issue
Judging the qazis
The role of the newly-formed qazi courts remains ambiguous amid ANP claims this is nothing new
By Delawar Jan
Although the draft of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation awaits President Asif Ali Zardari's approval, the qazi courts have already started functioning in the Malakand region since March 12, 2009.

review
In the name of miniature
Muhammad Zeeshan's latest work, displayed in Rohtas 2, reflects his growing dissatisfaction with tradition as well as the modern methods of contemporising it
By Quddus Mirza
Mohammad Hassan Askari, one of the most influential literary critics in Urdu, in his essay 'What is Tradition' quoting Rene Guenon says that traditional art and literature can only be created in a traditional society; and traditional society is one which is based on metaphysics. Askari elaborates that metaphysics is not about various concepts; it is the idea of 'One', which is common in all cultures -- including Islamic, Chinese, and Indian -- with a diversity of manifestations and expressions.

Who are these women?
In Akbar Hafeez's new art, decorative plays an important part for beauty, he says, is anything that makes one smile, and is pleasing in one's surroundings
By Amra Ali
In Akbar Hafeez's decorative art, the visual appears to co-exist with the artist's mental landscape, where the lyrical and the light-hearted are masked with considerable pathos and angst. His women look alike, yet, as we move closer their haunting eyes pierce through us, eliciting sadness and loneliness as they peer from behind tree trunks. The stillness of faces reflects many moods and locations.

No mean feet
Full marks to the team that taught Alhamra's dance batch the finer aspects of the art
By Sarwat Ali
It was edifying last week to see Alhamra's dance batch pass out with their customary ceremony which involved dance performances. Full credit should be given to the team that has ensured that dance classes continue at Alhamra.

 

Judging the qazis

The role of the newly-formed qazi courts remains ambiguous amid ANP claims this is nothing new

By Delawar Jan

Although the draft of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation awaits President Asif Ali Zardari's approval, the qazi courts have already started functioning in the Malakand region since March 12, 2009.

The regulation, a result of an agreement between NWFP government and Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), provides for the establishment of the qazi courts in the Malakand region, which includes Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Shangla, Buner, Malakand, Chitral and the troubled Swat and Kohistan districts. The man behind the peace deal is the TNSM chief Sufi Mohammad.

Analysts accuse Sufi Mohammad of toeing the militants' line in the guise of 'reconciliatory efforts' with the government. His say in the appointment of the qazis and representatives of the militants monitoring their proceedings has put a question mark on the impartiality of the newly formed courts. They also doubt the setting in which these courts may operate.

The TNSM chief has approved the appointment of seven qazis -- Pirzada Noor and Ihsanullah in Babozai; Muhammad Riaz in Matta; Omar Ali in Bahrain; Sajjad Ali in Kabal; Muhammad Rahman in Khwazakhela; Muhammad Rasool Shah in Barikot. He has already ordered the qazis to decide the cases in line with Shariah -- or be removed from the office.

According to news reports, solicitation has been declared un-Islamic and lawyers have been barred from appearing before the qazi courts. "Judges to regular courts are working, but they have been asked to keep adjourning the cases till the approval of proposed Nizam-e-Adl," says Aftab Alam, President Swat Bar Association told TNS.

Although the qazi courts have started hearing cases of non-serious nature, Alam is not sure which jurisdiction these courts are working under since the Regulation is still awaiting the approval of the president. He suspects the qazi courts will not be able to replace the regular courts.

But Malakand Commissioner Syed Muhammad Javed is of the opinion that gradually "the qazi courts will replace regular courts".

Reportedly, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) has expressed reservations over the interference of TNSM in the affairs of the courts -- in issuing orders to stop regular courts from functioning and the appointment of qazis. Some reports suggest that PHC may take up the issue with the NWFP government.

Commenting on the standard of the judgements given by the qazi courts, Aftab Alam says: "Transparency and impartiality cannot be maintained under pressure. Adjudication is no exception." He adds that the constitution though does not prevent any person from witnessing court proceedings yet he is apprehensive about the presence of TNSM and Taliban representatives in courtrooms. "Be it a judge or a qazi, he should feel secure and protected to decide cases without any fear or favour, but it does not seem to be the case in Swat," he observes.

President Peshawar High Court Bar Association Latif Afridi corroborates Alam's views. He adds that the presence of overseers in the court premises reflect that even Sufi Muhammad lacks confidence in them. "A judge must be independent and not under the influence of any person or group. Qazi is a judge and not personal servant of Sufi Muhammad. This is nothing but a drama."

