art in Dubai
The shadows of 1950s
The history of Pakistan-US relations is a chain of identical sequences that began with Pakistan hoping to receive from the US what it could not concede, wanting Washington to solve problems that Islamabad alone could solve, and crying foul when the US chose to walk away after its limited objectives had been achieved
By I. A. Rehman
The story of Pakistan courting the US and the US courting Pakistan at the beginning of their love affair reads stranger than fiction, especially now that several publications based on declassified papers have become available.
Pakistan began seeking US aid to overcome its economic problems and defence equipment shortages on the very morrow of independence. The Quaid-e-Azam could not be blamed for launching the drive to secure US support. The United States had not only played a decisive role in the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II but had also generously funded the recovery of a badly ravaged Europe, including the land of its erstwhile foes. As the only major belligerent power that had gained economically from the most horrible conflict in history, while paying a heavy price in human life, it appeared to be genuinely keen to help newly independent countries.
Besides, the memory of the role played by the US President's representative in India in pushing for the subcontinent's freedom (which the British thought was motivated by a desire to open a vast market for the US goods) was fresh in the Quaid's mind. The Cold War had begun but its implications were not fully clear, especially to those engaged in building a new state without the requisite resources.
However, it was not long before it became clear that the US was no Santa Claus distributing sweets to poor kids and that it was going to offer aid only in exchange for facilities it needed to contain the Soviet Union. Pakistan was identified quite early as a potential ally in the fight against communism. When as early as March 1950 an American diplomat heard a Pakistani nobleman (we only had noblemen and no political leaders) talking of this country's becoming neutral, he rushed a frantic message to Washington that the loss of Pakistan's "air-fields and soldierly qualities... might be the balancing weight between victory or defeat at the hands of the USSR".
Far more frantic were the efforts of Ayub Khan, Ghulam Mohammad and Mohammad Ali Bogra to be recruited as Co War knights. They posed to be greater enemies of Communism than Churchill and Truman and it was for that reason that Ghulam Mohammad wanted to promote a bloc of Muslim states. They were ready to guide the Middle East into the Hollywood paradise and also to save Iran from the 'free world' once rabble-rousers like Mossadeq had been taken care of.
Pakistan's fate was decided during 1950-54. While the US was driven by the Dulles Brothers' passion for an anti-communist crusade the Pakistani bit players in the action thriller were displaying their supreme determination to realise their death wish. Some of the features of the story of those years lie at the root of Pakistan's travails over the succeeding decades.
It was in those years that a state within the state of Pakistan started emerging Ayub Khan, only Commander-in-Chief of the Army at that time, was negotiating deals with the US that were fraught with grave consequences and making commitments on behalf of Pakistan over the head of the government. The State Department deemed it necessary to inform Dulles (JF) that Ayub had no authority to negotiate aid matters and that real talks would be held with Bogra in Karachi. But then Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad joined Ayub in the US. "The Pakistan Parliament and Cabinet were not consulted or even informed about the discussions, although Bogra and Zafrullah 'actively participated'." (G W Chaudhry, quoted by Farooq Bajwa in Pakistan and the West: The First Decade 1947-1957, OUP).
In plain words, the army chief had begun to exercise (unauthorisedly, of course) power that exclusively belonged to the state. This marked the beginning of Pakistan's fall from the status of a state which must have monopoly of power in its jurisdiction. The chhut-bhaiyyas who recently tried to take liberties with the ISI seem to have woken up half a century too late.
