of beauty or what
The overturning of the NRO is hardly a simple matter of constitutional principle. And unfortunately it has been depicted in extremely simple terms
The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) is history. Legal 'experts' and a segment of the mainstream political elite have hailed the Supreme Court's (SC) 'landmark' decision. Talk shows and newspaper columns are awash with speculation about the possible implications of the verdict. It would appear that something is about to give.
And we are all supposed to care. I spent the morning after the verdict with Railway workers in Rawalpindi. Here and there some discussion and debate about the NRO and the meaning of the SC's decision took place but generally speaking I observed a relative lack of concern. Where there is no cable television and newspapers are not widely read it is likely that the alienation is even more acute.
In principle of course all of us should care about the conduct of our ruling elite, and the effectiveness of official mechanisms of accountability. But the fact of the matter is that cynicism runs so deep in our society that episodes such as this one are all considered run-of-the-mill; 'corruption' is commonplace, sifarish is the modus operandi, and individual gain is the ultimate source of all morality. For the common man then, the promulgation of the NRO and now its striking down hardly matter in the grand scheme of things.
This is unfortunate to say the least, but not because the NRO is some evil aberration that needs to be banished by the omnipotent 'rule of law'. Cynicism is bad because it prevents ordinary working class Pakistanis from developing a collective vision of what society should be, how the dismal state of affairs that currently prevails can be overturned. In a perverse sort of way ordinary people are right when they think of the NRO as only a symptom of the structural malaise. In short the SC verdict will not change very much at all.
In fact it is likely to reinforce the trend towards fragmentation. In Sindh there have been reports of unrest, although not yet widespread. Despite considerable opposition to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Asif Zardari, a wide cross-section of Sindhis nevertheless is likely to feel that any NRO-motivated attempt to undermine Zardari's position is no less than an attack by the establishment on elected rule and Sindh's right to share power.
And this is the crux of the matter. The SC's decision is significant not because it will actually force a change in the structure of power (and political culture that prevails in the country) but because of what it means for the future of Asif Zardari and the incumbent PPP government. In short the real political implications of this verdict are the reinforcement of short-termism, the furthering of palace intrigues and confirmation amongst ordinary people that cynicism is perfectly rational.
I do not want to speculate on what will happen to Zardari and the PPP. I would like instead to open up a major bone of contention which relates to how the whole NRO drama has been depicted in the media and romanticised by the defenders of law and principle. In doing so I hope to get to what I believe is the heart of the matter.
If my memory serves me correctly, the actual negotiations that produced the NRO involved, among others, the then Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence, and current Chief of Army Staff. The good general represented the establishment and lay down the conditions that the PPP and others eventually accepted and for which Washington acted as guarantor.
While much has been said by talk show hosts, parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) on the 'traitor' Musharraf and the imperative of invoking Article 6 against him, no one has even muttered the name of these other actors. Dictators never represent their personal interest, and in any case, effect dictatorship through the institutions of the state. Musharraf represented the army. So why all this talk of hanging Musharraf and no talk of accountability for others involved in the negotiations.
The military establishment remains Pakistan's strongest political force. Yet it is also currently dealing with contradictions unlike anything it has faced in the past. The apparent about-turn in foreign and strategic policy, which was forced on the establishment by the decision of the United States to send its troops to the region, has caused fallouts of unparalleled proportions (most of which are being borne by ordinary working people). The ideology of the state itself is under question (or if it is not openly under question, it should be).
And so the guardians of our ideological frontiers seek, as always, to cover up their own failings by invoking the tired argument that politicians are corrupt, and by extension reinforcing the very carefully crafted image of the men in khaki being incorruptible. The overt nature of the contradiction is made clear when Kamal Azfar announces in the SC that democracy faces a threat from the GHQ and the CIA.
A discussion on the extent to which the Supreme Court has by default shown itself to be partial in this struggle is beyond the scope of the present article. What matters is that the overturning of the NRO is hardly a simple matter of constitutional principle. And unfortunately it has been depicted in extremely simple terms. Much like when the Chief Justice was restored in March, the overturning of the NRO will prove to be a big disappointment for those who have hyped it into the stratosphere.
