Mussarrat Nahid Imam is deeply dedicated to preserving traces of ancient Buddhist civilization. As the director of the National Art Gallery in Islamabad, Pakistan—an area once ruled by the Buddhist kings of Gandhara—she has become concerned that Buddhist artwork from the Gandharan civilization (like the statues above) will be lost if proper attention isn’t given to preservation. As part of that effort, Imam paints Gandharan Buddhist relics and images of the Buddha in order to ensure that the style will be remembered by future generations. As it happens, Imam is a devout Muslim. But while some might take issue with the fact that a practicing Muslim creates artwork representing the Buddha, for Imam it’s a non-issue. In fact, during an interview featured on The Huffington Post, Imam said she believes that the teachings of the Buddha are similar to those of Islam and those teachings have allowed her to discover the importance of religious harmony:

Q. Do you face criticism for painting the Buddha? A. I paint the Buddha or Buddhist relics not with any religious consideration. I paint it primarily to preserve it for posterity as most of the heritage sites in Pakistan are suffering tremendous loss due to lack of attention, limited resources, awareness and education. I feel my utmost responsibility is to safeguard it from further loss. It is also to pay tribute to the artisans of the time, acknowledging their creativity and artistic skill. My work has not been opposed; on the contrary it has earned local and foreign accolades. Q. So art transcends religious differences? A. Yes, indeed. I have been painting the Buddha for a long time and am widely covered and reviewed by the media in Pakistan. I continue to paint because I feel for it and also because of my people, who have been my sole strength. It is because of them that I am where I am today. Q. Who is the Buddha to you? A. I am fully convinced that the Buddha’s teachings are similar to what Islam teaches us, and to me the Buddha is a sacred being for the followers of Buddhism. As a creative being, I paint not just on Buddhist themes, but also on Hinduism and Islam.

Read the rest of the interview with Mussarrat Nahid Imam here.

Photographs © www.gandhara.com

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