Irfan Gul Dahri
Trigger Warning: The following short piece contains references to child SA.
Editor’s Note: Dahri is an extremely talented and successful Sindhi artist. But behind his success lies a dark secret that he has only recently been sharing with the world. Irfan was abused as a young boy and for years this fact hounded him. Still, he continued his art practice, consumed by his haunting past yet not allowing it to subsume him.
When he sent me this piece of writing, I felt that the two protagonists in this story were really one. Irfan confirmed this. He is now attempting to move on, talk about his past, face it. He even talks about it to his students. In some of their eyes, he says, he sees the pain that he had experienced himself.
The following writing is his attempt to, lyrically and even surreally, confront the horrors of his boyhood days and put them to rest.
Year 1989, Shahdadpur
It was the day of Eid. Everyone was dressed up, but his new cloths were stained with blood; a boy of eight or nine years, wounded very badly, standing still as a rock, right behind our house, with a crowd asking him about what had happened.
That was the first time I saw him. I noticed that he was already looking at me, paying no attention to his surroundings. He kept on looking at me. I realised that he wanted me to help him. A tear rolled down my face and I accepted his request; I closed my eyes.
Year 1998, Jamshoro
I was studying commerce then, when I saw him for the second time, in the Fine Arts Department of Sindh University. I wanted to meet him but he disappeared into the corridor. I had been looking for him and had found many clues that he had left for me to follow him, but he had never appeared in front of me again.
Year 1999, Hyderabad
He had started all this; a game for which he had set all the rules and I never knew why I was doing all he wanted me to do. I started drawing and painting once again—something that I had left years ago.
Year 2000, Lahore
He was my invisible leader, I trusted him and followed him for years but I cursed him then for what he had done to me. He led me to a miserable situation to which I was alien and lost every thing that I possessed. So, I decided not to follow him any more, not a single step.
I was feeling like sand—very thirsty.
Year 2002, Lahore
I was very sick and needed him badly. He sent some one to take care of me but did not appear himself.
Year 2003-08, Lahore-Hyderabad
I was now a married man and had a two-year-old daughter—too busy to think of him.
Year 2009, Lahore-Karachi
Year 2010, Lahore
I was working in my studio when he came to me for the last time. I was surprised to see him, he looked very old and weak. I said: “Where have you been all these years?”
He did not answer.
“I have so much to share with you,” I continued.
He replied, “I already know all that.”
I suspected that he must have been spying on me. Anyway, I was very happy to meet him finally and was thinking of offering him space to live and work with me.
He looked at me, smiled and said, “Thank you for your offer but it is not necessary anymore, you have already done a lot for me. Tonight, I am here to ask you for one last favour.” I said nothing; I was like a statue, looking at him continuously without a single movement.
He lay down and made himself comfortable, then continued, “Would you please help me close my eyes, this time?”
Born in Shahdadpur, a small town in Sindh, Irfan Gul Dahri holds a Master’s degree in Visual Art from National College of Arts and was awarded with Principal’s Honors Award. He was also awarded with Charles Wallace Visiting Artist Fellowship to study in Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London. He participated in the Karachi Biennale 2019, and the Lahore Biennale 2020 collateral event ‘It’s About Body’. He has also taken part in various residencies.
Dahri has remained active in various community projects regarding student counseling and training through lectures, seminars, discussions and formal art classes. He received the ‘Sadequain Pride of Performance Award’ in 2021, ‘Arjumand Painting award’ in 2017 as well as the ‘Chughtai Award’.
He has been teaching at the National College of Arts as permanent faculty since 2006.
Dahri has had six solo shows along with numerous group exhibitions in Pakistan, Dubai, Singapore, England, America and India. He worked as gallery curator, O Art Space for four years, from its inception in 2017 till 2020. He co-founded ART OTAQ, a non-profit dynamic platform for the greater exposure of art, culture and education. He is also the co-founder of Numaish Gah, a contemporary art gallery in Lahore.
Dahri has curated many exhibitions as an independent curator at various venues. He lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan.