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The Graffiti Activist: Asim Butt [1978-2010]

I write today with a very heavy heart to hear that a fellow activist and an amazing artist is no longer with us. Asim Butt (1978-2010) aged 32 took his own life yesterday morning in his house, whatever be the circumstances that pushed him to taking this tragic step, it has left many friends shattered and in tears.

I personally knew Asim only briefly, but long enough to have realized that he did leave a lasting impression upon me. We interacted during the November 2007 General Musharraf’s martial law days, where he was one of the core founding members of the Peoples’ Resistance group in Karachi. With a section 144 enforce across Pakistan and the army & police out to arrest any violators, we looked for creative ways to visually register our protest, one pet trick were the covert gorilla protest which lasted barely 20 minutes in random locations across Karachi, but Asim brought in a new twist he organized a team of activists to graffiti various art symbols across Karachi that visually displayed our rejection of the dictatorship.

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The symbols ranged from a simple yet powerful red “eject” signs to the “Dictator 420” stenciling, all were inspired by Asim alone, he initially assembled a team of Peoples’ Resistance activists at our usual “Hawai Ada” [the covert name given to T2F more because they had a Wi-Fi connection called Hawai Ada or Airport] the assembled team took out scissors and an army of spray cans to create a number of these creative stencils and then Asim personally lead them on a gorilla mission across Karachi to spray-can stencil them on some very prominent locations in Karachi quite often under the cover of darkness to avoid being arrested. I fondly recall one day driving around the 26th street, to see every wall in the area plastered with the Asim’s infamous red “eject” symbol, a simple, yet powerful message to the looterers and plunderers of our country that we have had enough of their non sense and it’s time to Eject and make room for change

It also brings a smile on my face to recall that one day in November on the sidewalks of SeaView, where we were publicly inviting people to help us in graffiti’ing the area, out of sheer mismanagement of time we were suddenly confronted with a police mobile ready to haul us all in. The excitement which ensued was amazing, trying to negotiate out of the sticky situation, while at the same time we did our best to hide away all the incriminating evidence [Asim’s stencils and spray cans] had us all laughing for many days to come. Quick thinking by Asim and others we cajoled the police force to let us off with a stern warning, more because all the evidence had simply disappeared even to their astonishment. All credit went to Asim for his ever jovial smile and his endless energy that kept pushing us to do more.

On a side note I even fondly remember pictures of STOP signs he painted on burnt buses, cars and trucks following the aftermath of the 27th December 2007 carnage – to signify that we DO NOT want this type of massacre on our streets, he did this on his own free will risking his own life to make a very symbolic and important statement. That to be showed a very inspiring side of Asim Butt, on one hand I was busy protesting on the streets against this dictatorship, but Asim protested through his Art

He now shall live within our lives fondly remembered in such short stories about this brilliant 31 year old Grafitti Activist whom we came to know as Asim.

Here’s to Asim Butt – may he watch over us for many years to come, guide us, inspire us and help us contribute in helping steer this nation into a better future – No doubt he shall be missed, but I choose to celebrate his life, NOT morn his absence

RSVP to A tribute to Asim Butt on Monday 18th january 2010 at T2F 2.0

I share a PDF version of his interview published in GoodTimes February 2008 issue as part of their coverage of Civil Society activists leading the way for the future of Pakistan [PDF – 7MB]


  • Nadeem |

    May his soul rest in peace. He lived his life but all of us got to go, what matters is how one lived.

  • Nazia |

    Suicide is act of a coward and looser and his fighter like life style never showed such depressing signs at his peak age of productivity for which he had earned respectable repute in his social circle.

    He through out spoke out against the imposition of emergency regulations in November 2007 by starting an "art protest" movement in the form of graffiti. He painted an "eject" symbol of a red triangle over a red rectangle, an image which has now become widespread in Karachi.Butt said it was a representation to eject the military from the presidency. This popular sign reappeared in different parts of the city around the time of the emergency. ”

    He was caught on two occasions and and dodged the police by saying that it was school art project work.He always found saying that people's dignity has been overtaken by the predominant social and economic power of the military.

    So his near circle would tell us that whether he felt so badly about his dignity loss or some other break up that had forced a revolutionary artist to end his life like a faint hearted ordinary person.

  • farrah shah |

    I did not know the artist personally but I surely miss this loss.

    We so much need people like him who have varied and various ways of expression….correct me if I am wrong from the comments I gather he took his own life….He does not seem to be such a person …..but in Pakistan a thinking soul loses friends quickly or rather does not have many friends because people do not think on the same level but than that happens to all the artists …..I am just thinking what triggered or drove him to do so….

    This is very important for all of us to know so that we all provide strength and support to each other look after each other for artists to survive it is not food instead it is food for thought and strength of friends which they need to survive.

    To me this leaves a lot of question marks on the Pakistani society in general?WHy?

    We need to create an environment where artists can thrive instead of feeling suffocated….maybe we can make a circle of friends where people can read and speak and express without ridicule and criticism…

  • farrah shah |

    There is so much light in his work that it reflects hope even in adverse of human conditions,the bodies of men are thin fragile and under nourished ,the signs and symbols of power the machines are huge and their are demons but he uses bright colors and light ….it means he was full of hope and a daring person…………..

    The loss is huge….

    • anp |


      Spot on! In spite of the many internal and external struggles in life, Asim invested purpose and meaning into everything he did.


  • Ali |

    I didnt know asim personally,seems like he was sensible n sensitive.living in pakistan can be a hell for someone who has human emotions.

  • Talat Haque |

    Someone should have reached out to him ……… look around you and see if a kind word , a smile , your sincerity will make the difference between sorrow and joy, pain and peace, life and death ………… reach out and you can be sure Asim will not have lived in vain

  • Ameer Hamza |

    We don't know what prompted him to take his own life. Apparently, he looked fairly driven and creative.

    As per Islamic injunctions, anyone committing suicide is bound for hell. I cannot see how someone's soul may rest in peace after committing this blunder.

    It is unfortunate for a society to think, as some commentators have commented above, that his soul may rest in peace. If that were the case, everyone would have committed suicide to make things a bit easier!

  • M |

    @ Ameera Hamza

    As per Islam its also advisable to open your mouth only if you have something constructive to contribute.

  • P |


    I don't know why are you making stupid comment?

    it was his life not yours and whatever happend is still not cleared – I have met him 2 days before the incident and he looked in perfect form – he was so passionate about what was he doing – we were shocked by seeing the news out on newspaper after 2 days.

    Now get the hell out of this forum you Mullah's Prick.

  • Anna |

    This is so tragic. I somehow randomly came across this news on Friday. Asim was a teaching assistant in a history class I took while at UC Davis. His intelligence and perspective made a huge impression on me and his advice about future academic pursuits contributed to leading me where I am now. I would appreciate anything others might be able to share as more information becomes available.

    • anp |

      Hello Anna,

      I and some close friends of Asim are working to ensure his rightful place in the pantheon of gifted artists by organising an exhibition and catalogue of his work.

      It will be great if there is any information, anecdote, correspondence that you might have concerning Asim which you would be willing to share with us.




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  • Manthar |

    So tragic. He will be missed. No one but me can feel my toothache. We cannot know what this great artist was feeling when he took his life. It must have been very bad.