Saturday, May 23, 2009
By By Asadullah
The local art market has witnessed a boom exclusively for a few art galleries that have outfoxed older establishments with their rapid commercial success. Their prosperity is directly linked to the clandestine sale of forged artworks in the garb of authentic masterpieces, local artists claimed.
However, forgery is not something in vogue; fake art work is often attributed to renowned but deceased artists by transferring their original signature on the canvas. Seasoned artists are annoyed with the situation but appear helpless to approach the authorities.
Farhan Mehdi, son of Pakistan’s celebrated painter Eqbal Mehdi, cursed the menace of piracy that has ravaged his belief in the local art market, which has witnessed a thriving consumption of fake art works of renowned artists including his father. Mehdi, who is an interior designer and former gallery owner, conjured an idea to expose one of the unscrupulous names associated with this racket.
Feigning to play a middleman brokering a deal with a dummy Dubai-based investor, played by a policeman, Mehdi invited art dealer Tariq Hussain to his house and recorded the entire meeting. This led to an arrest in December last year, but in a unique Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) case, the accused was granted bail.
The video made available to media outlets shows the accused showing nothing short of a replica of the genius Sadequain, with his fake signature dating back to 1987. “There are very few people who deal in such kind of art works. I deal in both original and fake ones,” he proudly told the police officer in disguise.
“A painting worth four million rupees is copied and brazenly sold for one hundred thousand rupees,” Mehdi said. “Such forged and fake art works are sold with authentication letters, confirming the age of the canvas and brush strokes.”
The accused, Husain, brought with him rolled canvases having signature paintings of Sadequain, Souza, Gulgee, Bashir Mirza and even Jamil Naqsh, who is alive. He showed a letter of authenticity to his hosts, saying he will provide every painting with an authentication letter and email addresses of the holders and owners.
“They were of course fabricated email addresses to impress the buyers,” commented Mehdi. “We have some great art galleries but none of them exhibit phenomenal growth the way two particular art galleries have done while dealing in fake and forged art works of renowned artists in Clifton and Defence. Their owners are related to each other as well.”
Local artists claim that the art galleries operate on commission, rather than investing in artists’ work and then selling the work with profit. This is not the case with the forged art works. “Not only are investors available but there are some renowned artists, who have earned infamy for painting Sadequain, Gulgee and Eqbal Mehdi without any trace of remorse,” Mehdi added.
Tariq Hussain’s audacious dealing with the disguised policeman of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) rank is an eye-opener for the champions of the Intellectual Property Rights. At one point of time, Mehdi showed Hussain a particular xerographic copy of Sadequain’s work asking if he has it. “Let’s try. We can get it,” was his immediate reply. “We deal in both originals and fakes.”
Farhan Mehdi mentioned that disciples of his late father have been painting in the same vocabulary to give them an authentic look. He believed that the subjects of most fake sketches, bearing forged signature of his father, could not be attributed to his original work. “What the police recovered from Hussain were pathetic works as far as the figurative diction was concerned.”
Interestingly, the Clifton police arrested the accused from Farhan’s place but the arrest was shown to be at Clifton Centre. Similarly, the confiscated fake art works were simply placed inside the police station only to be taken away by those interested in adoring walls of their drawing rooms. Certainly, this kind of IPR violation is a low priority for the police.