In defence, the TNSM spokesman Amir Izzat Khan says that "qazis are independent. There is no pressure on them. But it is necessary to keep a vigil on the courts' judgements to ascertain if they are in line with shariah. The qazis should provide us with a copy of the judgements so that we can examine it. We will see whether the verdicts are in accordance with shariah and that valid reasons have been provided." He further explains that Sufi Muhammad will interview prospective qazis, and will judge their knowledge on shariah. He remarks that Sufi Muhammad was neither interested in becoming a qazi nor wanted a role in the government set-up.

Khan reiterates that the government had agreed with TNSM to establish qazi courts as per the peace deal, made on Feb 15 this year, according to which, "All (regular) courts should cease functioning immediately not only in Swat, but also in other districts of Malakand besides declaring all verdicts made after Feb 6 null and void," he says. Regarding ban on lawyers to appear in qazi courts, he said, they could write petitions and replies (Jawab-e-Dawa) for litigants, but cannot represent petitioners and respondents in court proceedings -- "as it is against shariah".

But Alam argues that there's nothing un-Islamic about his profession. "Constitution, statuary laws and his profession are his basic rights." The TNSM, he adds, holds that shariah does not consider it mandatory for parties to hire a lawyer. "Appearing of a lawyer is not mandatory anywhere in the country even now," he claims.

About criteria for the appointment of qazis, Commissioner Javed says that any person having LLB or LLM or the shariah degree could become a qazi. Also those who have a Master's degree along with Dars-e-Nizami will be eligible for the post. He informs that all the seven qazis, presently working in Swat, were appointed in 1994 and have 14 years of experience to their credit. "Their number will be increased with the workload."

Generally, there is ambiguity among the locals about the real role of the qazi courts -- as the government has not yet made the draft public. Many people believe that qazi courts will be presided over by Taliban or TNSM people, something that can be detrimental to the NWFP government.

It is said that people will be allowed to file appeals in Darul Qaza -- a court equal to the status of the high court. Also, it is learnt that a provision for the establishment of Darul Darul Qaza is also being inserted in the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation to address objections about the bypassing of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Awami National Party Central Leader, Senator Haji Adeel, while talking to TNS refutes all the criticism. He says this regulation is nothing new. It was initiated by the PPP government in 1994 and was implemented with minor changes by PML-N government in 1999. The only change, he claims, is that the timeframe for decision of cases has been specified -- four months for criminal cases and six months for civil cases.

Adeel says that ANP has proposed that just like the NWFP high court bench in Dera Ismail Khan and Abbottabad, a high court bench should now sit in Malakand as well.

About the qualification of qazis, he says, "the civil judges in other areas of NWFP, when transferred to Malakand will be called qazis."

 

review

In the name of miniature

Muhammad Zeeshan's latest work, displayed in Rohtas 2, reflects his growing dissatisfaction with tradition as well as the modern methods of contemporising it

By Quddus Mirza

Mohammad Hassan Askari, one of the most influential literary critics in Urdu, in his essay 'What is Tradition' quoting Rene Guenon says that traditional art and literature can only be created in a traditional society; and traditional society is one which is based on metaphysics. Askari elaborates that metaphysics is not about various concepts; it is the idea of 'One', which is common in all cultures -- including Islamic, Chinese, and Indian -- with a diversity of manifestations and expressions.

Examined in the realm of miniature art, the role and relevance of tradition invokes many questions. One wonders if the whole act of reviving miniature, initiated in the ateliers of NCA -- apparently based upon preserving, prolonging and projecting the elements of traditional aesthetics in modern or post-modern times -- has anything to do with tradition.

This paradigm itself poses a paradox because according to Askari and Guenon, traditional arts can only survive in a traditional society; and any attempt to cultivate an art from the past for present purposes invites problems, both in terms of visual expression and conceptual clarity.

When we look at the present miniature painting, we immediately believe it to be a continuation of tradition in this land, without realising that what we consider as our own tradition may have been a medley of many elements: Influences from various cultures and periods constantly colliding, converging and combining into a form that kept changing with time.

Muhammad Zeeshan's work is a comment on the notion of tradition in the art of miniature painting. Zeeshan studied at NCA and has been exhibiting extensively since his graduation in 2003. Earlier on, his work was confined to conventional rendering on usual wasli surfaces (though the artist often tried to experiment with his medium and materials by introducing other substances and techniques). Yet one could detect a developing uncertainty in his approach towards his chosen genre. Threads, holes in the paper, and digital prints as the background were a few examples of his moving beyond a certain prescription of miniature painting. However, these experiments too were not new or uncommon since these could be included in the routine of making 'modern' miniature.

