Asim Butt was born in Karachi on March 26, 1978. He was schooled in Karchi, Singapore and Hong Kong. Butt started painting as a child but at his parents' insistence, went to college, where he studied Social Sciences from the Lahore University of Management Sciences. In 2000, he began a Ph.D. in History at UC Davis in California, but dropped out to pursue formal training in art after participating in a group show at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery in March 2002 with Rigo '02 and LYRIC. He returned to Karachi and enrolled in a B.F.A. in Painting at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecure, graduating with a distinction in 2006. Earlier, in 2005, Butt founded the Karachi chapter of the Stuckist art movement. That year he did three interactive performative pieces, one of which sought to claim the Mohatta Palace Museum as a lived space, resulting in his being banned from it. In 2007, he participated in group shows, 13 Satellites (Lahore), Emerging Talent (Karachi) and Sohni Dharti, part of the Shanaakht festival at the Karachi Arts Council.

While Butt exhibited in group shows in Karachi and Lahore while still a student and studio art remained a major element of his art practice, he was increasingly drawn to public art and saw it as a more powerful vehicle for artistic expression. In 2003, to wide acclaim, he painted two murals in the environs of the shrine to the 8th Century Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi. 5 Ways to Kill a Man, inspired by Edwin Brock's poem depicted the American ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign in Iraq while the other was about glue-sniffing children he encountered, while painting the first mural. Both murals were later whitewashed by city authorities, an event accepted by Butt with uncharacteristic stoicism as “the eventual and deserved fate of all public art.”

Butt’s art, always political in its content and concerns, transformed into a vehicle for overt political activism in the aftermath of Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of a state of emergency in the country in November 2007. He spoke out against military rule by starting an "art protest" movement—spray-stenciling graffiti of an "eject" symbol of a red triangle over a red rectangle, an image which rapidly became an iconic symbol of urban resistance to Musharraf’s power grab. The impact, outreach and enthusiastic reception to his graffiti inspired Butt to embark on a “Graffiti Yatra” across Pakistan in 2009. This remarkable journey, unprecedented in the annals of South Asian art practice in scale and scope was recorded in photographs and film by the photographer/film-maker Adrian Fisk.

Butt died in Karachi on January 15, 2010 by his own hand, losing a long, heroic battle to Bi-Polar Disorder. A major exhibition of Butt’s life and work, titled “Rebel Angel” opened posthumously at Karachi’s Mohatta Palace Museum to rave reviews.

 

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