Pakistani ‘reunites’ UK student with her artwork after serendipitous find

London: The story of how an English fashion student lost her artwork, and eventually recovered it thanks to the kindness of a Pakistani photographer, has captivated social media.

Grace Hart, 20, now a fashion student at Manchester Metro­politan University, says she was heartbroken some years earlier when she discovered that her mother had accidentally discarded her art portfolio as it was kept in black bin bags.

“I was applying to university at the time and was gutted to lose the material. My mother called charity shops when she realised what had happened, but they all said they didn’t take any paper or books. We panicked then,” Ms Hart said.

Although the student and her distraught mother eventually gave up their search, deliverance came from unexpected quarters, thousands of miles away in Pakistan.

Story of how fashion student Grace Hart’s portfolio ended up at a Lahore thrift shop has captured people’s imaginations on social media

The fashion student said she was stunned when, on New Year’s Day in 2022, she received an Instagram message from a stranger saying he had found her artwork at a thrift shop in Lahore.

“We’ve never really discovered how it got to Pakistan. All my work was in bin bags next to other bin bags which had sort of a mix of charity bags or trash bags.”

The contents of those bags had ended up at a thrift shop in Saddar Bazaar, Lahore. There, they caught the eye of Lahore-based fashion photographer Tajwar Munir.

Mr Munir said her work caught his eye and he was amazed that someone would throw that work away. He said he came across “nearly 200 pieces of art” at the thrift shop.

“I don’t go there very often, but my mother is a regular as she was born in Saddar and knows the good shops and places to eat. These thrift shops have very cool things, from sculptures, to art and one-off pieces.”

“I was going through stuff in the shop as I was looking for pieces to put in my room. I planned to cut the pictures and have them framed, when the thought occurred to me: ‘how can someone throw this work or give it away’?”

Mr Munir said the paintings were all signed by Grace Hart, and he proceeded to search for her on Instagram.

Ms Hart told the BBC she initially mistook the message for a scam and almost didn’t respond. But when the two connected, she was overjoyed. “He got in touch with me a year after I lost them. I remember thinking ‘Oh my God — he’s found them’.”

Mr Munir shipped the material to the United Kingdom to its owner, which she received in July 2022.

“We’ve exchanged loads of messages on Instagram. Without him, I would never have got my books back,” Ms Hart said.

Mohammad Anis, the owner of the shop where the photographer discovered her lost artwork, said his shop sells random items that have been purchased from UK charity shops. His shop, B.UK collection, is located near Delhi Road in Lahore Cantt.

“This is all stock people throw away [in the UK] or what we call kabarr. Our vendors overseas get it from charity stores, pre-loved item stores, or even homes. They buy all this stock, and then it goes to warehouses in the UK. From there, it comes to us,” Mr Anis said.

“Mostly, it is crockery, electronics and toys.”

In small video clips shared over Whatsapp, Mr Anis showed decorative plates, framed art and tiles on display in his shop. “We pay between Rs500 and Rs1,000 per kilo for these bulk items, and then sell them to our customers.”

Mr Anis said he has been in the business for about 15 years. “We have an eye for what is good. Sometimes we get single pieces from crockery sets of Wedgwood and Royal Albert. Women who have these sets at home and have a few broken plates come to us to find pieces.”

In 2015, a BBC report titled ‘Where do your old clothes go?’ described how used clothing donated to charities in the UK ends up getting shipped abroad, including to Pakistan.

The story of Ms Hart’s lost and found artwork was shared by many on social media, including historian William Darymple. Many praised it as a “heartwarming” or “feel good” story with some saying Tajwar Munir was the “first hero of 2024”.