Pakistan's long-suffering people deserve a genuine politics that goes beyond slogans and functional attempts to secure personal interest. They need to be inspired and the NRO (whether when it was being promulgated or now that it has been killed) does the exact opposite. We need accountability and we need an end to corruption. But the structures that produce one bad apple after another need to be interrogated and eventually replaced. There can be no shortcut to justice, and the 'rule of law' brigade would do well to bear this in mind.
'Architecture Beyond the Board' at Koel Gallery might just be the beginning of a new tradition in which professionals from other disciplines endeavour to joust in the arena of art
By Nafisa Rizvi
A cross-disciplinary show always garners heightened interest because it subjects professionals to a scrutiny they would otherwise be spared in their everyday work for it requires an informed understanding of not only their own practice but the paradigms and values of the discipline which they are required to explore. The show titled Architecture Beyond the Board at Koel Gallery (December 10-26, 2009) explored the crossing over.
To audiences it would seem slightly inequitable to expect architects to be able to contemplate the language of not just art but aesthetics in all its complexities and then articulate the issue into a viable representation, akin to demanding a design for a building structure from an artist. But for architects who frequently engage in addressing esoteric concerns beyond the board may that be poetry or painting or even in this case anthropology, the task would have been effortless and stimulating.
Ardhad Faruqui's installation deals with the issue of reality and perception using colour and symbol as the vehicle of address. Faruqui, who is also curator of the show, is true to his style as a youthful, exuberant yet responsible architect reduces the idea of habitable containment to a series of plexi-glass cubes within which a miniature wreath of scarlet roses questions the perceptible difference between its symbolism of passion and its reference to the commemoration of the deceased. Likewise if the yellow happy face were not yellow would it still be happy, he asks?
Murlidhar Dawani represented his explorative and inquiring viewpoint through a series of black and white photographs of places of worship in Pakistan, some of which were hard to place for their unique structural and decorative qualities. Dawani's observations raised a relevant issue for architects. He remarks that the structures in his photographs predate formal architectural study and yet have stood the test of time, both ecologically and aesthetically and are as valid for today's worshippers as they were when they were first created by fervent devotees. Dawani thus questions the validity of architectural practice and in fact takes us by surprise with his candour -- it is not often that professionals in the fields of art or design are able, or willing, to be introspectively critical the reason why developmental progression remains stunted.
Well known for his modern, sometimes avant-garde design, Tariq Hasan chose the theme of light and shadow to remark on conventions of architecture. Using reductivist principles, he recreated abstract forms signifying buildings lit by artificial light and the resultant shadows cast on the environs became an integral part of the installation. Another installation created by webbing together vegetable baskets within a grid, was unlit, and yet so airy as to allow the use of natural light. The dissimilarity may have represented the disparate lifestyles in our society.
The youngest of the architects in the show, Omar Kasmani is a unique example of how erudition, no matter at what age, can take you to places you may have never thought to traverse. After practicing architecture for five years, Kasmani embarked upon studies in anthropology and his passion for photography and investigative research into human behaviour have led him repeatedly to the shrines of Pakistan, particularly at the time of the Urs when teeming masses throng the venues of devotion. From his experiences at the shrines, came Kasmani's photographs though what he added as comment was the symbolic Ta'wiz, a fundamental part of devotional culture and with this addition, the photograph was transformed into conceptual art. Some may have considered Kasmani's piece to be superfluous or irrelevant to the show but it was the goal of the curator to explore the sensibility of our architects rather than their views on architectural practice and Kasmani's photographs, true to form, were imbued with the vitality and spirit of the informed cultural commentator rather than the individual architect.
The piece, which in fact stood out for its inconsequential statement, was the installation by Sehr Bokhari, consisting of a structure, too closely resembling a physical construct for part of a residential house or more specifically a patio, to be of any metaphysical or aesthetic value in terms of the curatorial schema for the show. The piece may have been technically correct in draughtsman's terms, embracing all the vital elements and values architecture but it lacked the contemplative, intangible facet that would have permeated it with the spirit of dynamism and transformed it from being a visually pleasing static object to a conceptual entity in its own right.
Najeeb Omar is the 'real thing'. His authenticity and integrity as an architect is visible in all that he creates. The elements that he uses for his projects also reflect the ruminations of an earthbound architect, pegged to the nuances of local culture, ever wanting and willing to spare a thought to heritage and history. In the installation for the show, Omar recreated a visual habitat in abstraction, replete with a cityscape built on the foundations of a legacy rich in tradition and belief. But there was more than the outward manifestation of a man-made structure. Contained within the piece was an aspirational consciousness and a prayer of hope for the future. Omar had effectively linked Faiz's poem 'Dua' to the shadow the 'buildings' cast on the wall which, when observed carefully, threw into sight a pair of hands raised in prayer. As with everything he delineates, Omar's idea was neither false nor appropriated nor derivative -- it issued from the heart of a professional deeply moved by the thoughts of a great.
Tariq Qaiser is an architect so accustomed to thinking outside the parameters of his profession that the show must have represented for him not so much a challenge as a forum wherein he could assimilate all the ideas he had stored away for many years. Qaiser is at once an architect, philanthropist, painter, photographer, sailor, furniture designer and more. His installation for the show contained as many facets as his interests, so it was difficult to keep up. The backdrop consisted of a gargantuan black and white photograph of a construction site for a mammoth project consisting of a vast web of steel girders, which Qaiser pointed out, was teeming with thousands of workers invisible to the onlooker. Beside the photograph was a lounge chair, the type apt for deliberation and reflection. Above the chair hung a long 10-12 feet steel spiral grid representing an edifice to the towering architectural forms of post-modern architecture, within which were suspended white origami birds. At the top of the tower, was situated a sewing machine which when pedalled provided the energy to light up the tower. At the base was yet another element of the installation, a series of photographs of haris at work in the fields beaming at the camera in appreciation of the attention.
What Tariq Qaiser attempted to convey through the installation was a scenario in which the gainfully employed bourgeois lies back in idleness contemplating the marvellous icon of modern technology so high it reaches the abode of birds, built by the toiling myriads who in essence do not exist for him. He is also oblivious to the physical labour that goes into lighting his world that issues from the machines being worked assiduously and continuously by unseen hands and is in fact busy looking out his window at what looks to him a charming scene of the hari at work in the undulating fields from whom he is separated by a world of advantage. It was an interesting installation though fewer elements and a simplification of the idea would have added to the complexity of the piece, not detracted from it.
A book on master painter and draughtsman Saeed Akhtar was launched in Ejaz Galleries Lahore alongside his solo show, after a gap of 11 long years
By Quddus Mirza
"Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display". (Ways of Seeing)
The great English critic does not talk about vulgarity, a relevant subject in determining the worth of an art work. Many works of fiction and art, initially censored and banned, later became classics as the definition of obscenity changed with the passage of time. One can not fully describe the parameters of vulgarity nor is one capable of segregating the obscene from the explicit, yet one has a loose notion of what is vulgar and what is not. For instance, some prints of Jeff Koons and Kundera's novel Unbearable Lightness of Being may not be called vulgar because they allude to other aspects of our life and culture, like alienation of individual and commoditisation of society.
The works of Saeed Akhtar, being shown in his solo exhibition at the Ejaz Galleries from Dec 11-26, 2009, suggest the painter's approach towards his subject and society. The artist is holding a solo exhibition after a long gap of eleven years in which a total of 46 paintings and drawings are on display. A book on Akhtar is being launched alongside the show. The monograph, written by Dr Khalid Mahmud and published by Topical Printers, has a great value for art and society since it includes a large number of his works beginning from 1963 till the present. This well-produced volume, a kind of retrospective to the master painter and draughtsman, demonstrates his skill in the observation of reality and his facility in handling his material, evident in his portraits of contemporaries, colleagues and friends especially from nineteen seventies and eighties.
