in a local setting
As nation states continue to exist, while there is no evidence that they are destined in the near future to wither away, their essential nature has changed
By Kamila Hyat
For much of the past century, since the concept of the 'nation-state' was born with the break-up of the giant empires, the demise of the entity has periodically been predicted.
Such forecasts have formed a part of philosophical theories that range from Marxism to the notion of a pan-Islamic state that has been heard more and more about in recent decades. Catalytic events, such as the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the bringing down of the Berlin Wall too spurred conjecture about the future of the nation state.
But the fact of the matter is that through the stormy debates and the tempest of contesting ideologies, the nation state has survived, and today is a firmly rooted concept without which it is difficult to envisage the world.
For instance, only a nation state can be a member of the United Nations; it is nation states who battle each other in sporting contests (although the West Indies are a rare exception to this rule as far as cricket goes), and international dealings essentially take place between two or more nation states.
However, while any map of the world is characterised by the small blotches of colour in various shapes and sizes that demarcate the existing nation states, almost all of these entities deviate sharply from the classical notion of the phenomenon. Under this definition, a nation state is a sovereign territory for a particular nation with a clearly defined border. Ideally, the entire population consists of a nation which speaks a single language; there are no ethnic minorities and each member of the nation lives within its geographical boundaries.
In practical terms of course, very few, if any, of the states existing today conform to this ideal. The closest conformity to the model could be found in Iceland, and to a slightly lesser extent, Japan. Almost every person living in Iceland identifies himself as Icelandic, and its territory is clear. The same is the case for Japan, although the island-state includes several small ethnic minorities.
Few other states exhibit the same degree of uniformity -- but what has been a fascinating battle played out over the decades has been the attempt by nation states to create uniform national cultures, to present its territory as a sacred entity (not to be bartered or handed away as was the case during the reign of empires) and to create a notion of a unified national culture. For example, in the French vision, the nation constructed through centuries as French nationalism rose with the French Revolution of 1789, the territory of France is a common whole stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rhine.
The fact that the ethnic, cultural and linguistic boundary dividing France from Germany actually exists inside French territory, and that the Alsace region has been handed back and forth between France and Germany at least four times since 1870 is a fact neatly veneered over in most conceptions of French nationhood. This calculated effort to enforce a national culture has marked the development of many nation states, even though it has quite often floundered. National anthems, songs, flags, the complex and diversely defined notions of 'patriotism' are all attempts to create this uniformity. So too is war -- and in his fascinating book, 'The Soccer Tribe', anthropologist Desmond Morris has detailed how in modern states, where wars in the medieval sense are less frequent, the trappings of such conflict have been transferred onto playing fields, where an open licence is granted to stage a kind of battle by proxy, with the banners, the cries of fervour, the wild exhibitions of patriotism, the painted faces, the wearing of colours all quite strikingly resembling war as it existed in past times.
Within states, attempts to create a cultural harmony have followed different models. The 'multiculturalist' experiment attempted in Britain, which seems to have created only division, hatred and racism at least within the British-Muslim community, is only one example. A far more successful one has come in Canada and then there have been more coercive attempts to impose a national identity in a diverse region, as has been seen from time to time in nations like Germany -- where the notion of 'volk' or 'people' with its disturbingly fascist undertones remains a part of conceptions of identity, as well as in India, China, Russia and other states.
In the context of the nation state, Pakistan's efforts to mould nationhood provides many interesting lessons, perhaps most of all in the pitfalls that need to be avoided along the way. The ill-conceived efforts by the centre to impose an alien language on one half of the country, its refusal to accept the will of the majority and the racism inherent in attitudes towards the Bengalis who constituted a part of the population resulted in the splintering away of the Eastern Wing of the country in 1971. Misguided efforts to force nationhood thus failed with terrible consequences. In many ways, the bloody division of the territory reinforced the notion of the nation state, with the Bengalis having defined themselves since 1947 as a separate nation, with its own unique culture.