Secondly, regardless of what Messrs Ayub Khan and Ghulam Mohammad were saying, the Americans were aware that the people of Pakistan were by and large opposed to the US strategy of military pacts. They were above all keen to gain Kashmir. This fact -- the Pakistanis seeking US aid -- did not conceal. However, they were convinced of their ability to overcome the public hostility to military pacts by telling them that the US arms will help them wrest Kashmir from India's stranglehold. To be fair to the Americans, they were not a party to this Pakistan design for self-deception. They consistently made it clear that the US military hardware could not be used for any purpose other than that of fighting Communism. Likewise they repeatedly told Pakistan that the US would honour its commitment to support Pakistan in a conflict, under the mutual defence agreement, only in the event of a Communist aggression. Thus, when in 1965 and 1971 Pakistan state's caretakers protested against US failure to come to their aid and went to the extent of accusing them of breach of faiths they looked like junior actors standing in for artists whose roles they had not read. Also, in the early 1950s, Pakistan was determined to adopt America's war as its own. Fifty years later, the powers that be are putting the state's security at stake by practically treating Pakistan's conflict with militant mercenaries as America's war. This should not be considered as a reversal of roles. What is happening now is a continuation of the delusory politics learnt while joining the Cold War in the 1950s.
Thirdly, Pakistanis have been taught to criticise Nehru for using Pakistan's joining the US military bloc as an excuse to wriggle out of this commitment to let the people of Kashmir decide their future. Unfortunately, no record of any discussion on the likely impact of Pakistan's military pacts policy on the Kashmir issue is available. One reason could be that the practice of burning "unwelcome records", which was discovered by Roedad Khan while trying to locate documents relating to the 1970-71 misadventures in East Bengal, had begun as early as the eventful days of Nazimuddin's premiership. However, one does find in the American papers a reference to the Pakistan government's view that once India learnt of the US arms supplies to this country it would drop its intransigence on Kashmir. But a far more telling observation is attributed to Chaudhry Mohammad Ali who said Pakistan's choice of alliance with the US meant an end to hopes of a fair settlement on Kashmir and for this Pakistan could ask for higher piece than it was being paid by the US. That is how Pakistan gave up Kashmir.
Fourthly, the responsibility for ignoring the country's economic interests in favour of dangerously inflated defence forces lay with the Pakistan authorities alone. The Americans did not fail to point out that by concentrating on the development of its military machine at the cost of its economy, Pakistan was creating problems for itself. It was also creating problems by believing that it could use US aid to fight India. A most revealing instance has been recorded by Shuja Nawaz in his excellent study, Crossed Swords. The head of the MAAG in Pakistan, Gen Truman, had an argument with Ayub Khan early in 1958, when he came to Rawalpindi with Rosewell Whiteman. The latter had come to give a lecture to senior officers at the Pakistan Army GHQ on 'The Economic Problems of Pakistan'. Truman questioned Ayub's assumptions about employing US aid to prepare for a war with India and Ayub retaliated by doubting Truman's military ability. Then Ayub asked if General Maxwell Taylor, who was expected in Rawalpindi after a couple of weeks, shared Truman's views and when the latter answered in the affirmative, Ayub declared that he did not want to see Taylor. In its eagerness to become the 'most allied ally' of the US the Pakistan rulers began the tradition of not trying to ascertain where the country's national interest lay.
The history of Pakistan-US relations is a chain of identical sequences that began with Pakistan hoping to receive from the US what it could not concede, wanting Washington to solve problems that Islamabad alone could solve, and crying foul when the US chose to walk away after its limited objectives had been achieved. Many people ask when and where Pakistan started going wrong. They should study the events of the 1950s. Throughout that decade Pakistan kept going wrong with a consistency and single-mindedness unmatched by a modern state. Military pacts with the US, the first dismissal of an elected government, the sack of the Constituent (which was also National) Assembly, the anti-Ahmadi riot, the rigging of elections, the extinction of provincial entities (through the creation of One Unit), the last UN Security Council resolution on Kashmir and the imposition of the first martial law -- all these trend-setting events took place in the fifties and they were all related to one another. The shadows of 1950s are still blocking Pakistan's view.
Discovering art in Dubai
The Emirates may have decided to create a cultural mosaic on its soil, the question remains if it can draw a substantial number of visitors too
By Nafisa Rizvi
An art tsunami is about to hit the Emirates for which the Middle East is holding its cultural breath. This is indicated by the sudden proliferation of international art fairs both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai which are becoming annual events. These fairs are paving the way for the upcoming cultural city in Saadiyat Island (idyllically meaning Island of Happiness).
