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Thursday, May  01, 2008 -- Rabi-us-Sani  24, 1429 A.H


The value of humour in art is so underrated here. We are trained, both as viewers and as consumers, to accept only the grave and magisterial as great. If a work is light in tone - if it evokes, not reverent appreciation, but a fit of the giggles - then it is deemed frivolous, ephemeral, and unworthy of sustained analysis. In other words, not art. And yet there are those who understood the worth and significance of this amazing trait. French poet, playwright and novelist Victor Hugo opined

"Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face." and Martin Luther declared

"If I am not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there."

Humour is that marvelous emotion that brings insight and tolerance while irony brings a deeper but less friendly understanding.  In the current climate of violence, terrorism and aggression humour is so essential to diffuse tension and restore sanity. We need to be reminded that despite the negative aspects of life in the twenty first century, moments of levity are vital to our physical and psychological well being. And then keeping in mind that the whole point of art is to provoke a reaction in the observer, seeing people come out of a gallery or exhibition with a smile on their face proves the point.

 Wit and comedy came forth as a positive force at a recent unveiling of Nigar Nazar's, "Gogi's Record Book" at VM Gallery.  The event became much more than just an innocent book launch as the artist proceeded to introduce the audience to her wondrous world of art and humour. Pakistans first woman cartoonist Nigar Nazar is a prime example of an artist who has utilized her humour evoking skills for the service of humanity.  For over 30 years she has been producing pictorial humour with a down to earth pragmatism. And it is her creation Gogi who enlivens her work and enables her to reach out to the public.

Nazar's comic character Gogi is a sprightly twenty something that sports cropped hair, fluttering long lashes and has a penchant for polka dots. She is playful, impish and curious about her surroundings and disarms the viewer with her frankness and simplicity. Her wardrobe changes with the times but her ebullience has never waned since she first appeared in Karachi in 1970 in the annual publication of the Institute of Arts and Crafts and later in Nazar's daily comic strip "Life with Gogi" in the Sun a now defunct daily newspaper.

The artists expressive cartoons seemingly witty and funny are not without reason. They have a strong subtext of social commentary and Gogi has carried her message forward with considerable aplomb. The book launch at VM was followed by a documentary detailing the social issues Nazar has dealt with. Her cartoons and comic strips attack the malaise of apathy and negativism and prompt and jog the public to play an active role in upholding civic order and community spirit.

A spirited and enterprising lady Nazar is in step with the times. Operating from her own Gogi studio she now handles creative works through different mediums. Her repertoire now extends to cartoon animation, book illustrations, comic strips, puppet shows, Bus wrappings, Greeting cards, Posters and banners cartoon graphics for manuals and newsletters. Animation is an expensive proposition and so far her social awareness segments have been limited to ten messages only. Often overlooked but important subjects like sexual harassment on the streets, the need to maintain cleanliness in ones immediate surroundings etc and problems of the common man pertaining to water, electricity, education, healthcare and price hikes are dealt with in a humorous and non offensive manner. Similarly her take on tribulations in a domestic environment is also impressive.

While working with UNICEF Nazar has provided useful inputs supporting the Meena project focused on the girl child, UNICEF also sponsored her participation in a training session on animation films at Hanna Barbara studios, Manila. When the cartoonist was residing in Turkey, where her diplomat husband was posted, Gogi was representing her in cartoons in the country's two leading dailies. Gogi's studios most popular social awareness programs include Bus Wrappings – eight buses in Islamabad / Rawalpindi were wrapped in her message oriented cartoons directed towards the ordinary folk. She also designed three new buses for the second largest city of Pakistan, Lahore .These cartoons were wrapped on the public buses and all carry community messages on subjects of Sexual harassment, female literacy and child safety (child abuse). Other themes are environment, national unity, child rights and good governance.

 After the 8/10 earthquake Nazar and her associates volunteered to administer trauma counselling to the young victims through entertaining puppet shows and songs supplemented by storybook and board games created by Gogi Studios. For Nigar Nazar this was a very satisfying project as their contribution eased the ordeal of the traumatized children considerably much to the gratification of their parents.