This assertion, for its part, plunged Pakistan into a new crisis, placing a question mark over the question of whether a religious identity -- the basis on which the country had been created -- was sufficient to hold a diverse nation together as a nation state. Since then the challenges have continued. Today, they come most of all in Balochistan, where assertions of a Balochi nationality have led to conflict.
Conflicting nationalist aspirations have also emerged over the past six decades in the NWFP, in Sindh and even in the Seraiki belt. These challenges have again also been faced in many other states -- and the answer to the problems seems to be in the degree of success a nation-state attains in creating a sense of unity.
In many cases, the greatest successes have come by accepting the existence of diversity, and embracing it as part of a larger whole. Even while conflicting nationalities have made their case in various ways, the nation-state of Pakistan has made efforts to impose its own central culture. This has been done through text-books, the imposition of a curious history that begins with the arrival of Muhammad Bin Qasim in the subcontinent and the total suppression of the unique histories of Balochistan, the Pukhtoon people, of Sindh and indeed even of the Punjab, which has dominated policy-making in the nation.
Lately, faced by various new threats, many nation-states -- including Pakistan, have begun an apparent effort to more closely define their territory -- by fencing borders, preventing the historic movement that has for centuries taken place across borders drawn up for the most part in the last 100 years and more forcefully exerting its ownership of its territory.
The reasons for these actions vary -- but almost always are linked to growing hostility with neighbouring nation states. The displays on borders, as national flags are lowered, are another symbol of the aggressive assertion to statehood, which in its worst forms assumes the dimension of territorial warfare. But in the present age, as the process of globalisation moves on, as international media channels infiltrate into homes, as the World Wide Web makes it possible for nationals of one State to freely 'mingle' with others, it can be argued that the latest challenge to the traditional nation state comes from non-traditional directions. Already, the notion of sovereignty of the nation state has been undermined by the growing international interventions that take place within other nations -- as a result of international agreements, or coercive power in a world where most power rests with a particular nation state.
As such, while nation states continue to exist, while there is no evidence that they are destined in the near future to wither away -- their essential nature has changed. Only a very small number of 'classic' nation states remain on the map of the world, and many others, including Pakistan, face immense challenges the outcome of which would determine their future nature as well as the geographical territory over which they are based.
The gauntlet of challenge of a difficult production was picked up again by Salman Shahid who directed the play Saiy on stage at Lahore's Alhamra
By Sarwat Ali
'Six Characters In Search of an Author' a very famous play by the leading Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello apparently had been broadcast on the radio in Pakistan. Izhar Kazmi had adapted this very difficult play, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s and may have been responsible for broadcasting it as well. The gauntlet of challenge of this difficult production was picked up again by Salman Shahid who directed the play Saiy on stage at the Alhamra in connection with the festivities and cultural events strung together under the label of Jashn-e-Baharaan.
Pirandello's view was similar to that of the playwrights who were labelled as being part of movement generically called Theatre of the Absurd. The plays revolved round the pointlessness of human endeavour, the impossibility of defining reality or of pinning down individual characters. In this play, as a group of characters invade a theatre during rehearsals, reality and illusion get inextricably mixed.
In Pirandello's early plays the themes were in an embryonic form, starting from his one act plays based on the Sicilian stories. Later he developed a style that was very Pirandellosque -- characterisation was important not merely for an understanding of his plays but also for the contribution of the conception of modern thought and modern literature where the way man conceived himself in any age was determinate of the kind of personality he developed and the kind of actions he performed.
A difficult play to handle because of the lack of a definite form for it could easily have skewed out of its pivot with the velocity of a centrifugal force. The characters obviously all decentered, seeking a purpose which they could not find. A play just cannot be held together if there is no focal point and this was the greatest challenge for a director in producing this play.