It is only in his latest work, 'Abrasive Drawings,' shown from March 17-21, 2009 at Rohtas 2, Lahore that the artist seems to be undertaking a different course. All three works displayed in the exhibition reflect his growing dissatisfaction with tradition as well as the modern method of contemporising it. Two works were executed in graphite on large scale sandpapers, while the third piece was an installation that consisted of a painted surface, being swallowed by slowly rising level of black ink/paint. The works on sandpaper, titled 'Dying Miniature' and 'Dying Miniature and Painting' depicted silhouette of horse riders, both a Mughal figure and of Napoleon, and a man on the top of an elephant, while another one being trampled under its feet. The installation contains a yellow paper with a line in Urdu Hasool e-Rizq Halal Ibadat Hy written as if with white thread stretched on different points.

In terms of visuals, neither historic figures nor the text offers any original imagery, but it is the way of drawing and the context that provides the main content of Zeeshan's work. The choice of graphite as medium and the selection of sandpaper for the surface reveal the artist's discontentment with the modern miniature. Preferring graphite to traditional paints (handmade colours used during the Mughal and Rajasthani/Pehari periods and Winsor & Newton tubes and cakes, applied in the present times) and opting for rough surfaces instead of smooth wasli sheet denotes his urge to modify at the basic level. So if the imagery remains the same, the altered materials convey the way tradition can be investigated in our era.

The scale of sandpaper drawings was significant, too, since miniature painting in our surroundings (due to studying it as reproductions in the book, in most cases) has been associated with small size. Zeeshan extended it to unexpected dimension, interestingly because for an ordinary viewer, sandpaper also holds a specific size. So, the artist has negated both the concepts (during the inauguration, he repeatedly explained that those large sandpapers exist and are employed for industrial purpose).

Zeeshan has also challenged the idea of heritage; two sides of a work are drawn from two separate sources, Mughal miniature as well as a European painting. Yet both parts do not look too dissimilar due to identical measurement and treatment. Likewise, the installation with the inscription on earning legitimate income, which was devoured by black liquid, alludes to the commercial aspect of miniature painting.

Zeeshan's new work is important in another way; it illustrates and culminates that whatever is being created today, in the name of modern miniature, may not be classified as miniature, modern miniature, new miniature or contemporary miniature. Till one finds a new definition for the current phenomenon and practice, it can only be seen but not named.


Who are these women?

In Akbar Hafeez's new art, decorative plays an important part for beauty, he says, is anything that makes one smile, and is pleasing in one's surroundings

By Amra Ali

In Akbar Hafeez's decorative art, the visual appears to co-exist with the artist's mental landscape, where the lyrical and the light-hearted are masked with considerable pathos and angst. His women look alike, yet, as we move closer their haunting eyes pierce through us, eliciting sadness and loneliness as they peer from behind tree trunks. The stillness of faces reflects many moods and locations.

So, who are these women? What are they talking about? I asked Akbar Hafeez, at his solo exhibition held at Zenaini, Karachi, from March 13-21, 2009. Akbar replies that these are not women per se, but his feelings, parts of himself in conversation with each other. In other words, the stylised forms of these faces convey a glimpse of what is happening inside the body or the mind, apart from being the physical form that creates the visual movement within the work. These are, in fact, the artist's persona and in many ways a self portrait, surrounded by a web of branches, sometimes overshadowed by it too. Also there is fruit, like pomegranate, and birds symbolising hope and positivity.

Akbar's world is one in which the decorative plays an important part -- for beauty, he says, is anything that makes one smile; anything that's pleasing in one's surroundings.

His involvement with interior design overlaps with his art, just as a graphic artist may bring his own aesthetics or concerns into his painting or sculpture. This overlapping of opposing concerns can produce a disjointed voice, but also brings interesting issues to the surface.

The artist's latest work sees him moving beyond his earlier use of flat colour and form into a more ambiguous use of textural nuances. The muddiness that is created by the mixing of colour breaks open the closed and covered approach in which everything uncomfortable was hidden under the table. This baring of the self leads to a more personal approach in which his art is used to express a greater range of emotions.

This opening up must also take into account that the frame of the painting should not overshadow the work. How important is the frame, and is it necessary at all?

Fine art has been separated into a sacred space which is usually considered apart from the material and the functional. That is why the term 'drawing room art' has been used to categorise work that relies mainly on the placement of colour and form in a way that drawing rooms come alive and look more beautiful. But Akbar is dead against making variations of one composition in different colours to suit a clients' preference. At the same time, he does feel that there is no harm is producing work that is aesthetically pleasing or beautiful.

This brings us to issues relating to the influence of cinema hoardings and billboards in art. How do we mark that point when this type of work becomes 'art' and who enforces that stamp of authenticity? After all, we have 'senior' artists who are appropriating the colours and forms/vocabulary of the truck (truck art), and their work is also designed to decorate the collectors' drawing rooms. Local art galleries put them on a pedestal, because this type of work caters to a certain class of clients.

