Paintings From Pakistan Red Light Area

Painting by Iqbal Hussain
Painting by Iqbal Hussain

PART II: PORTRAITS PAINTED IN PAKISTAN'S RED LIGHT AREA


….And so you walk down one of the alleys in the Red Light Area, with muffled dusty steps, till you reach a restaurant such as no other you’ve seen. Situated on the roof top of a rickety four story building, it’s the meeting point for various patrons of art, tourists, foreigners and Pakistani elite.The food smells warm and tempting, the flute player plays his sad melody, and the laughter of people rises as they sit with the inner walled city at their feet, like kings in a moment of forgetfulness.

From up above, the world of darkness below sinks to a miniature version of itself, diminished in it’s misery and size. On one side, brothels come to life under the falling cloak of night; on the other, devout heads kneel in prayer at the Emperor’s mosque. The contrast leaves you stunned into silence.



View From Roof top Restaurant overlooking the Red light Area
View From Roof top Restaurant overlooking the Red light Area
Inside the Haveli with it's Paintings
Inside the Haveli with it's Paintings


This ancient building or ‘haveli’ is home to an artist who has given the dancers and prostitutes of Diamond Market recognition denied to them in real life. Iqbal Hussain, the son of a sex worker himself, has dedicated his life to painting the women of Red Light district and immortalized them through his art. His paintings, more haunting than any I’ve seen, have been lined along every step of this building...the dark images following you as you climb a never ending circle of stairs to reach the roof top restaurant. As Hussain says, 'I portray them on canvas, portray them as human beings... they feel pain... they want their children to be educated."





….Women reclined on couches…lying in careless abandonment…faces staring at you with a fixed, almost indifferent gaze. What is it about them that leaves you feeling so unnerved, almost like a cold hand placed on your heart? Perhaps, it's because looking at the paintings, it’s you who seems to be intruding into their world…while the women are the appraising spectators looking on…or because in their wordless cry, they dare you to point a finger at them, so that it's you who is forced to lower your gaze, like a shamefaced child caught in a guilty act instead...


Whatever it is, long after you’ve left the precincts of the Diamond Market, even after you’ve gone back to your ordinary life, those eyes come back to haunt you: Painted, immovable, pinned to the wall, they mock you with their ageless look of pain that seems to have soaked to the core of their being with years of struggle….mocking you your mundane everyday struggles. And even when you close your eyes at night, somewhere, they’re still awake…staring into nothing…like creatures of a darkness that goes on forever.


A glimpse at Iqbal Hussain's paintings:

Iqbal Hussain's portraits of the Prostitutes of Lahore...
Iqbal Hussain's portraits of the Prostitutes of Lahore...
Depicting a sense of abandonment here...
Depicting a sense of abandonment here...
Remarkable is the sadness in their faces...
Remarkable is the sadness in their faces...
Titled: 'Honey'
Titled: 'Honey'
Titled: "Red Mosque." This marks the rise of Taliban influence in Pakistan..
Titled: "Red Mosque." This marks the rise of Taliban influence in Pakistan..
Notice the eyes stare back at you with that mix of sadness and defiance characteristic of the women in his paintings
Notice the eyes stare back at you with that mix of sadness and defiance characteristic of the women in his paintings
Such a wistful expression here...
Such a wistful expression here...
Could represent Hussain's own childhood memory, raised as he was among these dancing girls...
Could represent Hussain's own childhood memory, raised as he was among these dancing girls...
A self portrait
A self portrait

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Comments 53 comments

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

Well written, interesting Hub. The paintings are quite good. It's apparent that the artist cared for the women and portrayed them with dignity.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

Thank you for sharing this wonderful art with us. Striking, amazing art. As always, you write so beautifully and takes us there.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 7 years ago from uk Author

Ralph, thank you for reading...yes, this artist grew up in the red light district and all the models he used are the from there...just shows that even children born to that misery have hope...

Paradise, what can I say, except that it means the world to me to have your input on whatever I write....thank you!


Duchess OBlunt 7 years ago

Another well written hub that offers us an insightful look into another world. You do well to bring this to our attention in a manner that leaves their dignity in tack.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

thank you Duchess for your words. yes, I've seen more dignity in some of these women than all so called respectable people judging and raising fingers at them (all it needs is a little human compassion....sigh); anyway, we do what we can...i.e. to keep writing!


