Paperworks, blue and luminous
Is the textile crisis in Faisalabad fuelling extremism? Not as yet may be but with tens of thousands of people rendered jobless, it has all the potential…
By Aoun Sahi
Ever since 19-year-old Muzamil Hussain lost his job which was about three months ago, he has been walking on streets of the city and meeting his friends in different areas searching for work. Hailing from Mian Channu, a city in southern Punjab, he along with his six brothers lives in Faisalabad; all of them work in different textile factories. He has worked for five years in a power loom factory at Sadhar Site in Faisalabad city.
Most power looms have been shut down in the city, mainly because of increase in rates of raw material and load shedding of electricity and natural gas. "Four out of six of us have lost our jobs" Hussain tells TNS. "We all live in a two-room apartment in the neighbouring locality and pay Rs4,000 as rent. Four of us are married and our families live in Mian Channu. Last month, all of us together managed to send only Rs6,000 back home," he says.
Hussain's prime objective is to earn a living for his family and he says he can even join militants as a last resort. "Yes, I can consider joining them if the situation does not change in the near future. One can easily find hundreds of frustrated young men like me in these streets. We have to eat and do tell me if there is any work available," he says, sitting on a cement floor and sipping tea in a dimly-lit tea-shop in front of a textile factory that was closed down two months ago in Sadhar Site.
Pointing towards the locked gate, he says "I used to work in this factory. I come every day, hoping that my factory will open and I will start working again".
Muhammad Akram, 35, has worked in the looms of Faisalabad since he was 12. His wife and two children live in Pir Mahal town, some 110 kilometres away from Faisalabad. He shares a room with three other labourers. Dressed in a grimy shalwar kameez and huddled up in a group of around 20 friends -- all labourers from different textile factories -- to keep warm, Akram spent more than an hour over a few cups of tea and as many cigarettes explaining to TNS the situation they are facing. "We are sitting here because there is no electricity to run the power looms. I used to earn Rs3500 to 4500 every week one year back, but right now I have been earning only Rs1000 to 1200. Almost 50 percent of labourers in my factory have lost their jobs, while we start our day at around 7 in the morning and complete a shift of work (10 hours) in more than 15 hours because of load shedding."
Akram is eager to do anything to give a better life to his kids but he does not support extremism. "It will be disastrous to support the extremists because it will only make the situation worse," he says with determination, while some of his friends sitting with him disagree openly.
"I have three young daughters and they are approaching the age of marriage. If somebody gives me enough money to marry them off, I'll do anything for him," says 45-year-old Faqir Hussain in a very aggressive tone.
Faisalabad is Pakistan's third-largest city with a population of more than five million. A hub of textile industry, it is also known as the "Manchester of Pakistan." Faisalabad has always been an attraction for young, unskilled labourers from across the country. But these days, thanks to an increase in the rates of cotton yarn (raw material) and an energy crisis, many of the estimated 200,000 textile factories in Faisalabad, that according to rough estimates provide direct jobs to around 150,000 people, have closed.
"More than 60,000 power looms have been shut down completely in Faisalabad which means at least 50,000 people have lost their jobs. They can be easily recruited by extremists, because they are frustrated and there is no other available option," says Rana Muhammad Akhlaq, president All Pakistan Power Looms Association.
According to him, the price of cotton yarn per pound has increased by Rs30 to 35 in last six months. "The price of cloth in the local market has not increased with the same ratio therefore it is not feasible to run a power loom in the given situation. The energy crisis is another factor for closure of factories."
Akhlaq admits that labourers have been facing many problems because of the crisis. "Many of them have lost their jobs, while on the other hand many of the running factories have reduced the weaving rates for labourers. They have no option but to accept the revised rates as scores of labourers have already been rendered jobless due to the crises." Akhlaq adds politicians both in power and opposition are busy in the issues of NRO and appointment of judges, "Who cares for labourer and the industry?" he asks.
The situation has left Muzamil and others like him wandering in frustration in the back alleys of a city that has a history of close ties to extremism. Several militants, including 7/7 culprit Shahzad Tanveer, have proven links with the extremists in Faisalabad and got training from there, while al-Qaeda's chief of military operations Abu Zubaydah along with 18 high-profile operatives were captured from Faisalabad in 2002. In December 2009, two alleged female terrorists, who had links with both the Parade Lane mosque attack in Rawalpindi and the Moon Market bombing in Lahore, were also arrested from Faisalabad.