It was made simpler by Salman Shahid, the director by giving it a touch of the local conditions. We all know that our film and popular stage all rebel against the conventional idea of a realistic play. In show business where all out effort is made to sell a product, whether it harms the credibility of the action or injures the sense of reasoning, an all out effort is made to achieve success by predicting what the audiences really want.
While the play was being rehearsed, the director played by Aslam Rao was not really concerned with what happened to the characters in their real life but was more worried about putting a directorial spin on how to make it a success at the box office. The conditions and the ethos of the local show business were skillfully captured in the production.
The play was without a realistic set in which the few props were used interchangeably -- at times they served the purpose of a set and at times that of the props -- and similarly lighting too was employed for the purposes of demarcating the stage. The lighting design filled in for the sets as well and enhanced the suggestive quality of the stage that gelled in well with the central idea that lacked fixity, often slipping from being realistic to being an illusion. The lighting was effectively employed to intensify the sense of unreality that pervaded the play.
The performance of Aslam Rao was quite good because he was able to shift with effortless ease from being the director who represented the local ethos to a character in the play. Javed Rizvi too remained steadfast and held his ground firmly despite the action spilling in all directions. The roles of the mother, the step daughter and the little girl too are played with great composure by Sameena Butt, Faiza Gillani and Memoona, three actresses more exposed to working in the so called commercial theatre.
Salman Shahid has been associated with the performing arts for more than thirty years. From his first directorial venture in Government College Dramatic Club's 'Death of a Salesman' in 1973 he has directed scores of plays on stage. He has also acted in many more plays on stage and has also worked on television in plays and serials. He has also written for the puppet theatre and has scripted a few teleplays, the latest being the award winning Bano ko Pehchano. He has done a few films as well including Khawahish, Khamosh Pani and Kabul Express -- the last two being international productions which have been lauded critically all over the world.
After his studies at the Government College he went to the prestigious Film Institute in Moscow where he earned a degree in film-making. Despite his many sincere attempts he has not been able to direct and produce films in Pakistan. Given his talent on screen, both mini and large, he could have made good films which could have met with the standard of meaningful cinema without it being didactic. The fact that people like Salman Shahid have not been able to make a breakthrough has been the major cause of the deteriorating standards of cinema in the country.
Alhamra has been staging
plays, popular as well as those that do not fall under the label of popular
plays, and has provided a platform for theatre in the city. In the last
couple of years it has ventured out to court theatre groups and musicians for
performances. Hall II at the Alhamra Arts Council should be reserved for
experimental theatre, another step forward in helping and patronising theatre
in the country.
Henry Moore's work has influenced many artists of Pakistan.
A fact brought home by his works shown at a recent exhibition held at Alhamra Art Gallery Lahore
By Quddus Mirza
Like the English language, British customs, cricket and other reminisces of Raj, Henry Moore also belongs to this place. Although the man had never been to this country, may have not even heard about this country and was not familiar with the art of this society, but it seems that he has been a part of Pakistani art.
He had an undeniable presence in our art, because his work -- both sculpture and drawing -- has influenced many artists of Pakistan. His way of treating the human figure and style of simplification is copied by many sculptors in our surroundings. One can make a list of several artists, who were inspired from Henry Moore, and their works reflect a heavy mark of the British artist.
Actually it is not surprising that a number of artists (not only in Pakistan but in other countries also) were consciously copying the style of this important artist of twentieth century. But his following in Pakistan holds a special significance -- due to multiple reasons. One of these factors relates to the position and relevance of sculpture in an Islamic state, which is situated near (and was separated from) a country where the major religion includes idol worship. So, to distinguish one's culture and to assert the legitimacy of a new nation, many intellectuals and religious scholars in our society supported the prohibition of making sculpture on the basis of faith.
This situation posed a problem for our artists, dealing with the three dimensional forms, especially the human figures. If they carved the likeness of a living being in a tangible material, this would have been considered to be a statue and discouraged by the general public. Whereas the assemblage of geometric shapes and forms may not produce exciting response from the art world. Hence they opted for another solution -- provided by Henry Moore, the English sculptor.