Apart from the usual division of drawing and paintings, the works on display comprise portraits of men and women, horse paintings and canvases with female figures. On a cursory glance, the portraits, horses with wings (Buraq) and naked females in various postures may appear as different visuals, but in reality they are all connected since each represents the artist's ideas, desires and personality. In his portraits, men are wearing big turbans or their faces are covered with long sheets of fabric, leaving the eyes open. Similarly, women also have a shawl or sheet on their heads in addition to large necklaces, earrings and nose-pins. The horses have huge wings, spread out and painted in every imaginable hue. Both in the horse paintings and female portrait, one can glimpse the stylisation of form as well as a decorative aspect.
The main body of work displayed in the gallery consists of thin, shapely and attractive women, drawn in different postures, with parts of their bodies exposed or semi-concealed in a thin piece of cloth. Some of these figures are composed in obviously erotic positions, while others are perched on the ground or stand against a support or hold some prop such as a rope, thread etc. One assumes that all these ladies with their 'innocent' activities represent the idea of beauty for the painter. The sense of an ideal setting is reflected in the way the background of these figures is treated -- with a variety of colours fusing into each other, patches of vivid hues and suggestion of landscape (or sky in a few canvases).
The artist's reluctance to reveal the whole body is a kind of tantalising gesture. Skimpy garments barely cover the female figure, so one sees details of body through these drapes tied at the back, which look like bikinis or cholies from Rajasthan. However, the artist has tried to compensate for the minimal clothes by adding unusually heavy jewellery which, in most cases, makes his works appear like illustrations for fashion magazines. The fascination for fashion is visible in the way butterflies, beads and other elements are combined in the compositions.
Half-draped figures are a reflection of how the artist views his subject. Presumably for him, the woman is no more than an object of desire, reminiscent of the Oriental approach that has perceived the East as a place of lascivious ladies or subjugated women hidden from man's gaze. Our painter has employed the same attitude, but without any critical position on Orientalists' ideas. Indigenous patterns, items of local culture and vernacular characters crowd his canvases, too. Although other artists like Colin David and Jamil Naqsh have also been rendering female figures (seems that the latter's pigeons have flown into Akhtar's surfaces), Saeed Akhtar attempts it as a man who is preoccupied with the forbidden; he treats the naked body not as a symbol of beauty or perfect form, but turns it into a merely sinuous entity for voyeuristic pleasures.
By Sarwat Ali
The recent production of Government College Dramatic Club (GCUDC) Kamra, a translation of Manuel de Pedrolo's Tecnica de Cambra, was a production slick enough to retain the attention of the audiences despite a theme that tended towards pure abstractions.
One wonders what made the Club with its moving spirit Farhan Ebadat to select this play for the annual production. But probably the answer lay in the dedication of the production to one of the most eminent scholars and critic Dr Sohail Ahmed Khan who passed away a few months back. He was on the faculty of the University. If there was a man who was well-read, it was him. He scouted new writers and writings in every language, in whatever place and through translations introduced them to the Urdu-speaking world. Many of the writers and forms were first either tapped by his guru Muzaffar Ali Syed or by him, and then laid bare to the wider readership in the country. His untimely death was a great loss for many reasons but most of all for his persistence in opening windows to the diversity and plurality of world literature for domestic readers.
Many scholars are of the view that Pedrolo did not have the kind of influence which the authors of his stature should have had. He was Spanish and wrote in Catalan that could have been the principal reason for his outreach to be so limited. The play not adapted but translated was abstract in the sense that the room, which formed the set and the place of action on stage, had symbolic overtones. People thrown onto the world's stage played their part and then were thrown out at the appointed hour. In microcosm it was the ranging interests that formed the main body of the play, encapsulated the conflicts, self interests, passions that have characterised human existence since known history.
