Given a second chance to at life, Pakistani painter Jimmy Engineer repaid the miracle by living four different lives, as an artist, social worker, human rights and peace activist.
“At the age of 6 I had to quit school because I was very ill and doctors told my parents that I only had three months to live. Both my kidneys had failed,” he said recently.
Despite the grim prognosis, Jimmy survived and recovered after three months and both of his kidneys began to work normally again.
Most children with a double kidney failure back then died because transplants were still very uncommon in the early 1960s.
Since then, he never looked at things in the same way again. He started to foster passion to help the other and a love of art.
After completing his studies at St. Anthony’s High School in Lahore, he spent a brief interlude at Forman Christian College before finally enrolling to the National College of Arts, the oldest art institute in Lahore. But after three years, he quit college and decided to go on his own way.
“My muse is the people on the streets who work hard to make ends meet. They don’t have lavish houses, they don’t eat very good food, but they are there. They are my inspiration,” Jimmy said.
Jimmy does not focus on one particular painting style. He does historical paintings, religious paintings, landscapes, seascapes, still life, architecture and abstracts.
He paints on canvas, wood and ceramics.
“I did it all because I took the liberty of learning. I always want to do extremely well, making paintings at the level of excellence. But I can only remain a student all my life, because I am just a pupil of the perfect master — Allah — I can only strive toward perfection, but I can’t become perfect. I will just keep learning,” Jimmy said.
As of today, he has completed more than 2,000 paintings, over 1,000 calligraphies and there are more than 50,000 prints in private collections in more than 50 countries.
But his mission is not to sell as much as he can. Through his artworks, he expects to spread all the good things about his home country to foreigners.
Jimmy reckons Pakistan has a negative image abroad because of terrorism and bombing that dominate news reports.
“I have traveled all over the world, talking to people, showing my work and telling them that we are not all extremists. We are artists, lecturers, doctors and scientists. It became my mission to travel all over the world creating a positive image of Pakistan.”
When the Pakistani Embassy in Indonesia planned to hold an exhibition to show art works by Pakistani artists, he agreed to participate without second thought.
“When the embassy first floated the idea of an exhibition, I was very keen to come here, though I couldn’t make it to the opening,” Jimmy said.
He brought some of his architectural paintings, and his Partition series that tells the story of the separation of India and Pakistan.
“This is my first time in Indonesia, but I will definitely come here again for my next exhibition. I will stay longer and feel Indonesia a little bit deeper,” Jimmy said.
But his connection with Indonesia has started 22 years ago. In 1991 he designed a postage stamp to commemorate the Indonesia-Pakistan Economic Cultural Cooperation (IPECC).
“I went to the post office, and I finally saw the stamp I designed for IPECC which was printed in Indonesia. It was also printed in Pakistan but with different colors,” he said.
Jimmy may be an artist by profession with thousands of internationally recognized works, but his heart goes out to oppressed people and minorities everywhere.
By going directly into the streets, and walking all over Pakistan, he helps those in need and speaks out about their needs.
“I’ve done a lot of walking in my life, but the longest was in 1994 when I walked all over my country, village to village, town to town, for one year over more than 4,000 kilometers for the sake of finding out the problems of the people,” he said.
One of his interesting social works was taking hundreds of impoverished people to stay at five star hotels, entertaining them and treating them as VIPs.
“If you want to change the lives of special children, by just calling them special won’t make any difference. We have to make them an important part of our society — an important part of our lives.”
In 2005, he was awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence), the third highest civilian honor in Pakistan, recognizing individuals who have made outstanding public endeavors for the interests of Pakistan.
“I call myself the servant of Pakistan, because that is what I am,” he said.