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The force behind colours of restored historical monuments.

Byline: Naeem Saadhu

A master fresco painter, a man of tall stature who revived the dying art of fresco by training a generation of young painters in the art, Ustad Saifur Rehman was born at Kamra Kalan, Attock, in 1942.

He was in junior school when lost his father who was a soldier and it was hard for him to continue his education.

'I came to Lahore at the age of 12 to live with my brother working for the Archeology Department. The beauty of colourful frescoes at Jahangir's Tomb and Shalimar Gardens fascinated me. I started my career as a daily-wage labourer for one-and-a-half rupee to assist the artisans working for restorations of historical paintings,' he recalls.

'There was a shortage of traditional artisans, the archeology department instructed the master artisans to train the young people. I was lucky to become a student of Ustad Ahmad Buksh. I would prepare the colours and lift him up to the scaffold as he was too old and weak to climb up to paint the domes and ceilings. He was a humble fellow who taught me the basic techniques while restoring the artworks at Jahangir's Tomb.'

Saifur Rehman worked for restoration of Shalimar Gardens, Lahore Fort, Hiran Minar and Begum Mariyam Zamani Mosque. After the death of Ustaad Ahmad Buksh I got attached with Ustad Ghulam Mohiuddin.

All the state-owned buildings were maintained by the PWD. On a visit to Masjid Wazir Khan, the then Punjab Governor Attiqur Rahman found them damaging the fresco to install the electric wiring in the early 1970s. He immediately called Archeology department director Waliullah Sahib and handed over the mosque to the department to restore all the artworks,' he recalls how the restoration of Masjid Wazir Khan began.

Ustad Saifur Rehman.

'The governor handed over the restoration of all the monuments of Punjab, including the shrine of Shah Rukn-e-Alam at Multan to the Archeology Department which has only two trained artisans, myself and Ustaad Ghulam Mohiuddin. We put an advertisement and selected a team of 90 young students for the training as fresco painters. Some of them became excellent artists. A group of them joined Ustaad Ghulam Mohiuddin and they were assigned to restore the Badshahi Mosque in Chiniot, the hometown of my Ustad.'

Saifur Rehman's job was to train the young people, to make teams of them and supervise the restoration works carried out by them in various districts of Punjab. He spent a major part of his life, around 22 years, in restoring the beauty of Masjid Wazir Khan. The restoration works at shrine of Shah Charagh, Neela Gumbad, Mian Mir and the shrine of Daud Bandgi at Shergarh are the major works to his credit. His works were acknowledged by several awards, including the President's Pride of Performance Award in 1986.

'The work at Wazir Khan mosque was stopped after the death of Waliullah Sahib of Archeology Department and I ventured into private practice of my own. Senior architects Nayyer Ali Dada and Kamil Khan Mumtaz commissioned me a lot of work at private residences,' says Rehman.

He worked at couple of big mosques at Kharian and Taxila also. While restoring the roof of Sheesh Mahal in 2004, he trained the students of the Naqsh School of Arts and the National College of Arts.

'These students are performing good in the market and the fresco painting is a living tradition now, popular among the people and the interior designers,' he said in a proud tone.

Professor Sajida Vandal offered Ustad Saifur Rehman a job to teach at the NCA where she was teaching.

'Apart from teaching I am working with an apparel designing company and they take really a good care of me,' Rehman acknowledges.

'To carry forward the tradition of fresco painting was the dream of both of my teachers. They told me that it is a tough task. I took the challenge and did my level best to keep it up.'

Rehman's two my sons also became part of his team now and his family is carrying the tradition forward.
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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Sep 30, 2018
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