Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) Director General Dr Faozia Saeed has called upon the National Artists’ Association of Pakistan (NAAP) to stop leveling baseless allegations or supporting media campaign to malign the PNCA’s integrity in the wake of return of 10 art works of renowned Pakistani artist AJ Shemza to his spouse Mary Shemza. “I would strongly recommend that members of the NAAP become more engaged with the PNCA for achieving mutually shared objectives and fostering closer cooperation. The actions we took are not only legal, ethical, based on truth and facts but also necessary within the context of the current government’s commitment to honesty and justice,” the PNCA DG said in response to a letter written by NAAP Chairman Mian Ijaz-ul-Hassan, regarding the AJ Shemza’s paintings. “AJ Shemza and Mary Shemza and all others who trust galleries and institutions like ours for exhibiting their works though at times their trust is betrayed when the artwork is not returned. It would have been an embarrassment for the PNCA to have internationally been declared to carry usurped property in its collection,” Dr Fouzia Saeed wrote in response to letter by Mian Ijaz-ul-Hassan, who is also a former member of the PNCA Board of Governors. “There is no loss incurred by returning the paintings to the owner or the rightful claimant by a gallery as it was never theirs in the first place,” she went on to say.Narrating the details, she said the exhibition of AJ Shemza’s paintings was organized in Pakistan in 1985 right after his sudden death. “Mary Shamza brought the paintings from UK and they were exhibited at four places in Pakistan. Three of the exhibitions were organized by the PNCA. On her return, she was asked by the PNCA to loan 10 paintings for display in PNCA gallery for a slightly longer period and a receipt for the 10 paintings was duly issued to her,” she narrated. “Mary Shemza hung on to the receipt slip and asked for the return of paintings in response to which the then Director of the PNCA, Ghulam Rasool, offered her an amount of Rs 40,000 for purchase of the paintings in 1988,” she revealed. “Mary Shemza refused the offer and persistently continued to demand her paintings over the years. It was after the PNCA published the images of these 10 paintings in a catalogue, in 2006, as part of its permanent collection without obtaining her consent according to law that got her perturbed and angry, and began to demand for the return of the works through formal letters,” Dr Fouzia said. “She wrote to almost every DG of the PNCA. There was movement in the files, some internal reporting and notes and responses that stated they would look into it or would pursue it. None of the DGs ever wrote back or claimed their ownership,” she said.“All the internal communications and official noting about the paintings expressly, unambiguously and categorically mentioned that these paintings were loaned. The paintings were never put in the records of the permanent collection of the PNCA and were never a part of the inventory where artworks are recorded when they are acquired or gifted,” the DG said. “A verification committee recently notified to do the art audit of the artworks at the PNCA also strongly recommended that these paintings were loaned and should be returned,” she further said. Dr Fouzia Saeed said that it is sad that a rightful owner of the artworks had to go through such ordeal to get works belonging to her back. “It was late Asma Jahangir who came to her help and attempted to seek justice. She sent a legal notice to the PNCA on January 6, 2017. No artist association helped out in getting the artworks back to the owner,” she further said. “Later, Mary Shemza was asked by former DG PNCA Jamal Shah to send documentation of her legal representative through the Pakistan Embassy. She did accordingly, but still no decision was made by the PNCA,” she added.“I am proud that the current Minister, Board of Governors and the PNCA management have corrected a longstanding wrong. I am happy to inform that the whole system of documentation of artworks and the SOPs involved in inviting and returning of exhibitions is being revamped and rationalized, bringing it to international standards,” the DG said. “We want to make sure that when artwork for exhibitions is brought in and later returned, they are not seen as a ‘loss’ to the institution but are properly and efficiently returned,” she maintained, and hoped that artist associations will do the right thing of supporting an ethical, efficient and just system of displaying artworks.