Art critics, on the other hand, dare not ask too many questions -- because it is preferred not to create unease in the system where the gallery sales and artist marketability are affected. Of course, they can talk about artists who get more successful artists to touch up their paintings and then sell them off as their own; artists who copy openly and are in demand; and artists who churn out horses and pigeons and are given highest awards. Pigeons and horses are untouchable in our art milieu. At the same time, we have some miniaturists, not all, who are cashing in the local markets by appropriating and stylising form; then there are clever artists (making clever work), who are part of the international arena catering to a bigger system. What seems to be important is the commercial aspect and marketability of style, not content. Unless, of course, style is understood to be the content.

 

No mean feet

Full marks to the team that taught Alhamra's dance batch the finer aspects of the art

By Sarwat Ali

It was edifying last week to see Alhamra's dance batch pass out with their customary ceremony which involved dance performances. Full credit should be given to the team that has ensured that dance classes continue at Alhamra.

For many years, Naila Riaz has taken the responsibility of conducting the class. A practising dancer for many years, Naila has gone through rigorous training in the classical tradition. She has been persistent in coping with students with varying abilities, commitments and expectations while facing prejudices and misperceptions regarding dance in the larger sections of the society.

Other than sporadic attempts, no consistent development in the institution building has been witnessed. Now, more than ever, the arts in general and the performing arts in particular are being targeted for creating intimidation and fear. The task seems to have become more difficult with each passing phase.

Despite the odds, some people have shown resilience against opposition and meager or non-existent funding. Dance classes have continued with a degree of consistency despite immense pressure from certain quarters. Even during the very dark days of Zia's regime kathak classes somehow survived. The fact that it was tucked away in the basement may have helped but primarily it has been the courage and tenacity of those who refused to buckle under pressure.

Dance was probably the last major discipline to be taught at Alhamra. The old building had a makeshift hall of about 120 seats and it was used primarily for theatre productions especially after Faiz Ahmed Faiz became its secretary in the very late 1950s. There was a hut where art classes were held and occasionally an exhibition was put on display, and in the adjoining rooms Feroze Nizami and Khalid Anwer taught the shagirds the finer aspect of classical vocal music while Sharif Khan toiled with his veena and sitar in an effort to pass on the intricacies of string instruments to the next generation. Dance classes started in the 1970s and Maharaj Ghulam Hussain Kathak took up the assignment with his usual flair. Naila Riaz was one of the first shagirds of the Maharaj, and after his death, took up the responsibility of teaching the shagirds the finer aspects of kathak.

The few dancers around have faced an uphill task. Naheed Siddiqui starting as a young enthusiast too had found her first ustad in Ghulam Hussain Kathak in Lahore. After her sojourn with Birju Maharaj in Kathak Kander at Delhi her true potential found the right expression and style. The traditional kathak, with the stamp of the Luchknow ang visibly printed on her style, she has mostly performed abroad.

Sheema Kirmani, who celebrated 30 years of the setting up of the dance and theatre, Tehrik-e-Niswan, will be the first to point out to the difficulties involved. It may have been even more difficult for her because she chose to take up a style that had very few takers in the country. Bharatnatyam and Odyssi are even less seen and appreciated than the slightly more familiar kathak. She has also diversified into a kind of a narrative through dance, a little away from pure dance, like her acclaimed number on The Song of Mohenjodaro which because of the story-like format is more appreciated.

Nighat Chaudry and Fasih too have struggled with their purer numbers and have also branched out into dance drama revolving round legendary/folk characters like Heer Ranjha.

In the absence of any full-fledged institution, dance has struggled to survive in the shadows with the result that there has not emerged any significant movement or trend in this very vital form of art. The living tradition in Pakistan comprise the folk variety that one sees, mostly performed by men, or the ones seen at the various shrines, exclusively performed by men, in the films and of late the dance in music videos.

Like in music the classical tradition has suffered the most. And the lack of a reference has allowed dance to adopt a freewheeling approach which has not really had time to find a maturity of form for itself. In this age of globalisation, the most difficult aspect is to bring into any kind of discipline and order all the various influences that one is subjected to all the time.

The shagirds (students) who had passed out went through the kathak repertoire -- the salaami, the thumri, the tarana and moved on to the last part of pure dance with subtle rhythmic variation on some taals. The division of the taals left everyone hopeful and reaffirmed the traditional view that the most important aspect in Kathak is footwork.

Naila Riaz should be saluted for her patience. Her biggest reward ultimately rests in her shagirds continuing with dance and developing it to the point that it reaches a higher threshold. But it is uncertain as to where these dancers will go. In the absence of a full-fledged dance institution, a living tradition that ensures and guarantees absorption of talent and development of these students too will find the road ahead rocky, and testing their patience.

 

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