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Pakistani painters sit idle as digital ads rule campaigns ahead of February polls

KARACHI: Muhammad Irshad recently whitewashed a wall in a densely populated, low-income neighborhood in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi with a solution made of lime and water and then painted on it an election promotion in vibrant colors.

While past elections were a lucrative season for painters, walk chalkers, and poster artists such as 48-year-old Irshad, the advent of digital printing has left him, and others worried about the future amid a lackluster polling season ahead of general elections scheduled for Feb. 8.

Even with elections less than three weeks away, Irshad often sits idle for hours at his small Naushad Painter shop in Karachi’s Orangi Town.

He told Arab News: “In the past, we had a lot of work, and we would rule this field. We didn’t have much time, but today, we don’t have that much work. Nowadays, if there is work, we do it, otherwise, we just sit free.”

For Irshad, who has been painting walls for the last 35 years, elections meant a surge in demand for his craft, long months painting walls and filling orders for banners, and increased incomes.

He said: “We used to write banners by hand, but now digital printing has come into banner-making.

“Panaflex (signage) has also arrived, and with the advancement of printing work, the work related to our banners has also come to an end.”

Irshad noted that he now only earned between 150 and 250 Pakistani rupees (less than $1) for painting a wall, out of which he also had to buy his materials.

“The materials required for this work have become expensive and we don’t save much from it,” he added.

His elder son often accompanies him on jobs, but he said he did not want to encourage him to pursue the line of work.

“My children come to the shop after school, and they see me working. But I don’t feel that they should be inclined to learn or pay attention to this work. I don’t think this work will exist in the future.”

However, others such as digital designer and printer, Adnan Qaiser, are thriving.

Working on the design for a poster of a candidate from the Pakistan People’s Party, a popular party in the southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, he said: “This is now the digital era, in which big panaflex hoardings are fixed, streamers are applied on poles, and what we call van-branding takes place.

“Because of this, our total work has shifted to panaflex and their (wall chalkers and painters) work has shrunk to almost 10 percent.”

One of Qaiser’s clients, Muhammad Waqas Anwar, 29, said the digital era had transformed the election campaign process for the better.

“The digitalization and printing of promotional materials have made our lives easier. Costs have decreased, time is saved, and we have the liberty to choose from a variety of designs,” Anwar added.

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