It was a competent production because there was not much to seek help from. The stage most of the time was bare with a few props and the main responsibility of taking the action of the play forward rested with the actors who acquitted themselves well. It was a fair translation creating no undue difficulties for the actors to deliver their lines. Usually in plays, which are abstract, the lines too get rudderless and float about without an anchor. In this production the action on stage neutralised the abstractness of the theme and it proved to be a happy blend of both. Moosa Abbas, the director, handled it well by harnessing his resources skilfully.
There was use of lighting and voiceover at certain decisive moments, either as an overt display of what was to happen or the externalisation of the inward desires of the characters. The set of the room and the bare props too afforded the characters ample opportunity to express themselves through their movement.
Zohrain Bhaur as Volva was the pick of the cast and the others Ghulam Sher as Click, Mohsin Manzoor as Sameer, Mahanaz as Kakansa, Afsheen Farooq as Kleda, Usman Mumtaz Butt as Ballet and Rida Akram Chaudry as Alvina had plenty of energy, and all can prove to be asset for theatre in the future
GCUDC has been producing plays and has been honest to its tradition of being one of the harbingers of serious theatres in the subcontinent since the later half of the 19th century. Government College, Lahore became very famous because the professors who promoted theatre went on to establish the All India Radio and initiated the radio play. Imtiaz Ali Taj and Ahmed Shah Bokhari (Patras) established the credentials of the Government College Dramatic Club, later the rise of Ahmed Shah Bokhari (Patras) to the Director Generalship in Delhi indirectly added to those credentials. Similarly, much later when television was set up in Pakistan the alumni of the college again took an active part especially in moulding the radio play into teleplay.
There have been periods in the long history of the club that it went into hibernation but then some valiant spirit pulled it out making it an active body by restoring it as a significant platform for the theatre in the city and country. For the past many years the Club has been consistently staging plays and the effect is clear for everyone to notice. One set of actors and theatre aspirants are replaced by another, the continuity ensured thus that the tradition and the cumulative knowledge is being transferred smoothly without a break.
A 'Slow Food Market' at London's South Bank Centre was one of the city's pre-Christmas attractions and also a welcome reminder that life should not be made so frantic and manic as to be burdensome and unenjoyable.
The Slow Food Movement began more than 30 years ago as a result of a local campaign against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant near the Spanish Steps in Rome in 1986. It extols the leisurely enjoyment -- in-sourcing and preparation -- of food, as opposed to its quick consumption, in a hurry, on the move. It aims to educate people as to the advantages of family farms and organic farming and to encourage them to buy their foodstuffs ethically and preserve local and established culinary traditions. In other words: buy local food or grow your own and enjoy the process of preparation as much as the process of consumption.
What is very interesting is that from this food movement has stemmed a global cultural movement aimed at slowing down the pace of human life. There is now talk of an expanding global community of Slow and a number of initiatives all over the world. Apart from Slow Food the movement also encourages Slow Parenting which basically means that you do not overburden your child with so many activities and commitments that he or she has no time to actually just relax and enjoy life. This means that to some extent you 'just let your child be' -- give him or her space and time to play or sleep or just do nothing, and you do not present your child with a list of objectives and expectations and ferry them to tuitions, admissions tests, language and dance classes and birthday parties of the socially well connected and useful….
There are many aspects to the movement including Slow Travel (travel as enjoyment rather then means to an end) and Slow Art, but basically the idea is that we need to keep things in perspective -- after all, we make money and effect progress in order to enjoy life more -- not less. It is surprising how we tend to forget this and just get so involved in running the race that we forget the actual point of it, the goal, what it was that we set out to achieve.
Professor Guttorm Flřistad who is associated with this movement sums it up rather nicely: "The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! It is the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal."
I have always rather liked the poem by William Henry Davies which he published under the title of 'Leisure' which opens with the question
"What is this life if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?"
It is a lovely meditation, and really now as the first ten years of the new century draw to a close we might do well to reflect upon it and look back upon what one has achieved -- not merely in financial and material terms but in terms of human affection and compassion, in terms of appreciating the hand that life has dealt you, in terms of endeavouring to do the best you can and spread as much love or goodwill as possible. Yes, I know it sounds a bit corny, but there is a point to it!
Best wishes for 2010,