The Sculpture Center Abdulla Qamer, Karachi, Pakistan



Bringing color—and cardboard—to Cleveland

The chance that one of the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland’s clients or a child of a client would encounter the elaborately decorated trucks of Pakistan is pretty slim. Situated on Euclid Avenue at the eastern edge of the city, the Free Clinic provides care to medically underserved populations throughout the area. Pakistan is many worlds away, and few in the Free Clinic community will ever have the opportunity to travel to the south Asian nation. It’s even more unlikely that one of these trucks, pulsating with color and festooned with swirling floral patterns, sacred symbols, and ornately scripted poetry, will rumble and jingle down Euclid.


But Pakistani artist Abdullah Qamer, brought to Cleveland through the Creative Fusion arts exchange program and hosted by the Sculpture Center, seems particularly well-suited to bridge gaps, or at least making people realize the gaps are not so wide.


Qamer has prepared printouts of images of details from these trucks to be used as inspiration for the Tuesday afternoon art classes he’s teaching in the community room at the Free Clinic, across the street from the Sculpture Center. Back home the trucks enliven a landscape dulled by years of terrorism, dictatorships, military coups, and corruption. While the outlook in Cleveland is nowhere near as challenging, the deprivations and the obstacles of city life can still use the infusion of color and hope that Qamer’s lessons bring. He has also had Free Clinic art students work in collage that included working with corrugated cardboard, a choice of materials that’s more about its durability and availability. “It’s hard to cut,” says Qamer. “You see them struggling with it. That helps to get rid of their aggression.”


Qamer is in essence importing to Cleveland the work he did as an activist artist in Pakistan, where he cofounded the Dhaaba Art Movement. He and his compatriots in the movement bring art classes, theater workshops, and impromptu cafes for therapy sessions to urban street kids, meeting them where they live, and allowing them to express themselves in and on their own terms.


Qamer is part of a pilot collaboration that will bring Sculpture Center artists to the Clinic, says the center’s executive director, Ann Albano. “I thought Abdullah was the perfect match for this.”


Qamer is also working on a number of sculptures at a studio at Cleveland State University, where he works among that college’s art students. Too large to transport back home, the final works will remain in Cleveland to serve, like his students will, as the legacy of his Cleveland residency.



Preview Opening of Waterloo Sculpture Garden Summer Exhibition, including work of Abdullah Qamer: 5 – 8 pm May 27