"Pakistan is a country of 170 million people, half of which are under the age of 21 with poor prospects for their future," says Hassan Askari Rizvi, security analyst. H e says our government as well as the West need to realise that the current situation is not good for the youth. "Unemployment and frustration can easily lead some of them to join extremists. In cities like Faisalabad which are inclusive, it is easy for extremists to mix with common people and exploit the situation," he says.
"The militants have their networks and operatives in these areas. The next question for Pakistan is what to do with these workers? If they join hands with the militants, the future of Pakistan will be very bleak. It is the duty of Pakistani government and its western allies to provide them with jobs," says Rizvi.
According to economists, Pakistan faces its worst financial crisis in at least a decade. While countries like India, Bangladesh and China saw, their economies grow by at least seven percent last year, Pakistan's economy inched along at 1.8 percent and things aren't looking any rosier this year. While the US has pledged to commit USD150 million a year in non-military aid to Pakistan, overall foreign investment continues to slip and strong Pakistani industries such as textiles, sporting goods and leather goods are bleeding. At present, the country is facing a shortage of 4,000 megawatts of electricity, while the situation of natural gas is also not good where demand for energy is being increased by 8 to 10 percent per year.
Already, people in Faisalabad are growing desperate. Nazir Ahmad Wattoo, chairman Anjuman Samaji Behbood Faisalaabad, an NGO working for the welfare of society, thinks so. Over the past week, a bank was robbed and a man en route to drop his two daughters at school was stopped by armed gunmen. "They pointed the gun at him and told him to get off. This is becoming common," he says. Wattoo adds street crime is really on the increase in Faisalabad during the last six months or so mainly because of joblessness.
Senior superintendent of police in Faisalabad Yousaf Ali admits the crime rate is increasing in the city especially after the textile crisis. "Police is doing its best here to improve law and order situation but it cannot provide jobs to them. This is the duty of government," he says.
Essence of Faiz
Faiz Foundation and Faiz Ghar conducted a host of programmes to celebrate the 99th birth anniversary of the poet
By Sarwat Ali
The celebrations to mark the 99th birth anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz started with the opening of two exhibitions at the Alhamra Art Gallery, one of photographs of Faiz and the other of paintings, titled 'Heart Still', by Salima Hashmi.
The photographs of Faiz were a treasure trove -- because these photographs, taken over a period of more than 60 years, opened an alternate window to the history of the land and its people. There was Faiz as a student, as a lecturer at Amritsar, his stint in uniform with the public relations section of the British Indian Army. It was followed by his more public days -- the Pakistan Times, The Rawalpindi Conspiracy internment, his days at the Abdullah Haroon College in Karachi, his time in Islamabad with the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the exile and finally the homecoming in the early 1980s.
One also saw Faiz as a trade unionist addressing meetings, presiding over sessions and then his friendship and association with both national and international literary figures. There were also photographs from his personal life -- his days in Kashmir, where M.D.Taseer worked as an educationist, which have rarely been seen in public.
With these photographs, so many of the significant moments of the subcontinental history dramatically re-emerged and so many of the people who were once very famous or were known to Faiz captured in the photographs brought back the past with a refreshing intensity.
The exhibition of Salima Hashmi was sombre in character. It was more a reflection of anguish and pain -- the pain has not only been personal but one that permeates from the difficult and tragic phase this society has been through.
At the book launch of Faiz's translations from Urdu to English by Shoaib Hashmi, titled 'A Song for This Day, 52 Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz', had Khaled Ahmed, Shahid Amjad Chaudry, Farooq Qaiser and Arshad Mehmood speaking about their association with Shoaib Hashmi and his role in their lives while Nadia Jamil and Noorul Hasan read some of the poems in original and translation.
A number of translations have been done of Faiz and of other Urdu poets into English but many have left the reader who knows Urdu language and literature quite dissatisfied. As it is, the difficulty in translating poetry is well-recognised -- some think that poetry cannot be translated at all, at best can only be approximated or rendered. But these translations have been sensitively handled bringing out the essence of the verse or poem. The lavishly published book, which has a rich contribution of Salima Hashmi in the form of her paintings, is a collector's item.
