    Trees have many qualities. They bear fruit and bring abundance. Some are very durable and can live for hundreds of years — so they are silent witnesses to history. Apart from the fact that they are pleasing to the eye and the senses, these attributes of nature have also attracted and inspired artists to produce some thought-provoking artworks throughout the history of art. Islamabad-based artist Fauzia Minallah also falls into this category of artists who are moved by the role of Mother Nature in our lives.

    Laced with devotion to the healing qualities of nature, her works also carry meaningful messages that are meant to invoke change. This interest in raising awareness about socially relevant issues has become the catalyst for assuming various roles in her career. Minallah is a writer and illustrator of animated short films for children, such as Children of Light and Amai’s Mohenjodaro Adventure, which raise awareness about preserving nature, encouraging education and peace.

    The artist has fought for saving trees in Islamabad so that they can be declared ‘natural monuments’ and experimented with slate-carving or ‘Chitarkari’ by becoming a moving force for promoting and saving this dying indigenous art form. The body of work that Minallah has produced from 2014 to 2020 is versatile, both in its use of medium and variation in content. Graduating with a Masters in Communication Design in 1991 from the Pratt Institute in New York City, she has been working since then.

    In Minallah’s works, commentary on war, history and immigration is inextricably linked to the use of the tree, and nature in general is a constant motif. She is adept at working in various mediums and many of her acrylic paintings are transformed into backgrounds for animated short films, so they are akin to ‘moving paintings’. The use of painted dots that appear as broad swathes of patterned forms and rhythmic swathes and swirls, in white mostly, that dance across the surfaces of her portraits and landscapes, help carry us through her compositions. Perhaps they are a marker of time or the imprint of history?
    In ‘What is Happening in My Valley’ Minallah explores the possibilities of this notion, so that the pattern and dot motif transforms into a negative, malevolent entity that ravages history. This animated short film was exhibited at both Manila and London as part of The London Biennale in 2016.

    Laced with devotion to the healing qualities of nature, Fauzia Minallah’s artworks also carry meaningful messages

    Her paintings become a setting for a tragic conflict. Unlike her serene white patterns of dots, that are a constant in many of her other works, silhouettes of marching black ‘dots’, that resemble caterpillars in form, are centre stage as they snake their way through her compositions. Marching armies and dark forms appear elusive, circling in and around a bust of a Sleeping Buddha which, it is quite likely, refers to the Buddhas of Bamiyan bombed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Porcelain-like silhouettes crumble in the far distance, as does the bust of Buddha, revealing a blackened landscape in its place, infested with the darkness of war.

    Her portraits of children, printed and painted on mosquito nets she bought in Germany and hung on various trees around the world where Minallah travelled, are also a powerful testament to her commitment to raising awareness about the importance of the humane treatment of refugees. The visual impact is visceral, with shadowy faces printed on wisps of translucent fabric swaying resolutely against the wind, much like immigrants trapped on boats at sea.

    In her animated short film Trees of Life – An Ode to the Feminist Spirit of Life, Minallah pays a quiet but powerful homage to nature, motherhood and the plight of immigrants who have lost their children between 2014 and 2020. The film is set in a lush forest, and her paintings come to life in the form of a fantastical paradise-like setting, where children appear to be sleeping peacefully, nestled in the buds of flowers with butterflies and fireflies fluttering past them.

    The bird sounds are complemented by the serenity of Minallah’s familiar painted patterns that are meticulously built up from dots. Ghostly forms of meditating Buddhas guide us through the calm until one is unsettled. The ‘sleeping’ children also feature the familiar prone body of the three-year-old Syrian immigrant Aylan Kurdi, who made headlines when he was found dead and washed up on the seashore.

    Minallah was inspired by Herman Hesse’s book Trees: Reflections and Poems, when she conceived this short film. It is worth mentioning that prominent poetess Kishwar Naheed composed a special poem in response to Minallah’s work; the poem is dedicated to the nurturing relationship of women with their daughters.

    Minallah is one of those artists whose works aim to build a bridge between art, political protest and social change. The underlying sentiment though is a plea: it is a call to embrace empathy and humanity.

    “Trees of Life-The Feminine Spirit of Forests” by Fauzia Minallah is an ongoing virtual exhibition. Her short videos and animation can be viewed on this link:

    https://vimeo.com/user10534286 Other works are available on the link below:


    Published in Dawn, EOS, May 24th, 2020

  • Experimenting beyond the walls

    Shireen Ikramullah KhanApril 12, 2015

    The 1960s were a time of experimentation and rethinking of the social order, of struggles against established power structures and institutions of all kinds, including museums. Artists began to look outside the museum, to public spaces, including streets and university campuses, as sites well-suited for artistic intervention. Their practices merged with political movements of the time, including anti-war, civil rights and feminist movements, to critique underlying power structures in society.

    It is clear that an increasing numbers of artists and curators are working outside of the mainstream commercial gallery system, often making work that is integrated within the community to the point where a traditional exhibition isn’t necessary and may even be unnecessary. Although such global changes and development in the art world arrived late in Pakistan, the founder of Funkor Childart Centre, Fauzia Minallah is a prime example of someone who works outside the periphery of the museum space.

    It is through her organisation, Funkor, that she has worked extensively on community-based art projects with children promoting interfaith harmony.

    Fauzia Minallah
    Fauzia Minallah
    Minallah completed her MSc in communciation design in 1991 from one of the world’s multi-cultural epicentres for arts, culture, design, and business in New York City the Pratt Institute. She is a multi-talented individual who paints, sculpts, creates animations, illustrates and writes children’s books.

    The story of her work with children began after the 9/11 in 2001. It is through the cartoon character ‘Amai — The Bird of Light’ that she symbolises peace and love with her work with children. Amai is Minallah’s identity for Pakistan and the Pakistani people as her version of a universally recognised white dove of peace.

    Fauzia Minallah provokes us to think out-of-the-box, to step outside of our minds and see a fresh perspective
    The images of trees in her slate work and paintings are elements of her identity. Minallah belongs to Sirikot a village which is 40 miles from Taxila. Chitarkari or slate engravings and the Buddhist sites are indigenous to this area and are integral to her South Asian identity. Her paintings mostly acrylics on canvas are in delicate shades of blues, greens and browns.

    The consistent dots are therapeutic and are like streams of light pouring through the painting surface.

    The whole process of creating shapes and forms, which are based on nature, also highlight her fascination with the Gandhara Buddha. There seems to be a similarity between Minallah’s dots and aboriginal art, which continues to be one of the oldest art forms practised today.

    The dots appear to be symbols being used as a means of communication to show her love for her heritage, nature, constellations and convey the impression to be ceremonial. Her paintings are based on her land, its creation basing her subject matter mainly on nature and history.

