I reached the hills around 4:30 pm and quickly changed my footgear to meet artist Saba Khan at her summer residence. I had been invited there for tea before visiting the Murree Museum Artist’s Residency on its final exhibition day.
Nestled among aging trees, Khan’s cottage was only a few minutes away from my rest house. Walking towards it, I began to reminisce about the previous year, when I was greeted by her father, the late Dr. Farakh A. Khan. I had wanted to learn about he history of Murree, and he was writing a book on it (Murree During the Raj: A British Town in the Hills).
[quote]Dr. Farrakh Khan wanted to preserve the beauty of Murree for the coming generations[/quote]
Like most historians – although Dr. Khan was a urologist by profession – he wanted to preserve the beauty of Murree for the coming generations. “I am trying to pursue the government to open a museum and an archives gallery here in the heart of Kashmir Point,” he had said with a glint in his eyes.
I smiled when I got to the gate of Saba’s cottage: the grey stone path had been turned into a work of art by her toddler. Colorful patterns, dolls and designs led me to the main door. Inside, artists, writers, and thinkers sat around the dining table discussing the space for art as the lady of the house, Mrs. Farrakh, served them warm food and tea. Everyone at the table was in love, with Murree and its restoration.
[quote]Kashmir Point is the only place in Murree that is safe from the encroaching mass of grotesque hotels[/quote]
Murree Museum Artist’s Residency is right opposite the chapel of St. Denys High School at Kashmir Point. It is cooped up under one of the twin red triangular roofs resting on a impressive structure resurrected from ruins that haunted this peaceful place for more than a decade. Only recently, the Punjab government proposed to initiate a resource center for PhD study in Murree. They also wanted to set up a restaurant here, but due to Dr. Farakh’s timely intervention, a museum and archives gallery was sanctioned instead. Kashmir Point is the only place in Murree that is serenely safe from the encroaching mass of grotesque hotels and boisterous eating places. It offers a perfect view of the Himalayan ridges, peaceful lodges, and a tranquil traffic-free walking circuit for a quiet walk.
Perhaps, that is why most mountain birds live at Kashmir point.
I was fortunate to meet Usman Saeed and Madhya Leghari, the first resident artists of this pilot project, who were all packed to drive back home after a month of dedicated immersion in art in Murree. Sophia Mairaj and Ashfar Malik were part of the larger team of artists exploring the dynamics of interactive art in the hills. The main floor of the museum has artifacts, objects (donated by people of the hills), archives and photographs relating the history of Murree. The upper deck of the museum is a studio space for these artists who not only curate their aesthetic expressions but also generously open their doors to little street children, most of whom are found scavenging in the litter around Murree, and to school children. (St. Denys High is right opposite the museum.) The studio walls showcase the priceless expressions of these children who have finally found a space to color their thoughts.
[quote]Usman Saeed’s work was inspired by the first birdsong he heard in the hills[/quote]
Usman Saeed’s work was inspired by the first birdsong he heard in the hills:
“The Himalayan Thrush’s magical birdsong woke me up before dawn and subsequently became the inspiration for my work in the 3-week long residency,” he said. “My practice has always been concerned with the notion of musicality, and here I was, listening to the bird’s magical outpourings at length for the first time. The melodious tones seemed to carry an emotional baggage with overlapping layers of loyalty, love, trouble, anger and defiance.”
Sophiya Mairaj found her imagination captivated by tiny buttercups, ferns and other flowers found in the lush meadows of Murree, and her work is also inspired by the poetry of Oscar Wilde. Afshar Malik played with soft wires, creatively bending them into artful flowy forms. Whereas Madhya Leghari’s work is an assortment of paintings and photomontages inspired by the makeup of the hills.
The Murree Museum Artist’s Residency is a futuristic project aspiring to conserve the legacy of the hills – a beautiful blend of nature, art and the wheel of time. To me, it is a posthumous tribute to Dr. Farakh A. Khan for his 12-year long research on Murree. It has been carried out by his daughter Saba Khan and her talented team of artists. It is open to the public free of cost and has had over 80 visitors per day on weekdays and over 200 on weekends during the peak summer season. With the right resources and support, it can become an indispensible asset for the most frequented hill station of Pakistan.