Faiz has been sung extensively by very well-known singers, not so good singers and by the very average. His stature is such that, for a new-comer, merely singing him can be a source of gaining popularity or seeking legitimacy, while for an established singer it is a challenge to musical creativity. Singing Faiz would really be an endeavour to break new ground in his or her musical quest.
Vidya Shah, who was invited from India, performed at the Faiz Ghar. Trained in the classical tradition, she rendered the poems of Faiz and some other numbers which she had been fond of. A shagird of Shubha Mudgal and Shanti Hiranand, she was more apt at singing the compositions which have become part of our repertoire of music especially the Bhakti and Sufic variety. She had a strong and trained voice with intonation that had shades of the Carnatic music -- not surprising, because she belongs to that region and had been initially trained in that musical culture. In a way, she presented a refreshing mixture of the two traditions of music of this area.
The basic problem with singing of poetry is: how to save it from becoming illustrative. The musical structure should not land up on a collision course with the poetical structures. On one side there is the effort on part of the singer to avoid his rendition from merely becoming illustrative and on the other is the effort that the words should not become merely incidental as is the case with the higher musical forms.
A much-improved Tina Sani sang for over an hour and a half some of the compositions which she has been singing in the past and some other compositions which have been famous for a while -- having been sung by some of the great singers of the land. She is a now a much better singer than in the past when she had started to sing Faiz about 20 years ago. Her sur is more in tune and she has the confidence to sing within oneself, without stretching or wanting to do something terribly new and creative.
In the concert she sang Bahar Aai, Mere Dil Mere Musafir, Raat Yoon Dil Mey Teri Khoi Hue Yaad Aayi, Wo Butoon Ney Dale Hain Waswase Keh Diloon Sey Khofe Khuda Giya, Gar Mujhe Is Ka Yaqeen Ho Merey Humdum Merey Dost, Aap Ki Yaad Aati Rahi Raat Bhar, and the kalam in Punjabi Raba Shachiy Too Nee Akhia Se which she made part of her repertoire Mori Arz Suno Dastgir Pir, a homage by Faiz to the great Amir Khusro. And she also sang the numbers which have become very famous like Mujh Say Pehli Si Muhabbat Mere Mehboob Na Maang, Dasht e Tanhai Main and Hum Dekhain Gey.
The musical numbers were interspersed with selected readings from the letters of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Alys Faiz by Adeel Hashmi and Mira Hashmi.
Next year will be the 100th birth anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Faiz Ghar and Faiz Foundation plan to celebrate it at a bigger level. And it should be so because the ideals that Faiz struggled for and the poetry that he created have enriched our culture immensely. It filled the hearts of people with love and a longing for peace and happiness, the crux of life.
In her recent exhibition, Salima Hashmi picks a specific idea and transforms it into a personal vision
By Quddus Mirza
We often come across strange sights in our urban environment -- for instance, a housemaid waiting for the van to take her back home along with her little son. What catches the eye is the plastic shopping bag bearing the name of a posh coffee shop that she carries. There is no obvious connection between the poor worker and the expensive coffee joint. She's probably got it from her employers to put her things in.
But it would be relevant to examine how a banal object travels from one place to the other and changes its meaning and significance in the process. There can be a thousand-and-one items available for such a study and each can lead to interesting findings. Like the history and usage of paper, a familiar item, is an apt case study; it is surprising how its transportation from one society to the other has transformed societies and their cultural products.
Paper was brought to the subcontinent by Muslims during the Sultanate period. Since then, it has been used for books, official documents and art-making along with other functions. Paper was popular with miniature painters, who prepared illustrations of manuscripts and folio paintings during Mughal, Rajput, Pehari eras and at several other regional courts. It was only after the British occupation of India that paper was replaced with canvas as a painting surface. Today, the deviation from canvas appears odd because, apart from its functional aspect, it alludes to tradition, assimilation and identity. Though, it is equally true that not many, who use canvas, are concerned about the historical, cultural and political implications of this material.