    Minallah provokes us to think outside-the-box, to step outside of our minds and see through a new pair of eyes. Her projects in a way create museum-like spaces outside the museum. Minallah’s work goes beyond mere decoration and falls in the realm of public interest and portrays her love for her country, its history and people.

    Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 12th, 2015

  • Amai - Mother

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  • Identity crisis discussed

    by Salman Peerzada

    KARACHI, Feb 27: A presentation by Fauzia Minallah on cultural legacy proved to be a short but enlightening event at T2F on Sunday.

    Fauzia Minallah is an artist from Islamabad and is an advocate for the conservation of diverse cultural heritage. Her recent book `Chitarkari and banyans — the pursuit of identity` tackles the issue of Pakistan`s past that deserves recognition. Her presentation was mainly excerpted from the book.

    Fauzia Minallah began by going down memory lane reminiscing about the city of Peshawar where she grew up, took painting classes and became an artist. She fondly recollected the time when her father sent a postcard to her younger sister, asking her to become an artist like the elder sibling. At an early age, she said, she was inspired by folk art, particularly by chitarkari (slate-carving) but sadly such aspects of art were now disappearing. She stated that she was fascinated by the earliest artists of the region from as far back as 2000BC. Then she touched upon the chitarkars of Hazara, Kalash and Kohistan whose works were a source of inspiration for her.

    The presentation reached a touchy stage when Fauzia Minallah told the small but attentive audience that extremists had now posed a threat to art forms, including chitarkari. She stated the art scene in Peshawar was dead. She said she was terribly shaken by an incident when a student in Peshawar was murdered for playing the guitar. There were violent images in children`s books (like those of guns) which were imparting the wrong education to them, she observed, adding that in one of the images even playing carrom (board) was mentioned as a sin. She argued that the situation had gone so bad that once a child refused to take painting classes with music being played in the background.

    Then she mentioned her work with children and the books she had written for them. She apprised the audience of the character of a magic bird made of light and many stars that she had developed for the young minds.

    Fauzia also highlighted the art of classic dance and her tribute to Indu Mitha, a classical dancer, in her work.

    Discussing banyan trees, she expressed the helplessness of nature and history being destroyed in urban expansion. She said Buddha still lived in Pakistan, and iterated that being a South Asian made her an heir to Islam as well as to old civilisations.

    She said that while making her own profile she put a `bindi` on her forehead, which elicited strange reactions. She was of the view that pluralism was the hallmark of Sufi saints, something that was fast vanishing from our society.

    After Fauzia`s presentation, senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa spoke on the Islamabad-based artist`s life and work. She said Fauzia was an emotional person which was necessary for an artist, but what`s also important was that she`s an activist. She said the spirit of activism helped convey the message that one wanted to propagate.

    On the issue of identity, Ms Mustafa said it was a multi-factor and multilayered thing. She said what`s required was to accept and respect the other`s identity, as diversity enriched society. She also lauded the artist`s work with children.

    Art critic Nilofur Farrukh praised Fauzia`s commitment to her cause and recounted her association with the artist when both visited Saidpur, where she was involved in conservation work. She then informed the audience about Fauzia`s qualities and achievements as an artist.

    Artist Rumana Husain too lauded Fauzia`s efforts and, in the end, observed that in the last 10 years or so Pakistan had changed a lot.

  • Bremen Peace Award Brochure: Courageously Crossing Thresholds

    The Threshold Foundation publishes a brochure titled „Courageously Crossing Thresholds” on the occasion of every peace prize award ceremony. This brochure presents around 30 nominated projects and organizations, which are exemplary in their work for peace, justice and integrity of creation.

    Fauzia Aziz Minallah
    Art education is a privilege in Pakistan, available only to a very few children. Fauzia Aziz Minallah wants to democratize art education and makes it accessible to kids from low-income families, so that they too can playfully discover their own creativity.

    Teaching Kids Peace Through Art
    Amai Park, located in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, is one of the outstanding projects by Fauzia Aziz Minallah. It’s a school-playground designed for the special needs of blind and virtually handicapped children. This playground is special since these kids participated in the process of designing it. They put forth their own ideas without any assistance from their teachers. Many of these children come from battered families, where frustration, violence, money troubles and lack of future prospects are part of everyday-life.
    Fauzia Aziz Minallah encourages these children to trust their own abilities and develop self-confidence. In this process, boys and girls learn what it means to be truly appreciated. This is a place, where the kids have equal rights and where a peaceful living is possible – a stark
    contrast to their experience within their own families. Minallah, who is also an artist, uses art as a vehicle to prevent violence, which often arises out of frustration and desperation. For her, art is one of the strongest pillars of peace – this becomes obvious while observing her in action.
    Minallah heads a small institution called "Funkor Child Art Center Pakistan". At this center, thousands of Pakistani children have learnt how inspiring artwork can be. In Germany, using watercolours and pencils is a matter of course. This is not the case in Pakistan: art education
    is only given in private schools which are attended by children from privileged families alone.
    Besides her commitment to the organization, Fauzia Aziz Minallah also works as an author and illustrator of children’s books, one of them titled „Amai’s wish". Not only through her art projects, but also through this story, Minallah makes kids understand that a world based on mutual respect is possible.
    Proposed by Katrin Becker
    More information about Amai Park visit http://www.funkorchildart.com/AmaiPark.php


  • Symbols of life

    Reviewed By Zubeida Mustafa
    January 9th, 2011
    THE English poet John Keats described a ‘thing of beauty’ as a ‘joy for ever’ and declared that its ‘loveliness never passes into nothingness’. That was true in Pakistan before the timber mafia reared its ugly head and the forces of consumerism and religious extremism began to pull down trees and other natural heritage.

    To get an idea of how these current trends have vandalised nature and ravaged its beauty take a look at Fauzia Aziz Minallah’s masterpiece Chitarkari & Banyans: The pursuit of identity. Its vivid and rich images corroborate John Keats’ observation on beauty. Its poignant narrative reminds the reader that a lot of our natural wealth stands in danger of being destroyed if it already has not been.

    Minallah, an artist, nature lover, environmentalist and activist, seeks her artistic identity through her excellent photography that connects her with natural elements such as the banyan tree, which was held in great reverence as a symbol of harmony and peace, and cultural legacies, such as the engraved slates that make the tombstones for the graves on Gangar hills. Hence the title of this volume.

    The author correctly observes that a people derive its collective identity from the geography, topography, animal and plant life and mineral wealth of its homeland. Its shared memory of its history and its culture (that includes its literary and artistic legacy) also go into the making of a multi-layered identity of people.

    Being an artist, Minallah is more sensitive to these components of her own individual identity that she is able to appreciate with her keen aesthetic sense. But this sensitivity also pains her immensely to see the identity factor being exploited so unscrupulously in Pakistan in the name of ideology, beautification or to promote commercial and consumer avarice.

