Mudassir Zia, the incredible founder of Street Art Pakistan, has created a world of his own imagining. Since 2010 he has been working to eradicate the illegal practice of ‘wall chalking’.
Pakistan has a turbulent history. Control of the Government has bounced between democratically elected political parties and the military following a series of coup d’état. As a result political propaganda litters the sidewalks and buildings of her great cities, like a time capsule of an outdated message.
Mudassir dreamt of reviving the walls of Pakistan by painting beautiful and colourful murals depicting Pakistan’s history.
“I wanted the walls of Pakistan to act as public gallery to be enjoyed by all passers-by”
Mudassir explained, whilst walking down Maulana Shaukat Ali Road, where a 1.8 kilometre single wall was painted by hundreds of artists over three consecutive days in 2016.
“So, who are the people responsible for painting these murals?” I ask. Street Art Pakistan invites teams to paint sections of wall as part of large-scale street art competitions, Mudassir explains. More than 26,000 participants from over 250 educational institutions have painted more than 390,200 square feet of Pakistan’s walls. The participants are often already passionate about art, but Mudassir reveals that they don’t look exclusively for artists. For example “this painting of Maula Jutt was painted by medical students from Allama Iqbal Medical College.” (Maula Jutt is a fictional character from a famous Pakistani punjabi action film made in 1979).
Each section should depict a part of Pakistan’s history and the organisation maintains artistic standards by asking every person who registers to submit a piece of artwork in advance.
I point to one part of the wall and ask, “why does it say Powerpuff girls?” Mudassir explains that each team must choose a team name and this section was painted by the ‘Powerpuff girls’.
“What’s your team name?” I asked. “Street Art Pakistan!” he said. Of course, it was a silly question in hindsight.
Most of the street art competitions have been held in Lahore, where the initiative started, but there are competitions held annually in different cities within Pakistan. Mudassir wants to hold more art competitions in Karachi because it has got a lot of wall chalking and political propaganda displayed around the city.
It is evident that Mudassir is really passionate about reviving the streets of Pakistan, but he hasn’t done this alone. He has successfully engaged Pakistan’s young people in achieving this goal, creating a national network of artists. What makes Mudassir really inspiring is his desire to give back to the young people who have taken part in the competitions. He soon plans to host the biggest street art event in Pakistan and will invite international street artists to bring their upstanding of street art to Pakistan. In 2016, Mudassir invited artists from the US, Mexico, Ukraine and Germany, and he hopes to do this again.
In March 2013 Mudassir and Street Art Pakistan organised a Guinness world record breaking painting by numbers which measured 3,717 m2 and was created at the Punjab Youth Festival in Lahore. The painting represented some of the most popular monuments of the Punjab region in Pakistan. A total of 1,557 participants took 3 hours to create the image and 3 hours to paint it.
For Mudassir it isn’t just about the kilometres of street walls that are covered by an artwork, it is also about spreading a positive message to passers-by. Mudassir and I share a passion for curating a really positive re-telling of Pakistan’s history .
Walking down Maulana Shaukat Ali road is like a walking tour of Pakistan’s history. There are tribute murals to famous singers such as Reshma, a folk singer awarded the third highest honour and civilian award the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, who passed away in November 2013. The murals and sidewalks that artists have painted in Street Art Pakistan’s competitions are rich in knowledge. Mudassir and I are both teachers and we believe that knowledge is power. As I drive down the road passing this 1.8-kilometre sidewalk that’s beautifully painted I ask Shahrukh (our team’s videographer) so many questions “who is that in the painting?” or “what part of Pakistan is this?” I think about all the other adults or children who are asking the same questions. Who knew you could make a car ride a learning experience? I didn’t - but Mudassir did.