Interested in drawing cartoons at an early age Nazar wanted to become a cartoonist but there was no academic curriculum for this genre here and she progressed mainly by  independent study of books on art.. A fine arts graduate from the Punjab University the artist later went on to become a Fulbright scholar at the art dept of the University of Oregan and took a number of drawing and painting courses during her stay in Australia. In Oregan Gogi was well received and Nazar was asked to use her character in a book on the environment. This gave Gogi an international exposure.

Now settled in Islamabad Nazar continues to work on projects and give workshops and courses in cartooning at Fatima Jinnah University and Lok Virsa. She has authored 6 books and illustrated manuals for many organizations. She has been making Gogi comics for all the prominent national dailies for three decades. In 2005 the govt of Pakistan conferred on her the Fatima Jinnah award for her contribution to art.   

Concentrating mainly on domestic, social and community based issues rather than the thorny political agendas of today, Nigar Nazar addresses an urban and semi - urban viewership who readily understand her plain talk. Her soft focus approach has just the right dose of punch and satire to drive home her point and such cartoons are especially useful for spreading awareness among the semi literate common folk.

At VM Art Gallery it's a tradition to go for the best and look for excellence when mounting shows of artwork. A seasonal variation brings about exhibitions of local and foreign artworks. It was in this connection that VMAG mounted an interesting show of German Photographers, Thomas Ruff, Axel Hutte, AndreasGursky, Thomas Struth, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Candida Hofer, Petra Wunderlich, Simone Nieweg and Jorg Sasse under the title "Distance and Proxmity" making the show a learning experience for local photographers. The technique, the angle, the aperture, the light and the distance, somehow came together to capture a defining moment. The depth that was created, and the distance and clarity matched to create a fine vision was of a par excellence quality.

The exhibition includes photography of a period spanning between 1986 and 1992, and captures city structures, industrial buildings, community halls and places where an ambience may be created. It is the atmosphere captured in a scientific way where machine, technique and art put their performance altogether. All the photographs in the exhibition, in colour and mostly in black and white present an impressive show of work of art where man and machine has complimented each other.

Exhibiting after a hiatus of many years Amber Aslamís signature paintings displayed at Citi Art Gallery once again reaffirmed the artists ability to create infinite variations with a single motif. For over two decades Amber has faithfully adhered to the goldfish emblem as an exponent of her painterly prowess and still continues with the challenge of working with a familiar and limited repertoire.

Looked upon as an artist with potential while she was under training at the Karachi School of Art in the early eighties, Amber was offered a teaching post at her alma mater on completion of her art education in 1984. She taught there for the next six years but the urge to further her painting brought her under the tutelage of Jamil Naqsh. Here she acquired the basics of fusing colour, pattern and form. Her goldfish symbol emerged in the 1990ís during her studio practice at home. Fascinated with the rhythms of the fan tailed goldfish gliding in the aquarium waters and the play of light on the transparent container she began to paint impressions of the fleeting moments. An art vocabulary of faceted strokes, lines and undulating forms began to emerge. Soloís and group participations over the years enabled her to evolve a specific approach, style and subject.

 There are three basic elements when painting water: color, rhythm and flow. Amber creates rhythm with the help of color, and texture. But first she builds a trajectory of faceted components to anchor the viewers eye in the picture frame and then one notices her flowing forms fan out in a glissando move of lyrical lines and shapes.

 With playful enthusiasm and painterly seriousness Amber paints her emotional response to observations inside and outside the goldfish bowl. Her primary influences are the natural world and the inner world. Once the first stroke is down, she becomes committed to the process and it takes on a drama of its own. As with life, she works with what presents itself, allowing for both the somber and the flippant to have its way.  As her forms give way to vibrant color, shape, rhythm, depth, they become a lively discourse between light and dark, like feelings beneath words which speak as much to the soul as to the mind evoking the melancholy of a rainy day or the awareness of the vastness of the universe. And because they are not so much copies of things as harmonies in themselves, the paintings invite viewers to participate, to bring in their own experiences, perceptions, and emotions. They are not monologues but dialogues ñ decorative paintings as well as objects of reflection.

For an artist who has never veered from her chosen path she must realize that sameness can breed boredom and that she will constantly have to create novelty, colouristic, textural or compositional to sustain viewer interest. Exhibiting after long absences has kept viewer attention alive in her work but now art is moving in new directions and the status of easel painting is shifting ñ the excitement associated with experiments in oil or acrylic on canvas or paper is being lavished on newer art forms so traditional painters have to be doubly smart to retain the edginess in their work.