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

Badco I don't know why but this brought tears to my eyes (happy ones)

no words...a simple thank you...x


wesleycox profile image

wesleycox 6 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

Your writings are so clear in detail that I can visually see what you are talking about, even though I have never seen Pakistan. Keep writing and I am sorry to be late, been busy. Good job again.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

thank you for stopping by Wesley. I haven't lived in pakistan for years now ( in uk now)....but I recreate all this from memory ....almost like it was all before me still. I guess, my heart still is back home... anyway, cheers and much love..


bloodnlatex 6 years ago

You've done it again. Your words have painted a picture better than any ever hung on a wall. I felt as if I had embarked on a journey up that never ending circle of stairs, only to be rewarded with the pleasure of a wonderful rooftop resturant.

Great Job!


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

just a simple thank you...and a happy smile....your words made my day! x


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Wonderful Hub about a very sad subject. The paintings are beautiful and your mastery of words brings them to life.

Thanks for the great read :)


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

thank you for reading Sufi...nothing compared to your travel hubs though! ;)


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK

Beautifully written and very evocative. It all seems a world away from this rainy October day in England.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

I know Amanda....sitting in london, it's hard to imagine a world like that...but trust me, it's as alive and vibrant as anything I've ever seen! thanks for reading...!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Such powerfully written and evocative pictures that you create with your words. You are an amazing writer! The paintings simply season your piece like a bit of salt and pepper would do to a meal.


IslandVoice profile image

IslandVoice 6 years ago from Hawaii

Bravo for your fine hub! The paintings are lovely, thanks for introducing artist Iqbal Hussain!


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

thank you Peggy and Island for reading and appreciating this art...and what it conveys...and how it immortalizes these beautiful women. it's such a pleasure to be read by talented writers like you...smiling your way...


ralwus 6 years ago

the paintings are marvelous and he even did a self portrait I see with one of his models standing by I presume. I wonder did he tell them not to smile? He did capture the soul of each it seems. Thanks MOW. CC


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

yes, I've often wondered the same. but i have seen some of these women in real life too....and they really do have those eyes that stare at a point beyond you. it's quite unnerving actually. thank you ral, my dear friend for reading and seeing so much!


Hummingbird5356 profile image

Hummingbird5356 6 years ago

This is an interesting article. I have visited Pakistan twice but did not go to Heera Mandi. I have read about this artist before. He is a teacher at the university too. Life is hard for the poor people in Pakistan. I have seen many sights there of poverty. I hope that one day conditions will improve for the people. I like Pakistan and felt at home there even though it is completely different to Europe. The people are so friendly and welcoming.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

thank you Hummingbird (what a lovely pseudonym!) for reading and that interesting comment. I wish I could take you with me one day and show you the real heart of lahore...it's a fascinating city!

Unfortunately, because of this whole afghan war, conditions have become really difficult there for the average man, and so the country is going through it's darkest period. Still, culture, art, historical sights lie hidden like jewels that nothing can touch! cheers for reading!


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

AMAZING art! Great hub, too, of course.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

cheers Habee for reading and appreciating! yes, these paintings are even more beautiful in real life..


Richieb799 profile image

Richieb799 6 years ago from Cardiff, Wales UK

As Hussain says, 'I portray them on canvas, portray them as human beings... they feel pain... they want their children to be educated."

I definitely agree with this, my favorite pieces are the ones with the girls sitting on the table, there is so much character in their faces.

I also like the last one, the detail in the face of the man, Im assuming its the artist himself right?

I haven't seen any art from pakistan before :) I am also writing my opinions on vernacular art.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

thank you Richie for that great comment! you seem to have an eye for real art, though i must add that these paintings are way more stunning in real life than they appear here. anyway, cheers for reading and commenting!


TnFlash profile image

TnFlash 6 years ago from Tampa, Florida

Excellent Hub! The paintings are hypnotic.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

thank you Tn for enjoying this beautiful art...cheers for stopping by!


rmcrayne profile image

rmcrayne 6 years ago from San Antonio Texas

What an important body of work, Mr. Hussain commemorating these beautiful forgotten women. I would say the same thing about your work, honoring the disenfranchised from forgotten corners of the world. Happy Holidays to you and your family myownworld. Thanks for your ongoing support.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

thank you rmcrayne for your great comment! Thanks for stopping by and have a great new year! hope you enjoyed your mother's fantastic Christmas delights? take care x


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Thanks again for sharing real life and great writing. Thanks


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

And thank you to you Micky for finding the time to read and write! you're a very special and sensitive person...will be reading more of your hubs soon! x


Cheeky Girl profile image

Cheeky Girl 6 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

I enjoyed reading this and checking out some interesting paintings and art here. of course, the subject is somewhat dark and not what we are used to seeing or reading about from this amazing country. You have effectively allowed us to experience part of the culture through the eyes of an artist who could almost be compared (subject-wise anyway) to Toulouse Lautrec, the french painter who painted bordellos in France. What an amazing and facinating collecion of art. I am impressed that he was allowed to do this! Very unusual way of revealing many insights here. I like your style, MOW! Great hub as always!