    The author-cum-artist takes the reader on an exciting journey from Hazara to Islamabad and then on to Saidpur, the shrine of Barri Imam, the Buddhist caves, the Rawal Lake, Peshawar, Gilgit-Baltistan, Moenjodaro, Quetta, Lahore. Swat and Nathiagali. In some places the reader gets great insights into an artistic heritage or natural riches of different regions whereas others are vignettes. But one is introduced to beauty throughout this journey while receiving a lesson in love, peace, environment preservation and natural conservation.

    Minallah believes that the art and culture of a region can be saved if the people in power were to identify themselves with it. One cannot deny the truth of this observation. But isn’t it being unrealistic to expect the people in power to be really interested in saving our natural, social and cultural environment? On many occasions they themselves have been the killers of the history, geography and culture of Pakistan and have thus mutilated the identity of the people.

    Wasn’t it under General Ayub Khan that textbooks of history and geography were discontinued and children were fed on a concoction that went by the name of Social Studies? Even before the military government took over an attack had been launched on the indigenous languages. In Sindh, Sindhi was withdrawn as the medium of instruction.

    Mercifully we still have activists and committed people like Fauzia Minallah who keep challenging the powers that be in an effort to keep alive public interest in the environment and the cultural and artistic legacy of every region of Pakistan.

    What I did miss in the book, though, was a reference to Karachi. Probably the author didn’t live here long enough. For Karachians, as many of us like to call ourselves, the slow process of the destruction of nature, that Minallah documents, has taken place in the city that we view as our home. Does anyone remember the ‘vanished’ fruit gardens of Malir where we spent our weekends as children connecting with nature and drawing inspiration from the greenery and open spaces on the outskirts of Karachi?


    by Joanne Tawfilis

    It’s always with an intake of air and a huge amount of anticipation that I open Fauzia’s email. The magic of technology never fails to deliver a special tingling in my heart when her beautiful photos unravel in a matter of seconds on my computer screen. What often appears are faces of the wide eyed children or mourning mothers and women victims of these conflicts that have daunted her for years now. I recall how terribly upset she was years ago when describing how her beloved Pakistan had been constructing monuments in the form of missiles as public art instead of joyful objects of peace and love that children and youth could appreciate and grasp. And somewhere in her photograph mix, I see the saris and the arms and hands holding either a child or an elder close to someone’s heart. I always seem to feel Fauzia’s desperate efforts to touch and reach out to those less fortunate than her — people whose main concern is food, water, shelter. There seems to be little room for smiling and fun for these children. The joy that is present, when she gets involved and breathes art and beauty into their lives, represents a spark of happiness, and then she manages somehow to add food or medicine or a comforting hand seeping warmth and care to each of them.

    Fauzia is our bravest Art Miles Angel. She seems defiant in the face of danger and exercises a level of ARTIVISM that no one I know can compare to. She has consistently given so very much of herself through incredible sacrifices that are nothing short of amazing. Her family, somehow intertwined in the mix, works like the veins of the human body, breathing life’s blood through the many alleyways of suffering and humility, like people piling sandbags along a flooded river bank, or the medical equipment screen that shows the constant blip of heartbeats. It is Fauzia that does not allow the sandbags to let the river overcome and drown people. It is Fauzia who keeps the blip on the heart monitor screen moving along, despite the threat of so many invasive systems and interruptions that plague people living amidst these conditions, that seem to so many of us, like a dream or a story so far away that it doesn’t weigh on our daily consciousness. Fauzia is one of the real champions that works in support of the Decade for a Culture of Peace. Together, with all else she does, she continues to utilize the murals as part of a peace, unity and healing method, and to keep us close to her heart. Like us, we do what we have to without fanfare and more often than not, without recognition, publicity or compensation, thriving only on the fact that we “do something”. And that is what binds us together---this commitment to walk the talk, despite the nay sayers and the lack of financial support. We know our reward comes in those little sparks of happiness, and it is those sparks that ignite our engines!

    But her efforts are with me always. I know her least concern should be creating MURALS. She herself is a living MURAL. But I think of those really dedicated amongst our team, she truly and passionately understands the power of the murals and that’s why she facilitates their creation wherever she goes. I have watched her over the years pulling children from the streets to paint and when there was no paint, to sew. I have seen her provide food to hungry little sisters and look for art supplies for them to use to give them cheer, only to find their widowed father yank them away to a life of servitude. I have seen her art portray the faces of the trapped children onto the mortar and bricks of walls, sharing their message of isolation and desertion. And yet, from her emotional loving spirit comes her dream of peace for children that she has written, illustrated and published into magical story books. And yet, there seems to be no reprieve for her. Her anguish about injustice shows up in cartoons about corrupted government, and the suffering of the lawyers, and her daring public protests in the face of reprisal by men in uniforms. I have witnessed her encouragement and inspiration to convince youth to stand up, stand out and move forward in search of truth and to take the hearts they wear on their sleeves and move forward with passion to embrace what are their basic human rights.

    I am not sure how she does it all and, at the same time, to look at her beauty, she seems ageless/tireless and willing to continue to take on the next battle.

    For me, Fauzia is our dearest of Art Miles Angels and I hope and pray that her spirit and energy will not burn out, but remain that ray of light that gives us all HOPE for a better life and future for our children.


  • Highlighting the dying art of slate engraving

    Noor Aftab
    Wednesday, December 22, 2010


    Renowned artist and activist Fauzia Minallah through her book titled ‘Chitarkari & Banyans — The Pursuit of Identity’ highlighted the dying art of slate engraving or ‘Chitarkari’ and also turned attention towards preservation of old banyan trees in the capital city.

    Organised by Sungi Development Foundation at Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) the event featuring the book launching and exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Fauzia Minallah effectively helped initiate a process of exploring and promoting esteem for art of ‘Chitarkari’ and old banyan trees, dubbed as symbol of natural beauty of this green city.

    In order to appreciate the geometrical interlacement of patterns and the symbolic language underneath, it is not enough to simply look at the pieces head on in the exhibition as they must be ‘read’ by letting the eye follow designs and feel history engraved on the stones.

    Chitarkari or slate engraving has been used to decorate tombs for centuries in the Gangar Mountain Region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where slate is found in abundance. Fauzia who hails from Sirikot, a village near Haripur, started feeling fascination since her childhood with the cemetery engravings.

    The pieces put on display showed Fauzia is not just promoting ‘Chitarkari’ but is also doing it herself. Having learnt the traditional techniques, she combined it with her knowledge of design, drawing and composition to produce some unique work.

    The symbols threw interesting light on the beliefs, culture, material resources and other salient features of the society. With simple tools like a chisel, hummer and ‘parkar’ (divider) she carved items with precision and exactness.

