Pakistani Art Patron and Activist Gunned Down in Karachi

Sabeen Mehmud was a highly respected figure in Pakistan’s liberal intelligentsia.

T2F founder and director Sabeen Mehmud Photo: White Star via The Dawn

The Pakistani arts patron and human rights activist Sabeen Mehmud was shot dead in a drive-by shooting in Karachi on Friday, the Guardian reports.

The killing took place outside of the art gallery and café she has founded, known as T2F (The Second Floor). Mehmud was targeted by unknown assailants as she was leaving the venue after hosting a talk on state-security abductions and torture of activists in the troubled Pakistani province of Balochistan.

Mehmud offered to host the talk at T2F, defying military police who had stopped Lahore University of Management Sciences from hosting the event earlier this month.

Commentators are speculating that Mehmud’s murder was an attempt to suppress a dialogue on the state’s violent management of the Balochistan independence movement. (see Curator and Activist Viciously Attacked in Kiev).

Mehmud was a highly respected figure among Pakistan’s liberal circles. She will be remembered as an extraordinarily brave woman who stood up for the oppressed in the face of danger.

Pakistani daily the Dawn wrote that she turned down lucrative careers in IT and professional cricket in favor of the arts and social activism. (See Is a New Artistic Activism Emerging via Social Media and Forms of Public Protest?)

According to Aurora, after finishing college in 2007 she founded the NGO PeaceNiche which included the T2F arts centre and café. The space hosted poetry and book readings, lectures, debates, rock concerts, and art exhibitions.

For the first three years T2F was run on a shoestring budget. In a blog post Mehmud wrote that she “didn’t earn a penny from PeaceNiche” and that she “maxed out seven credit cards,” and “took loans to pay off loans.”

In 2010 T2F won a grant from the Open Society Foundation after a consultant for the company visited the arts center. Since securing a source of regular income the community space has hosted over 600 talks and events and has garnered far-reaching international press coverage.

The BBC’s Fifi Haroon concluded “It is difficult to believe someone so vibrant, so alive, so determined is gone […] To me, she was someone who could have chosen to lead a very different, ordinary life. But she chose to lead an extraordinary life.”

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