By preferring paper over canvas, Salima Hashmi has made a conscious and clear choice. She has adopted the position of the painters from Bengal School who, at the turn of the twentieth century, decided to discard oil paint and canvas, in favour of water-based medium and paper, to distinguish their work from the European examples. By doing so, they revived as well as asserted the technique and methods of Indian art. For Hashmi, the paper signifies not only a link with the East and indigenous aesthetic practices, it is also a means to move away from the large easel painting in oil-on-canvas, historically associated and dominated by male painters.
Along with these connotations, there is another explanation for using paper as her prime means of artistic expression -- it is the link with poetry that was evident in her recent exhibition (held from Feb 9-16) at Alhamra Art Gallery, Lahore. The works on display, created between 2004 and 2006, are also printed in the English translation of Faiz's poetry by Shoaib Hashmi. Even though the works on paper are made separately, their juxtaposition with poems expanded their meanings, and complemented the lyrics of one of the most important literary figures of our times.
In that sense, Salima Hashmi's choice of paper, along with its political, conceptual and artistic reasons, has another dimension – the link between her artistic expression and her father's literary excursions. The material has established a bond between the writer and the painter.
The subject matter -- and how it is handled -- also shows similarities between the two individuals. These works at Alhamra were mainly executed after the 2005 earthquake that hit the Northern Areas of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. Thus references are made to devastated settlements, broken structures, uprooted buildings and clouds of smoke and dust in her mixed media on paper. Hashmi has employed photographic images with layers of pastels, charcoal and pencil lines to denote blackened landscape. Interestingly, like Faiz Ahmed Faiz who addresses political and social subjects but transforms these into eternal questions with his command on diction, grasp of tradition and craft of lyricism, Hashmi also converts the actual catastrophe into a personal vision. In this body of work, by blending reality, atmospheric quality and painterly marks, she has conveyed the feeling and essence of a gloomy scenario.
All of this is managed through a formalist's approach which again reminds of Faiz's style -- of infusing essence of poetry in otherwise un-poetic, political matters. The introduction of flowers, glimpses of recognisable structures, collapsing sections of houses and sweeping shades of grey tones help in bringing the grave issues onto the surface, but these are dealt with in a manner that the work is not confined to one concept or content. Instead, it has a vast range of meanings and can be enjoyed and identified with for various other reasons.
This aspect of focusing on a specific idea or incident and then extending it into a symbol -- that survives the immediate and the temporary -- is maintained through his diction in the poetry of Faiz. In the art of Hashmi, it is achieved by a simple formal device. In most of the works on display at Alhamra (and in her other paintings too) she weaves her surfaces with tiny marks of ink, charcoal or crayon. Layers of these marks, of various sizes and sensibilities, add the presence of hand in her work, since these lines and dots document the painter's act of making art. It would be interesting to note that the image and term of hand is extensively employed in the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who treats it as a metaphor of resistance. In Hashmi's work, hand is an important motif as in her earlier paintings it was drawn in single or a pair next to visuals of political protest and gender oppression (picked from printed media).
In the present body of work, shape of hand has been replaced by activity of hand in the form of small and intricate lines; lines that are shared by painters and poets. Thus the art of Salima Hashmi has a common connection with the poetry of Faiz; because what else is the function of poetry and painting if not to translate and transform the world for everyone -- including other painters, poets, housemaid, her son and rest of us!
Noorjehan Bilgrami's latest collection of paintings invites the viewer to experience moments of quiet meditation while looking deeper into layers of paint
By Aasim Akhtar
The paintings and works on paper in 'Luminous Void', Noorjehan Bilgrami's recent exhibition at Chawkandi Art Gallery in Karachi, reveal a new subtlety of composition and tonal gradation. The abstract patterns that emerge in her work evoke forces of nature: light, wind and tides.
Noorjehan's new paintings shine like far-flung nebulae. Roiling, tremulous clouds of colour, shot through with white light and often underlined by spidery tracery, appear to glide and glance off one another in elegant choreographies on paper.
At first it might seem that the artist applies the colour-field, poured paint strategies of Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler. But her modus operandi is more complex than theirs -- Noorjehan deploys a mix of materials that interact to produce ethereal effects both graphic and painterly.
Each painting begins as a delicate skein of basic outlines laid down in muslin cloth. The artist then builds up a palimpsest of shifting forms of applied pigment and, of late, an idiosyncratic combination of thinned paint, washes of gesso, and natural dye -- the latter usually used only as a catalyst to speed drying, or as a medium in itself.