Conflict of minds


The Geometry of God:
A Novel
Author: Uzma Aslam Khan
Publisher: Rupa & Co., India
Price: $ 10.13 Pages: 388

A good book is not just one that that you canÍt put down (clich?!) it is one that wraps you in its magic to a point where each emotion felt by the characters is felt by you. Uzma Aslam Khan has brilliantly combined diverse opinions in her book, Geometry of God, and communicated them with empathy and fairness.

In Pakistan, there are two extreme schools of thought. One that claims in the existence of a supreme being or God and the other that claims that science is the ultimate explanation for everything that exists in this world. So in summary, it is the age old argument of religion vs. modern science. Some of us agree with one of these ideologies. Some are indifferent to them. And then some of us fall in between both. Uzma has managed to identify characters that fall in these categories in the most natural and relatable way. There is Nana or Zahoor, the liberal and quintessential modern man who believes completely in science. His polar opposite is NomanÍs father, the firmly religious leader who refuses to accept any idea beyond those confirmed in the Quran. Between these two extremes is Noman. He is confused, is fascinated by both ideologies and is struggling to find himself and his mission. He represents the familial pressure some of us feel when choosing and following a religion, because throughout the book he must decide between his beliefs and those of his fatherÍs. Then there is Amal, a liberal woman and ZahoorÍs granddaughter who is always questioning things as they are. She represents the Pakistani woman who must deal with societal stigmas as well as hold her own in this patriarchal society. Lastly there is Mehvish, AmalÍs blind sister who gives us insight into what we may have missed through just the visuals.

Uzma has built up the plot by switching between characters as they tell their tale. She uses them to describe the political situation of 1980s Pakistan under Zia-ul-Haq and how the country underwent drastic changes which affected everyone. She describes how the changes occurred so subtly that people ïevolvedÍ to accept them. Her comments are reminiscent of our countryÍs current situation.

All these characters, plus a diversity of others combine to epitomize the eternal conflict of science versus religion. Uzma ties the story around evolution, a concept that is much debated and passionately accepted or rejected globally. Her characters personalize these views and then spend their whole lives living in accordance. The way Uzma has given them life through their confusion, their strife and their emotions, one ends up relating to one character or the other at some point in the narration. All major characters face hardships because of their beliefs, which is something we are all too familiar with.

Her style is abstract, abrupt yet completely engaging. She switches between characters, giving each enough time to establish their personalities and their beliefs. Her analogies and descriptions are fantastic, well thought out and unique. They make you lean back and muse with a smile on your face. Like in Chapter 2 she says ïƒif you fail to believe a Communist turncoat can walk free on the streets of an American ally, you fail to understand the law of the Islamic Republic; what shouldnÍt happen does.Í

She writes simply and with feeling, the language perfectly matching the personality of each character. Yet, in the simplicity, she manages to communicate the dilemma of conflicting ideologies and makes one sympathize with the other regardless of their disposition.

Uzma Khan goes into minute details giving the reader the opportunity to not only understand but feel and experience the ambiance and setting. She also describes the event from many viewpoints enhancing the readers experience multifold, with Mehvish punctuating each experience with an insightful description. She as a character gives the others a voice, making us look further into what they were feeling compared to what they were saying.

The writer has a unique sense of satirical humour. At one point she says ïHis new LoveÍs reading. Discovered it here (Lahore), of all places, in a city with a lower per capita consumption of books than Mars.Í Upon reading such comments, one is forced to grin at the intelligence of the writer. The comical names she gives to some of her characters like ïReal SalmanÍ or ïPipsqueakÍ gives the reader a great visual aid when imagining the characters and makes them memorable. The same humour also comes through in her ability to play with words.

It was a pleasure to read this profound, yet straightforward book. It was almost like attending a function and meeting complicated, unique and diverse people who open to you a door to their lives and their minds.


Life's Span

Life keeps playing its game

I may be there, or may not

Here today, gone tomorrow

Have nothing to call mine

I walk in emptiness

Looking for meanings

I find none

And then nowhere to go

Emptiness and silence


When the moazzin calls

Its time for prayers

When in silence

The bugle sounds – life's end

All that was being done

Comes to an end

And the soul betrays

Its lifelong companion

Today here, tomorrow nowhere

-- Mohsin S. Jaffri


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