Mobeen Ansari – Explorer of Pakistan’s Dharkan


As a three week old baby Mobeen Ansari suffered from a severe attack of meningitis which resulted in his loss of hearing in both ear. As they say when God takes away a sense, he strengthens another.

“A major point of my personal background is that I’m hard of hearing which has had a positive effect on my life and work. Because of my hearing loss I was always more visually inclined and hence became fond of arts.”

Born in Rawalpindi, his father is an IT engineer and consultant and his mother is a speech therapist. Mobeen completed his O and A levels from Headstart School, where he started hi arts education as well and later on he went to National College of Arts, graduating with a majors in painting.

Shooting in Umerkot

Copyrights @ Mobeen Ansari

Despite studying painting in the best arts college of the country, Mobeen came into limelight for his photography which he started as a hobby in 2002. This hobby became a part time profession in 2008, during his second year in college and turned it into a full time profession after graduating. He has not been consistent with his painting since completing his degree. The last theme he worked on was very political – poking fun at political billboards and the style of election campaigning.

As far as his photography preference is concerned, Mobeen shared that he enjoys photographing everything as each subject has its own charm. Still if he has to pick an option he will opt for nature in general and specifically the Milky Way and Starry skies up North.

In Pakistan, taking up arts as a full time profession is not an option available to many. To start off parents are the ones who generally consider this an unfavorable choice for a career. It is considered a great talent only if you keep it as a hobby or once you make it big. However, Mobeen has been lucky as his family has always been incredibly supportive from the start.

“They are the most supportive family you could ask for. My parents have not only given the freedom to me (and my brothers) to choose whatever field we wanted to work in, but have always given invaluable creative feedback and advice which has had a huge and positive impact on a lot of my work.”

Touching upon the subject of the future of photography in Pakistan and Pakistani photographers stand in the international community, the author of Dharkan said that the country has a lot of contemporary photographers and like other professions they are already making their mark among their global contemporaries, through exhibitions and residencies. The need of the hour is to continue at this pace and use art as a continuing dialogue, resulting in more exposure and collaboration.

Dharkan-The-Heartbeat-of-a-NationTalking about his coffee table book, Dharkan, Mobeen shared that it is the fruit of his labor of finding his purpose in life and his usefulness to the society. It all started during his final year in college when he started questioning himself and how he fits in the macro puzzle of life. During the same period, Pakistan was going through political and security crisis which resulted in an overall negative image globally.

“I wanted to do something to change that and without planning anything I just started travelling, capturing landscapes and photographing famous people. I started by photographing the (late) senior journalist Ardeshir Cowasjee and the actor Shaan and went on to photograph more famous personalities from various fields. For me the highlight was the discovery of a unique story behind the journey of each of these now successful and inspirational personalities.   

“This opened my eyes to many unsung heroes that we have in Pakistan and I photographed them as well. This became a pattern and eventually resulted in Dharkan. Reason for selecting ‘Dharkan’ as my book’s title was its meaning, that is heartbeat and these individuals are the reason Pakistan is on the map and has survived many crises over the years.”

When asked to pick his own favorite pictures in the following categories and share some interesting incident(s) while photographing them. His response(s) were:

Categories: Pakistani landscape, Architecture, Common people around you, Pakistani celebrity (male & female), International celebrity (male & female). 

Pakistan landscape – Nanga Parbat under full moon which I took in 2010.

Architecture – Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore.

Common people – An old man counting coins at a Railway Station in Lahore.

Pakistani celebrities – Zoheb Hassan and Iman Ali were my favorite shoots. They were very interactive and honest shoots. Zoheb’s shoot was very nostalgic.

International celebrities – He has yet to have a shoot that he can call his favorite. However, to date working with Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi have been the most memorable.

“The Naseeruddin Shah shoot was interesting as we found out we were distantly related through my grandmother!”

Copyrights @ Mobeen Ansari

Copyrights @ Mobeen Ansari

When questioned about the importance of arts for a society and what should be done to promote arts in Pakistan, he quoted the much used but rarely implemented quote: “Art is food for the soul” and in his opinion as a society that is in dire need of soul searching, exploring arts is very important. He believes that every individual possesses some sort of talent that is in need of exploring and nourishing. 

Given that this platform is all about breaking stereotypes about Pakistan, the subject of reaction of different nationals after interacting with him was bound to be discussed. To this Mobeen said that everyone has different perceptions. Most people he interacts with during exhibitions etc. are from art circles, hence, they are generally open minded so they do not have the typical preconceived notions. In his experience most of them are curious and want to know more about Pakistan. Referring to one specific incident in LA after his talk and exhibition, a lady came to him and said that she had no clue about Pakistan but now she wants to visit.

“I have always believed art transcends all barriers. I’ve had the privilege of having done residencies, exhibitions and talks abroad and this experience has taught me that dialogue and keeping an open mind to every culture is everything.  Even language barrier can’t get in the way of that. I believe that is something we need to build on. Pakistan has no shortage of talent.”

Currently, Mobeen is working on Dharkan 2, a collection of the minority communities of Pakistan. Follow his work here

Interview conducted & Written by Fatima Arif