Guljee’s Tragic Murder
By Air Marshal (Retd.) Ayaz Ahmed Khan
The Pakistani art icon and internationally famous painter and calligrapher Amin Ismael Gulgee was murdered along with his wife Zareen and maid Aasia on 15 or 16 December in his house in Karachi. Their bodies were discovered by their son Amin, three days after the crime. All three were hit by blunt weapons on the head and then gagged and strangled.
Gulgee’s driver, studio assistant and servant have been missing since the murders. Out of his four cars, a white Toyota was missing, but was found after two days in Khadda Market Phase V Defense Society in Karachi.
His legion of admirers is deeply grieved and shocked. Gulgee had dedicated his life to art and creativity. His death is a grievous loss for thousands of art lovers and admirers the world over. It is a huge loss for Pakistan, because despite the darkness of prevailing gun culture, Gulgee was like a shining bright star. He represented the softer and gentler side of the Pakistani society. Unfortunately, in the culture of violence, frail, soft spoken, gentle and cultured people like Gulgee are safe no more. Gulgee’s murder is unforgivable. His death will be lamented the world over for a long, long time.
Decorated with Hilal-e-Imtiaz twice and Sitara-Imtiaz he was the recipient of several awards and prizes by foreign governments and institutions. The great artist raised Pakistan’s stature and projected the compassionate qualities of Islam through calligraphy and art.
In a powerful tribute to Gulgee, his life long friend Asif Noorani describes him as “the last of the Mohicans.” He writes: “In the passing away of Gulgee, in a most tragic manner Pakistan has lost its accomplished senior artist. With him till the end of Zorro, his life partner, and as he called her ‘a pillar of inexhaustible strength’, joined him in death, as she had joined him in life, when the two along with their maid servant were murdered by yet to be identified stone hearted criminals."
Born in Peshawar in 1926, Gulgee received engineering degrees from Harvard and Colombia Universities. Trained as an engineer in America, he was attracted to oil paintings, sculptures, and later calligraphy. He started painting while studying at Harvard. "He did not go to an art school, and was a self taught painter, but never felt disadvantaged." He used to say, "I have learnt from great masters. For hours on end, I have gazed on the work of the great from the East and the West. There is no major museum in any part of the world from where I have not learnt." Gulgee undoubtedly was one of the best portrait painters in the world. Artists of his caliber are indisputably national and international assets. Today Gulgee’s paintings, sculpture and calligraphic art are precious possessions of museums and art lovers all over the world.
In the fifties Gulgee was commissioned by King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan for his life-size painting. Delighted with Gulgee, the Afghan monarch commissioned the artist to paint 150 family members and friends.
Gulgee’s best work of art was the portrait of the great leader, Sir Aga Khan in precious Lapis Lazuli stones. He was commissioned by the worldwide Ismaili community to do this great work of art. In the sixties and seventies Gulgee remained very busy painting portraits of the Shah of Iran, his wife Queen Farah Diba, Prince Karim Aga Khan, King Hussain, President Ayub, Prime Minister Zhou en Lai, Presidents George Bush Sr and Jimmy Carter. During his visits with President Ayub Khan to the Middle East and Iran, he studied Islamic art and developed a passion for Qur’anic-Arabic calligraphy. His critics claim that Gulgee’s Islamic calligraphy was done to please Zia-ul-Haq. This is simply not true. Gulgee was deep into calligraphy well before Zia-ul-Haq found himself at the helm in Pakistan.
With the use of bronze, Gulgee gave a new dimension to the art of calligraphy. He was a master of innovation in art. His masterpieces are portraits of great men of the time, abstract art, and beautiful Qur’anic calligraphy, that has added beauty to many important buildings and institutions in Pakistan and abroad. He became an inspiration for artists, especially art students in Pakistan and outside. Surely, his paintings and art will make him immortal.
His murder by merciless criminals is a national tragedy. His son Amin found his parents dead for four days with the living room TV on, the front door locked and the family’s white Corolla car missing. He alerted the police. DSP Niaz Khosa told him to break the front door glass, to get inside the house. Gulgee’s body was found in the living room, Zareen Gulgee’s in the kitchen, and maid Aasia’s in a small room adjacent to the kitchen. According to the police, nothing was missing. Cash, jewelry, precious pieces of art and paintings had not been stolen. The motive of the crime is an enigma. But the disappearance of his three house employees raises the suspicion that they had a hand in the triple murder. The investigation priorities should be to find Gulgee’s three servants and hunt down the killers.
The postmortem revealed two deep wounds at the back of Gulgee’s head but they were not the cause of death. He was strangled. Mrs Gulgee and Asia were struck thrice by a blunt weapon at the back of their heads and could have died from the blows.
Gulgee and his wife Zareen were devoted to the welfare of poor orphans. Mrs Gulgee was member of SOS-Children Village charity of Sind.
In a befitting tribute Prime Minister Mian Mohammad Somroo has praised Gulgee’s innovative paintings and their impact on art. He has directed the government of Sind to probe the mysterious circumstances of the triple murder. May God protect Pakistan from the insanity of murderers on the loose. May Allah save Pakistan and its people. Ameen.