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

Thank you Cheeky...each time I read a comment or hub by you, I'm just amazed at what a wonderful and kind person you are. Yes, Hussain is like the Lautrec of Asia....women with no voice of their own, come alive in their paintings! Anyway, thank you for stopping by....and for being you! :)


Cantona7 6 years ago from London

I remember seeing this guy on TV once. For those in the western world this line of work (prostitution) is a career choice as it can be well-paid but it's an altogether different story in Pakistan. Got to feel sorry for women that have to resort to this. They feel bad about themselves and society treats them as the lowest of the low. Have been to Pakistan loads of times but would never dare venture into this kind of area...


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

Thanks for the comment Cantona, and I definitely agree with you on that. Apart from this sad reality, the Red light area, is quite fascinating - great food, and stalls and stunning architecture..so I can highly recommend a visit. Anyway, cheers for reading, will be checking your work too!


summaiya soomro 6 years ago from karachi

very nice hub... ur topics are quiet unique and different..keep up the good hubbing:)


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

thank you summaiya for the kind words... :)


dreamreachout 6 years ago

Did this man not get his due recognition because he is born and from the dark alleys!!


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

He's now recognized and appreciated for his art, but it was a long and hard struggle for him yes. Cheers for reading dream...


Qureshi 6 years ago

hi there, just to update this blog. Sir Iqbal painted his mother in all of this work and shaped his house where he was grew up into a cafe recently.

brave man he is ..

Cheers!!!

Omer Qureshi


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

Thank you Qureshi for your input! Much appreciated! :)


LeanMan profile image

LeanMan 6 years ago from At the Gemba

Love the "red mosque" picture.. Reminds me of where I am now in saudi... Is there much of the wearing of the Abaya there?


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

Thank you LeanMan for your comment and how come you landed in Saudi? Unlike what most people think, Pakistan isn't a very Islamic society; the culture is indian actually, and the ubabya or these strict laws on dress/driving/working etc. for women are not common in Pakistan at all, unlike the Middle east.

It's only after this war that has pushed half of Afghanistan into pakistani land, that the islamic influence is growing but even then it's being resisted by the country at large. Hence, Iqbals' painting is very symbolic because it shows how the ordinary women are resisting this islamization.... anyway, cheers for stopping by! :)


Anu Mostafa 6 years ago

Excellent Extraordnary Speacialy in By a Pakistani artist


siamk2 profile image

siamk2 6 years ago

kool work done by Sir, and thanx to you Nadia,umm sara,,,what ever u r...well done...


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk Author

@ Anu, thank you for enjoying these..

@ siam, yes, Hussain is a great artist... thank you for stopping by.


dinesh c bhatt profile image

dinesh c bhatt 6 years ago from India (Noida)

Hi MOW,

very nice hub

I enjoyed reading this......Thank you for sharing.....


Ezad 5 years ago

Hi, you made me sad. The look, tears & sadness of the painting is killing me inside. But to tell you the truth, I did not find the beauty, simplicity & smartness in the sketched girls, which is essential to earn good living. I don’t think all those girls are fat & bulky.

It’s very sad that we can see such heart breaking visuals in most of the poor nations especially in Sub Continent (India, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Nepal & Pakistan).


Ziggy 4 years ago

Love ur wurk


Anthony Wall al Romulus of Magnellah 4 years ago

The Pakistani should travel to egypt to paint a mountain with streams flowing across the Sahara, from it. Not only will the ice and condensation that a mountain rage makes cool the planet, the shade of growth across the Sahara will amplify even more cooling effects. And we can spread water throughout Africa, and can set higher standards for humanity... _:0


Riz Khan 3 years ago

Great work, special thx from deep heart ))


Clair Ronsini 3 years ago

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Terrific write ups, A lot of thanks..

Regards! A lot of facts!


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