    She borrowed heavily from folk art but her expression is contemporary. Sculptures were carved in outlines only and the weaving rhythmic patterns were incorporated in the composition making it a pleasing blend of the old and the new.

    Unlike marble or granite that can be polished to a smooth gleaming sheen, slate is dull, grey, rough and very raw. As such it will generate selective appeal only, but this curious mix of the traditional and the contemporary was bound to fascinate viewers, especially creative art students and collectors of art objects.

    Speaking on the occasion Sungi executive director Samina Khan said Fauzia reflects passion in her work that usually focuses on indigenous people and deep-rooted local culture.

    “She (Fauzia) effectively brought to light significance of caves and old banyan trees in particular reference with local culture and natural environment,” she said.

    Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist, said Fauzia is not afraid of speaking out for causes she believes in. “She is extremely proud to be a Pakistani and tries to conserve, preserve and promote everything we have in our country,” Tahira said.

    Ayesha Siddiqa, a renowned writer, said her book is a story of a world she (Fauzia) is seeing fast disappearing and “we must give a serious thought over issues she raised in her book.”

    Dr. Essa Daudpota, an environmentalist, said the book showed her deep passion for art and natural environment and any one can see nature through her eyes.

    Haris Khaliq, an intellectual, said Fauzia has brought activism and art together and there is a need to turn attention towards preservation of natural environment and promotion of local art and culture.

    Fauzia Minallah said ‘Chitarkari’ is the identity of the people of Gangar hills and in the process of exploring and promoting its respect, this ancient craft has become her identity too.

    “I have childhood memories of playing in the cemeteries of my parents’ village Sirikot in the Gangar hills, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. By 1990 it was at the verge of extinction but I helped craftsmen find new market for this craft by designing different furniture items and promoted its respect among the villagers,” she said

  • Fauzia`s pursuit for identity

    By Jamal Shahid
    22 December 2010

    ISLAMABAD, Dec 21: Fauzia Minallah`s new book asks the question of what made us and who we are, a subject she has been interested in for many years. Illustrated with the writer and painter`s own photographs, its launch at the National Art Gallery Tuesday evening was interpreted as a timely reminder of those aspects of Pakistan`s past that deserved fuller recognition.

    The purpose of Chitarkari and Banyans – The Pursuit of Identity was to look at the sources of the writer`s creative identity and explain how each had profoundly influenced her work – Chitarkari (slate carving) of her ancestral region Sirikot in Hazara and the rich folk culture of Islamabad and its environments, where she grew up.

    However, the author conveyed through her book that the survival of the rich folk heritage which had inspired much of her work was now under serious threat.

    “Partly responsible is the indifferent philistine elite. Also responsible is the reactionary religious right that seeks to destroy or distort the legacy of Sufi saints and their message of tolerance for other faiths. The outcome is that the new generation is deprived of its rich and varied past.”

    Chitarkari and Banyans included nature and landscape images of fast disappearing sites on the fringes of Islamabad – places threatened by development that had moved her for one reason or another.

    Environmentalist Isa Daudpota believed that the book reflected an activist`s impulse. “It reflects the deep passion for art and nature and pursuit of identity,” he said.

    “She captures her world`s fast disappearing natural elements that each of us has a share of not protecting,” said the book`s editor Sara Mehmood.

    Fauzia Minallah had been inspired by a range of cultural experiences. “I love art – even more now that I see vanishing both in art galleries and the art of nature. The launch was complemented by an exhibition of her paintings and display of slate carving in one of the gallery`s exhibition halls.

    The work on display was from different stages, from the `Woman`s Tombstone` carved in 1992 to the series `Buddha Still Lives in Pakistan` executed in 2010.

    There were some Chitarkari pieces titled `Tribute to Indu Mitha` done in 2005 to pay respect to the veteran classical dancer who despite all odds had kept the beautiful art form of classical music alive.

    `Meditative Strokes` was the series that reflected the artist`s helplessness she felt as nature and history were being destroyed in the process of urban expansion and religious fanaticism in Islamabad.


  • Pakistani artist bags Ron Kovic Peace Award

    Monday, December 06, 2010

    Myra Imran
    Pakistani artist and peace activist, Fauzia Minallah, has won ‘2010 Ron Kovic Peace Award’ for her short film ‘Let Them Bloom.’ Ron Kovic selected this film because of its inspirational message of peace, dignity, reconciliation and forgiveness.
    Fauzia’s film ‘Let Them Bloom’ tells the story of a peace mural, created by children from a squatter settlement in Islamabad. The children’s artwork offers a compelling call for peace amidst an environment of violence. The 2010 Ron Kovic Peace Award was presented at the MY HERO Film Festival on November 20.
    Ron Kovic is an accomplished author, painter, and activist, who has been working for world peace for last 40 years. As a former Marine Corps sergeant, he served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War before being wounded in combat and paralysed from the mid-chest down. He went on to become a prominent spokesperson for the anti-war movement.
    Addressing the Democratic National Convention, President Obama and other dignitaries at the 32nd annual Kennedy Centre, Kovic shared his experiences and realizations in the memoir ‘Born on the 4th of July, then co-wrote the Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning screenplay-adaptation with Oliver Stone.
    The MY HERO Film Festival annually presents the Ron Kovic Peace Award to the director of the short film that most effectively addresses the issue of world peace. The accompanying $1000 cash prize supports the critical efforts of artists and peace activists. The mission of MY HERO is to use media and technology to celebrate the best of humanity and to empower young people to realize their own potential to effect positive change in the world.
    The award ceremony was held at the Ray Stark Family Theatre in USC’s George Lucas Building. Fauzia was unable to attend the ceremony due to visa issues, but her acceptance speech was screened and the Executive Director of the Artmile Mural Project USA Joanne Twafilis received the award on Fauza’s behalf.
    Known for her work on peace and environment, Fauzia Minnallah is an artist, author, political cartoonist and peace activist. In 2001, she founded the Funkor Child Art Centre in Islamabad, a non-profit organisation with a mission to promote children’s art and improve literacy in Pakistan. Fauzia’s work in enriching young minds through art and book reading has been acknowledged nationally and internationally. She won National Book Foundation Award 2003 for promotion of children’s literature. She was leading the team of ‘Sadako’s Prayer Project’, a book written and illustrated by Fauzia Minallah that won of Hiroshima Citizen’s Award in 2007. The book has also been translated in Dari for Afghan children and Japanese as well.
    The Funkor Child Art Centre was short listed for the Bremen Peace award 2009. The award is given to projects and organizations which are exemplary in their work for peace, justice and integrity of creation. ‘Iqra’— A Prayer for the Girls of Afghanistan and Pakistan’ by Fauzia won third prize at the My Hero Project short film festival in 2009. This film promotes the education of the girl child in Afghanistan and Pakistan through Mural Art.



    ISLAMABAD , June 12; Meditative Strokes’ a painting exhibition by environmentalist, writer and painter, Fauzia Aziz Minallah, captured the feel and beauty of a certain special place - our home Islamabad .

    The exhibition that opened on Thursday at Civil Junction takes a journey through places that appealed to her.

    The quiet and modest woman, Fauzia finds her inspiration in the beauty of Islamabad ’s landscapes which she clearly enjoys sharing with us in her paintings.

    The artist’s images can be recognized by the richly evocative and intimate reflections because of a particular ability to convey the atmosphere of land scape with enormous dexterity in oil and acrylics on canvas.

    She has been particularly inspired by the challenge of painting out of doors in all seasons and is drawn to the wilder parts and the enigmatic qualities of our capital.

    Clouds,impendingrain and reflections or overgrown grasses, sunlit trees and dark shadows, almost everything about Islamabad fascinates her. Fauzia almost evokes the existence of a spiritual realm through her compositional structures, mostly trees in her colourful land scapes.

    I have enjoyed almost two decades of living in Islamabad , a city rich with bounties of nature. I always loved artist Ghulam Rasul’s paintings of our capital, and realised that if I love my city so much why not paint the aspects I cherish the most. I love its serene ambience and its layers of history,” said Fauzia Minallah in her statement.

    Her desire to stimulate new ways of looking at Islamabad ’s natural heritage leads to the creation of an alluring form of the visionary landscape.

    Her use of colour and play of shadows on what could be a very ordinary scene places her paintings head and shoulders above just about everything else in this summer’s exhibition, according to one admirer of art, “You feel as though you can breathe the very air of the paintings and reach out and touch the landscape as it were real” she said.

    “You probably see something that really does it for you” said another.

    The artist laments so many bulldozers, excavators and other heavy machinery as she has seen in Islamabad lately. The development juggernaut is erasing these beautiful scenes at least I can preserve them in my paintings’’Fauzia Minallah said.

    Daily Times Islamabad Friday 13,June 2008

    Fauzia Portrays beauty of picturesque capital

    Islamabad ; The natural beauty of Islamabad and its suburbs depicted on canvas by Fauzia Aziz Minallah grasped the attention of many art lovers at a 10-day exhibition of paintings that opened at Civil Junction here on Wednesday.

    The art lovers appreciated the picturesque beauty of the capital portrayed by Minallah in her 29 paintings. She has successfully used acrylics and pastel on canvas as medium to illustrate the natural beauty of the capital.

    Her works also show very lucid glimpses of shrines and old trees in Potohar that take the viewers back into history. Her paintings also depict a very modest and soothing ambience through tiny brave flames of oil lamps nestled in the heart of shrines and hollows of ancient trees as symbols of history undeterred by urban expansion.

    Minallah’s paintings carry natural beauty as the theme to highlight significance of nature in the frequently and materialistically changing world. Minallah has a style, which separates her from her contemporary artists. Use of colours and abstract lines make her paintings feel viewers enchanted and caught in a surreal world.

    Her paintings present a brief look of the beauty of the city and also offer an opportunity to the art lovers to peep into hidden facet of the capital.

    She has depicted the attractiveness of metropolis portraying it rich in colours during all the seasons. Talking to Daily Times, Minallah said natural beauty convinced her to depict it on canvas. She said that it always proved soul soothing for her when she portrayed the beauty on the canvas.

    Minallah said she had planned to write a book on ‘Glimpses into Islamabad ’s Soul’ for which pictures of scenic beauty were required. She said during search for such scenes, nature inspired her to depict it.

    The charming beauty makes the capital prominent among the other countries capitals, therefore it should be saved from the threats posed due to the urban development, said Minallah. She has participated in several national and international solo and group shows. She is an award winning political cartoonist and a published writer for children. Recently, she authored the book ‘’Glimpses into Islamabad ’s Soul’’

    She also founded Funkor Child Art Centre in 2001.Funkor uses art to promote concepts of peace, tolerance, human rights, heritage and environment protection among children.

  • Need to preserve natural heritage stressed : Glimpses into Islamabad’s Soul launched

    By Jamal Shahid

    ISLAMABAD, Oct 25: There are hundreds of years old architectural marvels and natural heritage, like the banyan trees in our beautiful Islamabad, awaiting reflection. These are our heritage, holding clues to the past, adding richness and depth to the capital’s landscapes.

    They provide links to living traditions, and help transform a beautiful walk in the Islamabad’s forests into an unforgettable encounter with history.

    Artist and writer, Fauzia Aziz Minallah, embraces them all in her book Glimpses into Islamabad’s Soul.

    The experience at the launch of her book on Thursday, at the National Art Gallery (Nag), was something we have probably not seen before.

    It wasn’t the visual presentations of the beautiful natural environments of the capital city, the moving text or solemn music accompanying the glimpses. But, it was probably for the first time, that the residents of Islamabad sat quietly, gripped in emotions, as they were made to realize that their city was being stripped of the best of nature and archeological treasures.

    Ms Minallah, actually moved her audience to tears as she showed them what their city had, what survives and what might be lost of the ancient heritage for ever.

    “The millennium rich historical environment of Islamabad might not have grand forts or palaces but it does span a million years of human history,” said the writer, adding, “This is reflected in ancient rock shelters dating back to the Stone Age, Buddhist, monasteries, Hindu temples, old mosques, Mughal caravanserai, shrines of sufi saints and many more.”

    The book, which is also inspired by the paintings of renowned artist, Ghulam Rasool, the writer asserts preservation of nature and cultural heritage is a reflection of our identity that links our past with our present and future.

    But, as she counts losses in her book, Ms Minallah, criticises natural beauty sentenced to destruction, especially in sector E- 10 for the new GHQ and the families that have been uprooted as Islamabad continues to transform.

    “Unfortunately, there is no balance between modernization and the protection of heritage. We lack a sense of pride in our legacy. In Islamabad, heritage sites are either bulldozed in the process of developing housing schemes, or demolished and built anew, so that they lose their history and authenticity,” she said.

    But probably the gist of her argument in the book was the “Heart and soul of almost all the heritage sites of Islamabad, the old banyan or pipal trees,” reminding us of the multi- cultural heritage of the Potohar Plateau, as the author puts it.

    “We have lost the grand old banyan called the ‘Buddha Tree’ to religious extremism,” Ms Minallah asserted, adding that she also feared losing the 1,200 year-old “Mother of Nine Children,” the name given to a banyan tree by villagers living in Suniari, in the Margalla hills.

    “These trees are a symbol of ‘Tolerance.’ They never ask you your religion, race, caste or nationality. But city planners are too insensitive to conserve the past and are intent on destruction and obliteration of memory,” she said.