Four internationally celebrated architects have been chosen to construct four spectacular buildings that will create history with their originality and limitless creativity and lie at the heart of this cultural oasis. These are the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (already being referred to as GAD) designed by American architect Frank Gehry, who has also designed the Bilbao Guggenheim, the Performing Arts Centre perceived by Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid, the Louvre Abu Dhabi by French architect Jean Nouvel and the Maritime Museum designed by the legendary Japanese architect Tadao Ando.
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is expected to be the largest Guggenheim built so far with a floor space of 30,000 square metres to be ready by 2012 at the cost of $200 million. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is a 24,200 square metre complex with a distinctive roof that simulates an umbrella. It has been conceptualised as a "universal museum", which will include art from all eras and regions, including Islamic art.
The Louvre's deal with Abu Dhabi has not been without controversy and was debated in the French senate where accusations of a cultural sell-out were raised. It is said that Abu Dhabi is ready to pay anywhere between $260 million to $520 million for the use of the Louvre name for a 20 year period after which the museum will be required to take on a self- designated name. The Performing Arts Centre is a 62 metre high building containing five theatres ñ a music hall, concert hall, opera house, drama theatre and a flexible theatre with a combined seating capacity for 6,300. The design for the Maritime Museum is said to resonate with the fluidity of the ocean and the dunes of the land.
The Emirates are now destined to become the inventive hub of Middle East because they serve up the perfect petrie dish of inclination, resources and foresight. The visionary Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, is the man behind the venture, who sees that the time is ripe for the creation of a cultural mosaic, fusing eastern and western concepts where the two will find the soil and the air to germinate and grow within their own paradigms and co-exist fruitfully.
However, there are dichotomies and challenges here that cannot be overlooked. It remains to be seen if art can draw substantial numbers of visitors to a place that has little to offer in terms of a historically vibrant ambience within which art can be showcased. In the real world, art is as much a business as any profession and a copious measure of financial resources can attract art ventures as readily as architectural or economic investments. The only caveat in this contractual proposition is that there is no price to be put on the sheer pleasure of seeing or owning a work of art and therefore there is perhaps no predicting how much value how many visitors will put on the visit to Abu Dhabi in the context of their discovery of art.
While the region is fertile ground for the development of art, it augurs that the after this cultural invasion of sorts, paradigms of western art are unquestionably bound to become the median of contemporary art in the Middle East. There is almost no indigenous art in the Emirates or the Arabian Peninsula, but the art issuing from the peripheries is effervescent and vibrant, tackling social, cultural and political issues with a confident self-assurance.
Amongst these are artists like Syrian born Safwan Dahoul, a post modern artist who upholds a heritage of defying the iconoclasm of early Islam. The figures he paints are androgynous but they are firmly pegged to the Middle East with their bold almost Nubian features and doe eyes. Hassan Hajjaj from Morocco mixes photography and installation to create politically and socially subversive work commenting on the Arab fascination for European brands. His portraits of commoners are subjugated by the frames that make for little shelves on which are placed items from daily use, like matchboxes, plastic cubes in bright colours inscribed with the letters of the Arabic alphabet to teach children the calligraphic letters, cans of fanta and sprite written in Arabic.
There are many more such innovative artists working fervently to break the boundaries. It remains to be seen how the art will transform itself and what shape it will finally take when western dictates and influences have satiated their appetites for Middle Eastern art.
Printmakers have often resorted to making
visually-engaging prints -- a technique followed and defied in a recent exhibition in Lahore
By Quddus Mirza
Towards the last years of his life, in his solitary state, Salahuddin Mian used to think about many matters -- all related to art. One was the urge to change his surroundings -- beginning from his small office at NCA to the large building of the college. He proposed that the railings, windows and doors of the institution be painted in bright and attractive colours: for instance in different shades of red, blue, green and yellow -- replacing the usual bluish grey associated with government offices and buildings.
Mian also imagined that one day he would wrap the whole structure of NCA with newspapers. That way the age-old architecture would be transformed into a huge new sculpture, in which people could move and enjoy its unique appearance or metamorphosis. As one may have guessed his desire remained a dream, since no one was prepared to accept such an unconventional concept.