These procedures, through a balance of control and happy accident stemming from the interactions of her unusual materials, result in works that strike a melancholic key. Noorjehan has said that she is attuned to "beauty as a cause for melancholy," and, indeed, these latest works do exude a strong whiff of tristesse, primarily due to her palette of beige, pools of cream and clouds of throbbing greys, all haunted by shadowy graphite calligraphy.… "In a way, that is consistent with the intuitive, process-oriented approach to painting that I favour."
The longer Noorjehan continues to paint modest-size, lushly atmospheric panels, the more her enterprise takes on the character of a contemplative ritual. Yogesh Rawal comes to mind as a model for the artist's high-focus, low-profile practice, and for its deep mining of a single fertile vein.
Noorjehan paints in watercolours on sanded-smooth white panels, which for all their private scale and introspective mood, feel epic in scope.
In the early 1990s, Noorjehan's works read as landscapes pulled into the domain of the abstract through their emphasis on sublime light and colour. Since then, they have felt less predictably anchored by overt reference to sea, land and sky.
One of the six recent paintings in this show seeps rust and milk beneath a curtain of violet. Another is all heat and moisture, soft grey mixing with cool grey-blue. In these, Noorjehan conjures textures from powdery sediment to sodden cloud, and scores dramatic contrasts of density and translucency.
Noorjehan makes allusions to receding space in what appears to be a winding river or a craggy gorge, usually with a core of light -- conceivably the distant glow of a setting or rising sun. But the scenes are equally convincing as portraits of fluid movement, and of the passage of time involved in their making. Their passion is contained but vast.
'Drawings' might be a better term than 'paintings' for the works on view, since her chosen motif -- the repeated image structure of a fairly dense grid with a little zigzag line in each rectangle -- is more related to pure drawing, in the sense that there is only line on a material ground (paper or muslin) that relates the entire body of work to painting. The works actually undergo shifts in presentation, along with fairly drastic shifts in scale. And the drawing really bears more relationship to calligraphy or musical notation than to the volumetric outline that leaps to most people's minds when they think of drawing. In fact, the notational or indexical grid is a post-minimalist paradigm inclusive enough to embrace Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman.
Noorjehan's paperworks take up a natural position in this conversation, wherein the grid is both a ledger and a metaphor for the passage of time -- or perhaps a framework for some other kind of inventory.
The overall effect of these paintings is a kind of drone or encompassing weather, a mixture of the ambient and the specific that produces a mixed mood of both anxiety and serenity.
The suites on paper employ a medium new to Noorjehan -- muslin and kora latha (bleached grey cloth), which adds a subtle glaze. They seem to embody a spontaneous expression of emotion; looking at them is like reading a diary. The pieces are tranquil, with rhythmic horizontal waves of a blue tonality.
What the exhibition made indisputable was Noorjehan's ability to reveal the underlying complexity of outwardly trivial images, and to extract a sensual beauty from materials without resort to expressive (or even readily perceptible) inflection.
That paper's character shifts from drawing to drawing, the effects of creases, crumples, and tears produced with uncanny veracity. The figure changes as well -- it shrinks, grows, or multiplies, or is juxtaposed with abstract elements -- but ultimately retains both its graphic identity and its conceptual elusiveness. Noorjehan observes or imagines the figure's representation with the closest possible attention to detail, but still manages to keep the viewer at a tantalizing distance.
This exhibition of recent works featured selections from two bodies of work. Though some elements discernibly differ from one series to the next -- an underlying grid is slightly more apparent in the 'Alchemy in Blue' paintings than in the 'Void Luminous' works -- kinships prevail. Luminous colour, in particular a marine blue (read indigo) that suggests stained glass, distinguishes the entire group of paintings. A bulbous, burgeoning module that in one permutation or another has recurred almost throughout all the paintings. It generally takes the form of a soft shape that leaves its mark in negative, as if it had been applied to the surface of the painting and then pulled off.
The complicated spaces that the drawings seemingly create both behind and, more surprisingly, in front of the paper's surface expose Noorjehan's thinking most clearly. Which is to say, we feel we would like to know more.