    “These are natural monuments and national heritage that need to be protected,” urged the author.

    Ms Minallah’s book was a rare gift, giving people new ways of seeing their heritage, said the goodwill ambassador to the UN, and renowned showbiz artist, Faryal Gohar, as she rendered Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry, urging one to be mindful to beautiful natural environments rather than worshipping in temples. “Interpretation and education of this book teaches us how to care for culture and heritage,” she added.

    Environmentalist, Dr Isa Daudpota, said Ms Minallah was an outstanding artist who used had art to initiate change. “She values trees in her book and valuing trees reflect how we care for our society because they are the symbols of holism. Her book opens eyes to beauty of nature,” said Dr Daudpota.

    Renowned archeologist, Prof Ahmad Hassan Dani was the chief guest at the launch ceremony. Dr Dani’s research has also served as guidance to Ms Minallah’s book, which has been published by the Sungi Development Foundation.

    Award winning documentary maker, Samar Minallah's documentary 'Tangible and intangible heritage of N.W.F.P' was also shown, which was appreciated by the audience

  • Plan to preserve old trees on the cards

    Tuesday, February 02, 2010
    Noor Aftab


    A plan is on the cards to preserve old trees, considered ‘unsung wealth of nature,’ at ten locations as part of measures to protect natural character of environment in coordination with civil society, sources said here on Monday.

    Sources said that the plan would ensure that development work does not cause any kind of damage to these old trees, which mark the true character of natural environment of the city. Sources said that measures to protect old trees would be taken at Shah Allah Ditta, Suniari, Golra, Sector E-11, Dhela Saidan (G-14), Sector E-10, Saidpur, Aabpara, Trail-V and Zero Point.

    The Capital Citizens Committee (CCC) first wrote a letter to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and then five of its group members held a meeting with CDA officials to prepare an outline of the plan to protect old trees, sources said.

    The Capital Citizens Committee pointed out the spots where centuries old trees need attention of the concerned authorities in the face of ‘haphazard’ development work in the metropolis. Its members include Helga Ahmad, Dr. Essa Daudpota, Tahira Abdullah, Arshad Abbasi, Sara Mahmood, Ghazala Minallah, Foqia Sadik Khan, Samar Minallah, Amna Paracha, Soraya Zia and Tayyab Rashid.

    The plan is expected to avoid the situation like the one that emerged after start of construction work on the Zero Point interchange. The concerned authorities were compelled to amend the layout plan of the interchange to save decades old 175 pine trees in front of the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL).

    Fauzia Minallah, a conservationist and an active member of the Capital Citizens Committee, told this scribe that it was really an appreciable step by the CDA that the road was diverted to retain the large beautiful trees along Margalla Road — one near F-6 and the other near F-10 — that showed ecological sense and commitment to preserve gifts of nature.

    She said that there should be a local law for protection and registration of such old trees which must be preserved for record and research, especially by those engaged in preparation of data about natural environment.

    The Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 provides protection to three types of heritage places and items including World Heritage, National Heritage and Commonwealth Heritage.

    She said that these trees are our heritage because these can be included in those unique objects that are valued by a community or cultural group that possess historic, cultural, ecological or evolutionary values.

    “These trees are our heritage, holding clues to the past, adding richness and depth to the capital’s landscape. They provide links to living traditions, and help transform a beautiful walk in the Islamabad’s forests into an unforgettable encounter with history,” she said.

    She said that the residents must be informed about what their city had, what survives and what might be lost of the ancient heritage forever because the millennium rich historical environment of Islamabad might not have grand forts or palaces but it does span a million years of human history.

    Fauzia Minallah said that the city has lost the grand old banyan called the ‘Buddha Tree.’ She also feared losing the 1,200-year-old ‘Maa Te Nau Bechay (mother and nine children),” the name given to a banyan tree by villagers living in Suniari on Margalla Hills.

    Referring to an incident, she said that an influential resident of Sector F-8 forced the CDA to carry out the ‘massacre’ of beautiful decades old Sumbal trees by collecting signatures of about 30 people of the locality. No one confronted that influential person except for the principal of OPF College who opposed that insanity and protected the trees in front of her academic institution, she said.

  • Reviving Chitarkari by Salwat Ali Dawn Magazine

    Dawn Magazine Sunday, June 8 1997

    By applying this cemetery art to objects of everyday use, the artist has infused a new life into this dying craft

    A few minutes with Fauzia Minallah is enough to convince you that she really cares. Her enthusiasm is so enterprising young artist has single handedly rescued the dying craft of chitarkari from oblivion.

    Chitarkari or slate engraving has been used to decorate tombs for centuries in the Gangar Mountain Region of N.W.F.P, where slate is found in abundance. Fauzia hails from Sirikot, a village near Haripur and since childhood has been fascinated with the cemetery engravings. An MSc is Communication Design from Pratt Institute in New York not only broadened her vision but also enhanced her appreciation of this craft. Her personal resume is chequered with an All Pakistan Newspaper Award for ‘Best Cartoonist’ in 1986 while she was the editorial cartoonist for the Muslim, a stint as design consultant for UNICEF and had solo shows in Peshawar and Islamabad. However, for the last seven years she is totally involved in reviving chitarkari, not just as a craft, but also as an art from.

    Slate excavation is a difficult and laborious process and large lots yield only a few good slabs with the proper leaden tones and just the right surface texture for chiseling. Now a days cement is easier and cheaper to use and the affluent opt marble, both of which is easily available. Slate in no longer popular and with it chitarkari has also died a quiet death.

    Said Rehman from village Kundi is now a full time iron-smith and has not worked on slate for the last fifteen years. Muhammad Ilyas, now a carpenter, from Belgram has only childhood recollection of his father carving intricate patterns on slate.

    These two artisans were discovered by Fauzia when she began scouring the Haripur region for former slate engravers. She has rehabilitated Said Rehman to his former status as master engraver and others like Huzoor Hussain and Said Muhammad are joining in, and trainees especially Said Rehman’s grandson, are showing great promise.

    With simple tools like a chisel, hummer and parkar (divider) intricate geometrical patterns, arabesques, polygon diamonds, lotus and sunflower leaves and petals are carved with precision and exactness. Headstones in old cemeteries reveal widespread use of carving symbols and figurines indicate the sex, status, and calling of the person buried there. A religious person will often have an elaborate prayer mat and a fancy lota (for ablutions) engraved on his headstone. A young warrior’s grave will have a rifle chiseled at the bottom, farmer or peasant; neckbands, earrings and bracelets adorn female graves, some even have strange fertility symbols on them.

    In order to appreciate this geometrical interlacement of patterns and the symbolic language underneath, it is not enough to simply look at the pieces head on, they must be ‘read’ by letting the eye follow the intertwining designs and feel the history engraved on these stones. The repeat patterns and motifs carry Greek, Mongol and Islamic influences. The symbols throw interesting light on the beliefs, culture, material resources and other salient features of the society. Some graves show rougher and simpler motifs reflecting on the modest means of the population.