However, in a current exhibition at Alhamra Art Gallery, a recent graduate from NCA has turned Salahuddin's idea into reality; not in the literal sense but through her art work. In this exhibition (called 'The Print' and being held from July 28 to August 7 2008) Saba Manzoor has shown photographs of intimate spaces, both exteriors and interiors, entirely covered in newspapers. Chair, table, mirror, bed, cushion, computer, car, dust bin, gate, walls and floor -- every part of the picture (except the sky) is seen under the layers of printed paper.
The exhibition at Alhamra consists of prints made by seven printmakers (all studied Fine Arts at NCA).
Saba's choice of using a readymade print -- newspapers -- reflects her approach of extending the limits of the genre of printmaking. Besides turning a simple subject into a thought-provoking image, she alludes to the all-encompassing power and presence of media in our contemporary world. Her effort to conceal the actuality, in order to reveal a new aspect of our daily existence, is intriguing; even though her concept of camouflaging the buildings in a different material is not unique, because it was Christo, a noted international artist, who started this practice in the Twentieth Century art.
Despite its connection with Christo, Saba's work seems daring, particularly with reference to the discipline of printmaking. Mainly because many printmakers here (especially of etching, aquatint and monoprint) have been more concerned with the treatment of surface and the technique of making visually-active, engaging and interesting prints. Most of the students working in this genre, in Lahore, Karachi or Quetta, are also keen on concocting various effects -- often manipulated through multiple impressions of objects such as lace, feathers, muslin, wire mesh and crumpled paper etc. The ability to etch these on a metal sheet or print by a collograph technique is considered to be the utmost goal for a young printmaker, and the ultimate success he seeks to attain.
Ironically in most art institutions, the teaching of printmaking also perpetuates this tendency (usually referred to as 'effects'). Normally if a student is unsure of his imagery, idea or even academic skill, he is advised to combine various textures on his plate. In that scheme, the print may appear busy, complex and tactile, yet devoid of a conceptual or formal resolution.
The habit of adhering to effects -- achieved through 'soft ground' impressions from several items -- has become much favoured in our art schools. It's a habit that lingers on even after a student leaves the institute and continues with printmaking (despite numerous disadvantages!). One sees prints with multiple textures and diverse effects everywhere -- from the earliest printmakers trained at NCA such as Anjum Ayub (who graduated in 1987) to the latest examples in this recent exhibition.
This fascination with effects is more than just a method of completing the image on a tiny plate. It unfolds a few characteristics of our aesthetic nature and cultural history. In terms of art, the preference for textures and effects does not stem from formal requirement only; it displays a tendency of substituting idea with effect. Often the 'effect making' itself becomes an idea (like the work of Bushra Obaid and Waqas Amjad from the present exhibition where the ability to replicate an existing object leads to formulate the theme). Thus the texture serves to hide the absence of a strong idea.
This trend is not peculiar to printmakers or artists. Generally, in the realm of politics, religion, sports or media, it is the effect that entices the public, rather than the real content. Regular rhetoric, loud acclaims, alluring announcements and perpetual proclamations replace actual actions and satisfy our population, which is tuned to such kind of performances.
This leads to uncertainty, confusion and chaos. But at the same time it can be defined as a postmodernist condition, in which it is the chaos that counts rather than the harmony; perhaps this is a trait that is embedded in our public's unconscious (or collective unconscious?) and manifests in its admiration for sensational speeches, ambitious pronouncements and emotional slogans.
Heer and now
Though still listened to and participated in by a whole lot of people, the tradition of Heer Khawani seems to be dying now
By Sarwat Ali
The documented history of Heer is not more than five hundred years old. Heer like almost all tales and romances has primarily come down to us orally. On the urs of Waris Shah at Jandiala Sher Khan, the most important happening is the recitation of Heer. In our living folk tradition Heer is recited in all night sessions by professional bards. The beauty of the entire event lies in the fact that the audiences, just as familiar with the text of Heer as the performer, engage in a dramatic collective interaction where the emphasis shifts from mere contents to the style of rendition.
