KARACHI: Two militants with guns dangling off their backs spot a mosque that has the Pakistani flag placed near the entrance. Soon after spotting the national flag, the men hug each other and pledge to stay away from terrorism.

This drawing, titled ‘Save Pakistan from Terrorism’, was made last year by Ali Waris, a class-three student at Public School, Sukkur, who lives in Baitul Maal’s Pakistan Sweet Homes orphanage. The drawing caught his teacher’s eye and she sent the 13-year-old’s work to The Little Art, a Lahore-based organisation, working mostly with private sector schools and some public schools to improve children’s experience of learning through colours and paintings.

Receiving a painting that was giving such a strong message from a student of a Sukkur-based public school was a shock but a good one, said Awais Shafiq, a representative of The Little Art. He recalled how the teacher got in touch with them and then sent his painting which was selected by the final jury.

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Nearly a year later, Ali’s works have been displayed at a two-day exhibition ‘Art Beat – National Child Art Competition and Exhibition’ organised by The Little Art at Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi. The annual exhibition, which is in its fourth year now, ended on Saturday. Ali’s works are part of 52 paintings on the theme of ‘Kaisa Pakistan’ that were shortlisted from 6,000 entries that the organisation received.

As he spoke to The Express Tribune, Ali admitted he still finds it hard to believe that he is a good artist. “The incident of Army Public School was on my mind when I was painting my picture,” he said. “The teacher had asked us to paint the kind of Pakistan we want to see.” Ali came to Karachi with his cousin when his teacher told him that his painting has been displayed at Arts Council.

The Little Art is very happy that Ali has come all the way to Karachi to participate, said Shafiq.

This year’s theme was ‘Kaisa Pakistan’ which encouraged children to reflect on their identity and culture, he explained. A total of 210 schools across Pakistan participated in this year’s competition which will be making its way to Islamabad and Lahore soon.

The selection process is fairly comprehensive. The initial selection is done by the students and teachers of MPhil from the college of arts and design at the University of Punjab. The final selection is done by a jury of painters, artists and experienced art educators. This year’s jury consisted of Dr Shahida Manzoor, the principal of the art and design college at the University of Punjab, painter and National College of Arts teacher RM Naeem, painter and lecturer at Kinnaird College Sadaf Naeem, and young painter Amina Ansari.

Most children had painted their idea of a peaceful Pakistan, several of them painted the flag and their school buildings. The organisation presented a certificate of participation and a gift to all the children whose works were displayed.

According to Shafiq, the main aim behind displaying the artworks of children is to motivate them to do better.

The Little Art plans to hold a two-week workshop in Karachi at the beginning of next year for the artists whose work has been displayed today. The organisation is planning to participate in international art competitions from next year.

Published in The Express Tribune

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