    By applying this cemetery art to objects of utility like table tops, pot holders, decorative tile work etc. Fauzia has infused new life into this. She personally buys slate from the quarries, transports it to the craftsmen and them brings back the engravings to her ‘Ganger Gallery’ in Islamabad . In 1992 she took the craft to the folk Heritage Festival to introduce it to a larger audience and exhibits in Lahore , Peshawar and Islamabad have generated enough awareness for orders to trickle in.

    Fauzia is not just promoting chitarkari but is doing it herself also. Having learnt the traditional techniques, she combines it with her knowledge of design, drawing and composition to produce ethnic portraits of women. She borrows heavily from folk art but her expression is contemporary. Portraits are carved in outlines only and the weaving rhythmic patterns are incorporated in the composition making it a pleasing blend of the old and the new. She even manages to introduce tonal values of ash white, slate grey and land by making linear or pock marked textural variations on the surface. A somewhat experimental art from, Fauzia has applied the same technique to chipboard also, where she gouges the surface with a knife and sets the flaky surface with thick layers of oil paint. The metallic finish gives it an antique look. This innovative streak is bound to make her grow as an artist.

    V.M. Art gallery is hosting this unique exhibition curator Riffat Alvi has sensibly divided it into two distinct sections of art and craft. Tombstone replicas, decorative tiles and border pieces dominate the craft section, and Fauzia Minallah’s experimental work is featured in the second section.

    Unlike marble or granite which can be polished to a smooth gleaming sheen, slate is dull, grey, rough and very raw. As such it will generate selective appeal only, but this curious mix of the traditional and the contemporary is bound to fascinate viewers, especially creative art students and collectors of art objects.

  • ‘Chitarkari’ from graveyards into homes by Jawad Haroon

    The News International, Sunday January 26 1997

    In a world filled with cliche, redundancy and repetition, it is getting progressively harder to carve one’s own niche.

    Fauzia Aziz Minallah is one artist who has managed to achieve just that, she appears to stand alone in elevating and transforming the ancient craft of ‘chitarkari’ or slate engraving into a contemporary art medium. Her exhibition “Ethnic Portraits” which as second part also features the craft work of Said Rehman, Aziz-ur-Rehman and Mohammad Ilyas, opened at the Alliance Francaise, Saturday.

    ‘Chitarkari’ has been used to decorate tombs for centuries in the Gangar Mountains , Hazara, in the frontier province. Slate was used because of the plentiful quarries in the area. With the availability of ‘60’s coupled with the difficult process of slate excavation, the use of slate receded and the ancient craft started to die out.

    In 1990, Fauzia started working with craftsmen in the Gangar area and tried to revive the craft by shifting the focus from the cemetery to interior design elements, such as tables, flower pots and wall hangings.

    In ’92 she took the craft work to the Folk Heritage Festival in Islamabad to introduce it to a larger audience. And then, three years ago, she moved on to experimenting with artistic treatment of slate, which brings about this exhibition in Lahore .

    Fauzia’s work etches itself into the feminine psyche. Two distinct modes of expression can be differentiated. In one style the emphasis is on shape and space, with the shades of the gray produced by the chisel dominant over the darker un- chiseled slate.

    Compared to the second style, there is a deliberate attention to detail in the features and body of the subjects: the features are less prominent; there is an absence of jewellery and other decoration. In toto, there is a contemporary feel to this style; themes of pregnancy, a woman carrying a child on her back, a lady meeting her cold stone glare into yours, even a woman with a ‘garrha’ on her head with hair, clothes and body cascading down in waves of soothing symmetry. The subject addressed may be rural rather than urban, but they lack the sense of antiquity dominant in the second style that emerges at Fauzia’s exhibition.

    In this second style the dark gray dominates the light silver gray in the bodies of the subjects. Grate attention is paid to the hair as it is fashioned purposefully on the head, or falling down in diamond shaped links of the braided chain. The features of the face are very prominent, especially the nose and eyes. Eyes are often underlined with dotted semi circles, reminiscent of older versions of cosmetics. Tribal jewellery adorns the figures with all its layers, bulk and simple geometry. This has the effect of linking the centuries old craft with the depth of the traditions of its antiquity.

    “These are memories of places I visited. They connect to antiquity because the Kalash culture goes way back. Most of them are contemporary rural women and the things about them that have touched me,” explained Fauzia in an interview with The News. Talking about how an MSc graduate in communication design from the Pratt Institute in New York , happens to be innovating the ancient craft, she says “I am using this particular medium because I was exposed to it in my childhood. In the Eid holidays we would often travel up north. I spent so much time in cemeteries between Tarbela and Haripur because I was fascinated by ‘chitarkari”’. For this reason she has been trying to revive the craft as well as elevating it into the realm of art.

    Fauzia explained the difference between her art and the original craft, “the craft has two surfaces and the depth is rather shallow. As an artist I try to create layers, and there are often three or more surfaces with their different shades’’.

    She also experiments more with the different shadings she can achieve, as opposed to the craft which features mostly the dark and the light shade with little in-between.

    As already mentioned, Fauzia has also been on a mission to bring ‘chitarkari’ craftsman to the fore, even despite the fact that because of it her art is sometimes treated as craft work. But her mission remains strong. And, it is in this effort that as the second part of the exhibit the work of three craftsmen is featured.

    This part of the exhibition reveals that ‘chitarkari’ can successfully move away from the macabre surroundings of graveyards make a place for itself inside homes, if given enough exposure. Tiles, rectangular and gravestone shaped tablets feature. Said Rehman, Mohd Ilyas and Aziz-ur-Rehman bring to the fore elements of Islamic geometry and design in terms of arabesques. Two pieces have representations of Mughal castles, and a few other pieces offer symbols of the craftsmen’s tools, like a saw, chisel and divider.

    The exhibition features truly unique work, with the art achieving a penetration of themes, emotions, the contemporary and the antiquated, while the craft work is tasteful, different and skillfully finished. The exhibition will continue till the 1st of February.

  • Preserving the past by Rina Saeed Khan

    Friday Times, February 6-12 1997

    Rina Saeed Khan views a unique exhibition of slate engravings

    Fauzia Aziz Minallah is an artist with a mission. She is trying to promote and preserve an ancient art that is unique in many ways, not least because it was extinct until Fauzia started reviving it in the 90s.