Somebody in the past must have made a conscious decision to sing Heer in bhairveen and then it caught on to become a standard practice This qissa or kahani has been written in a number of languages, and though located in Punjab the strength and the dynamics of the entire romance inspired other regional poets to write about it as well. Bhairveen on the other hand is a raag which has been mentioned in texts much more ancient than the poem Heer itself. Called sada suhagun, it can be sung at any time of the day and night and because of this universal character a musical performance usually is wound up by an item in bhairveen.
There have been many Punjabi versions, the most notable being of Damodar, Ahmed Gujjar and Mukbal. Heer has also been written in Persian, Hindi, Urdu, Haryani and Sindhi. It was first translated into English by Sardar Abdul Qadir Aafandi from the Persian version of Mir Qamruddin.
Waris Shah wrote his Heer at Jandiala Sher Khan in 1766. The original manuscript has been lost to history as the oldest goes back to only 1821. Its first printed version in the Persian script known as Hope Press edition came out in1865, though according to Mohan Singh Diwana it was first published in 1851 from the Chashma Noor Press, Amritsar. As the printing press became common the purpose behind the first printed version, the Hope Press edition, was to bring into print whatever was available in order to preserve it.
When the printed edition started to sell, the book traders with the help of some editors made massive interpolations to cater to popular taste. Two most notorious editors were Hidayatullah (1885) and Piran Ditta (1910). In the 1930s Mohan Singh Diwana pointed to the necessity of an authentic text of Heer Waris Shah. He himself edited Heer by going back to the manuscripts rather than the printed edition. Abdul Aziz Bar at Law continued with the effort and his edition was printed in 1960. He referred to have consulted 23 manuscripts. In the 1970s Sharif Sabir went to work on Aziz's edition with the advantage of having examined three more manuscripts -- one he found in Chunian, one in possession of Mian Anwar's family and one with the Punjab Public Library. Sharif Sabir's beautifully printed edition has been the outcome of the Waris Shah Memorial Committee established in 1975.
Heer is sung in bhairveen. Other than the seven flat notes it is permissible in bhairveen to engage all notes which makes its scope bigger than that of any particular raag. Not confined to a certain area or a region, bhairveen is sung with many variations in various parts of South Asia. From the tunes in Afghanistan to Sindh, to Bengal, bhairveen is a universal melodic mode that fits into whatever clothes that had been tailored according to the style and taste of the various regions of the country.
During the course of our long tortuous musical history various raags and surs have been named differently from how we identify them today. Nothing definitive can also be said about the basic scale and the positioning of the surs because the sound documentation of music was not possible. As it only became a reality by the end of the 19th century written music could not be corroborated by its musical example.
Bhairveen was also known as todi, kamod, hindol and bhopal in the past according to the classifications by the well-known musical authorities and it must have been employed in the singing of the forms which were prevalent then. Now kheyal is rarely sung in bhairveen though there are recorded examples of kheyal bandish in the raag. Certain ustads also make it a point to sing kheyal in bhairveen but in the last century or so it has been considered more suitable for light classical forms of music. Several thumris and dadras are composed in it and a whole lot of kaafis, ghazals and geets have germinated from this ever fertile raag. This too has been one of the favourite melodic grounds for film composers to hunt in and thousands of film compositions have been inspired by the basic melodic structure of this raag.
Over decades it must have been formalised and singing Heer in any other raag must have been considered to be sacrilegious. One wonders what were the reasons to choose bhairveen over all other raags. Probably because bhairveen was and is a very popular melodic mode in the Punjab or it could be the possibility of engaging all the surs or that the other popular raags were employed in the singing of other folk tales, or the mizaaj of the bhairveen was thought to be most appropriate to the folk tale.
Like melas and urs Heer Khawani, too, was an event of great cultural bonding and in Lahore on the weekend many Heer Khawans gathered in Hazoori Bagh outside the Fort for an afternoon session of Heer. Though still listened to and participated in by a whole lot of people, this tradition seems to be dying now as lesser and fewer people especially the younger ones gather for these weekly events.