Alice Thorston of The Kansas City Star did a piece featuring my artistic experience in Pakistan. Traveling to my father’s homeland turned out to both high-risk and awe-inspiring at the same time.
Here’s an excerpt from Alice Thorson’s piece:
Kansas City artist Asheer Akram traveled to Pakistan last year with a grant from the Kansas City-based Lighton International Artists Exchange Program. Inspired by the artfully decorated cargo trucks he encountered throughout the country, Akram plans to transform a 1952 Chevy into a “Midwest meets Pakistan” version of a cargo truck. (photo Rich Sugg)
The last thing Kansas City artist Asheer Akram expected when he arrived in Lahore, Pakistan, was to find the city’s National College of Arts ringed with barbed wire and protected by armed guards.
It was May 2010, and he was scheduled to be an artist-in-residence at the college, but …
“It took me two days to get in to talk to the administration,” Akram said. “There had been a bunch of bombings, and they said that they had put the residency on hold, fearing Americans and foreigners could be targets and put other students in jeopardy.”
Akram’s trip to his late father’s homeland was financed by a grant from the Lighton International Artists Exchange Program, established by Kansas City artist Linda Lighton in 2002 and administered by the Kansas City Artists Coalition.
Janet Simpson, the coalition’s executive director, said she was concerned for Akram’s safety when she read his application for the trip but felt better about it when she learned he would stay with relatives there.
That was another eye-opener for Akram. “Staying with family was a little like being in jail,” he said. “You have to ask to leave the house, and the oldest adult decides what you do and don’t do.” He conceded that one of the reasons they were so protective was his being American.
Akram made his escape from his aunt’s house when his brother arrived and the two connected with cousins who lived in another city.
Although the residency fell through, and his Lahore sojourn felt like “lockdown,” Pakistan turned out to be a goldmine of artistic inspiration for Akram. He was stunned by the beauty and craftsmanship of the Pakistani cargo trucks that he encountered at every turn.
“They were the most amazing thing I saw,” he said. “Like galleries without walls. In the system they use there, the more decorative the truck, the better jobs you get. Drivers put their life savings into making their trucks beautiful.”
Akram is repurposing a 1952 Chevy into a “Midwest meets Pakistan” version of a cargo truck.
“The dream is to take it from coast to coast,” he said.
Asheer Akram is one of 86 artists, roughly half of them from Kansas City, to receive funds from the Lighton International Artists Exchange Program, which to date has spent almost $350,000 to send artists to 37 countries.
Read Alice Thorson’s full article on both my experiences and Linda Lighton’s artist program at lindalighton.com