    For centuries, in the small villages of the Gangar Mountains in the Hazara district of the Frontier, slate engravings were used exclusively to decorate tombstones. The slate would be excavated from quarries high up in these mountains, and sold to craftsman in the villages. The slate engravers would then painstakingly engrave the smoother slabs of slate with different symbols and geometric patterns. It is not easy to excavate a smooth block of slate, let alone chisel intricate patterns upon it. With the introduction of hardier materials like cement and marble in the 60s, the use of slate started dying out. Soon slate engravers had turned to other professions like masonry and carpentry.

    Fauzia, whose ancestral family belongs to this district, grew up with the images of these delicately engraved tombstones seared onto her subconscious. ‘‘We would always visit my mother’s village for Eid,’’ recalls Fauzia. ‘‘I just fell in love with the slate engraving.’’ Fauzia, who has done her M.Sc in Communication Design from the Pratt Institute in NY, was soon photographing the tombstones in the cemeteries outside the village and making rubbings of the images engraved upon them so that they could be preserved. She decided to learn the art of slate engraving herself, and traced out three engravers who had turned to other occupations. She then decided to open up a small gallery in Islamabad from where she could commission work and build up a market for the engravings.

    Today, Fauzia, along with the others-Said Rehman, Aziz ur Rehman and Mohammad IIyas-are reviving this ancient art. Fauzia supervises the entire operation-buying slate from the quarries, transporting it to the craftsman in the village and then bringing the engravings to Islamabad where she has set up the ‘‘Gangar’’ Gallery. The slate engravings-which include Fauzia’s contemporary designs along with the more traditional tombstone designs that have been replicated by the craftsmen-were recently exhibited at the Alliance Francaise in Lahore .

    The engravings were not only aesthetically pleasing, but they exuded a timelessness that comes from the use of slate. The texture of slate is unlike any other-the metal grey surface reveals lighter shades when chiseled or scratched and different depths can be created. Viewed from a distance, the finely engraved images take on an enigmatic, classic quality. While Fauzia’s images of the woman she encountered during her visits to the region are a worthy, contemporary tribute to this traditional art, what fascinated me were the images that appeared on the ‘‘replica’’ tombstones. One engraving display the image of a rifle-the man for whom the tombstone had been made must have been a warrior. Another tombstone featured a mosque-no doubt a pious man deserved that image; yet another showed a teapot-a symbol of the deceased’s generosity [tea in the region is a luxury].

    The Gangar Mountain range might be a poor and rugged region. But these slate engravings reveal a rich and spiritual culture. Thanks to Fauzia’s efforts, one tradition of its ancient culture has been given a new lease of life.

  • Pakistanis shelter Swat displaced

    By Barbara Plett
    BBC News, Surki Dheri and Islamabad

    The homeless are being given water, electricity and a roof
    Just over the mountains from Pakistan's north-western Swat valley lies Surki Dheri, a village of 10,000.

    Its deputy mayor, Sajjad Ali, is a landowner with a large estate. Tenant farmers work his fields of wheat, maize and tobacco.

    But this year he and his brother, Javed Iqbal, have become hosts to unexpected guests: 15 families of refugees - or 150 people - who have fled Pakistan's latest war against the Taliban in Swat and neighbouring districts.

    "I was coming home one day and I saw these families, women and children, sitting beside the road," says Mr Iqbal. "I brought them here. They were in need."

    The newly homeless Pakistanis get food from the UN, but Mr Iqbal and Mr Ali provide everything else - water, electricity, and a roof.

    Nor do they expect them to leave anytime soon. The brothers have begun building an extension to their guesthouse.


    The influx of displaced people has swelled the village population by a third.

    This is traditional Pashtun hospitality, which can never turn away "a guest".

    Sajjad Ali says Pakistanis are responding to a sense of national crisis
    Indeed, the vast majority of those displaced are living with kin or generous strangers.

    Such solidarity has strengthened the government's military campaign in Swat.

    It has also encouraged Washington, which wants to see the war taken to Taliban and al-Qaeda havens in the tribal areas near the Afghan border.

    It is true that there has been broad public support for the Swat operation, including from opposition parties, the media, and even some religious leaders.

    This is unique, because in the past fighting the Taliban was seen as fighting fellow Pakistanis at Washington's command.

    And America's Afghan war is unpopular, widely blamed here for radicalising the country's border areas.

    But seasoned Pakistan observers caution against reading too much into a specific situation.

    "I think there was an extraordinary confluence of circumstances which produced a coincidence of military resolve, political consensus and strong public opposition to the Taliban in Swat," says Maleeha Lodhi, a former ambassador to Washington.

    "Also because the United States was not really seen in that pronounced a way as calling the shots, that also helped the government pursue a very aggressive policy in Swat."

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    Public opinion has generally shifted against the Swat Taliban since they broke a peace deal earlier this year.

    "I think this happened because in the public perception the Taliban moved from a political actor to a criminal actor," says Aijaz Gilani, chairman of the polling agency Gallup Pakistan.

    "It was the very clear and vivid pictures of beheadings, floggings, and occupation of other peoples' property. So when there was a wide view that the Taliban were in breach of Islamic rules about the respect for property, life and honour, a majority turned against them."

    Just outside Islamabad another group of refugees also receives support from concerned Pakistanis.

    A builder, Syed Liaqat, has allowed 75 mostly women and children to move into his unfinished block of flats. Their needs are being met by a number of middle-class women from Islamabad.

    One of them, a law teacher and civil society activist Ghazala Minallah, tells me how one baby was born during the five-day trek through the mountains.

    But when a woman died in childbirth, she and her baby were buried in the snow.

    "I'm motivated by anger that this should be happening in our country, and a feeling for these people," she says. "It could be us in this position!"

    Fear that the Taliban could extend their rule outside Swat was another factor that united many Pakistanis behind military action.

    Conditional support

    Ms Minallah blames the army and government for allowing the militants to get strong, but admits that the timing of the operation made it more effective.

    "Otherwise a large section of the population would have kept saying, what if the peace deal had worked? What if negotiations had worked?

    Fauzia Minallah says support for the army is conditional
    "At least no-one can say that now, that is why the entire country is united, at least 99% united, and supporting the army action."

    Fauzia Minallah, an artist who has encouraged the children to draw and paint, says they need help to exorcise their fear of both the Taliban and of army shelling.

    She tells me it is important that they are able to go home soon, and that the army defeats the Taliban - otherwise public support may waver.

    "It can change if there's a failure of the operation," she says.

    "Right now people are saying that there's only 4,000 Taliban, and 2.5 million displaced. So if the operation fails, the morale will go down.

    "The support [for the army] will be there as long as we know that the operation will be successful."

    But success in Swat would not necessarily mean public support for extending the campaign against the Taliban to the tribal areas, says Mr Gilani, especially if it were seen to be at the urging of the Americans.

    "While support for the government on the Taliban issue has increased, there is no corresponding increase for America's war against terror," he says.

    "The two are seen in the Pakistani public opinion quite separately, and one should not be misjudged for the other."