In the works of Moore, the figurative elements are not created in a representational manner, but these are suggested in a highly stylised scheme. Thus the sculpture pieces, which remind the human form, do not replicate the actual features or details of body. This kind of transformation of body suited the sculptors working in a Muslim country, where the making of statue was not appreciated. Thus his work served a perfect solution for several sculptors, and some of the early pieces of Shahid Sajjad, sculptures by Rabia Zuberi and Talat Dabeer, and others bear a resemblance to Henri Moore's pieces.
But perhaps the link between Moore and others working in Pakistan is of a different nature. Since Henry Moore was inspired from the Pre-Columbian art of Mexico and he tried to assimilate the historic figurines in his modernistic sculptures. (In his text on Primitive Art, Henry Moore explains the reasons for this influence: "Mexican sculpture, as soon as I found it, seemed to me true and right"). The example of Henry Moore was a source of inspiration for a number of artists who were turning to the ancient and primitive art.
Besides his sculptures in various mediums and scale, Henry Moore did a number of drawings, etchings and lithographic prints. These works on paper are significant to comprehend the formal concerns of Moore. The approach towards the large pieces constructed in bronze, stone and plaster is evident in the small works, because these also deal with the representation of human figure. In these works on paper, Moore devised a specific method to convey volume of the body, with the help of small lines, joined to create the sense of roundness. In other prints and drawings, tiny marks indicate form amid a large area of darkness.
All of these features of Henry Moore's works were visible in a recent exhibition held at Alhamra Art Gallery Lahore. In this travelling show (with other venues in Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi) 25 prints produced between 1951 and 1984 were displayed along with seven photographs of the artist and his studio. The exhibition was organised by the British Council, and was a rare opportunity for the audience to see the original prints of one of the major artist of our time.
In these prints a number of subjects were rendered through delicate lines and textures of different kinds. Some prints showed the reclining figures, which were like the studies for his sculptures. In a group of prints, 'Ideas for Metal Sculpture' the dark sculptural forms occupied the composition. Other prints suggested mythological characters, landscapes and lonely figures on the chair, but all of his work communicated a certain kind of atmosphere, managed with the overlapping of marks and sensitive application of lines and tones.
This exhibition, an uncommon endeavour in the present circumstances (when the only outside contact we are making seems to be in the realm of terrorism, either spreading or stopping it!), was useful in order to understand a creative mind. It was apparent that the artist has translated the visible world into his personal vocabulary. Even though the figures, trees and seaside were drawn, but each element of the composition conveyed a sense of loneliness and gloom. Mainly because the whole image was fabricated with the variation of dark shades, as well as the single figures were seated on chairs or reclining on the ground.
Whether it was a sense of grief or feeling of loneliness one could read in these works, the prints of Henry Moore proved that an artist has concentrated on human figure and visible world, in order to create emotional substance. The stylisation of his figures -- found in his sculptures and works on paper -- was not a technical device, rather it was a means to communicate a certain aspect of life. But if Moore's art is compared with the works of his followers in Pakistan (like Rabia Zuberi, Talat Dabeer and a few others) one realises that they are imitating the appearance of things, rather than analysing the formal issues or aesthetic/conceptual aspects in his sculptures.
Due to this approach of our artists, we come across many Moore-like pieces in our art world, and it was a surprise to see original Henry Moore at Alhamra, because only Moore had the capacity to do something different from what he is known and admired for -- and copied in several studio spaces in our surroundings -- till this day.
(The exhibition in Lahore was held from March 1-8, and it will be displayed at VM Gallery in Karachi from March 15-31, 2007)
J.M.W. Turner is a painter that Britain is very proud of. He painted in the mid-nineteenth century but take a look at his works and you can see that he was far, far ahead of his time. His oils and water colours capture light in motion, almost like photos taken at a high speed.
Turner is always cited as a great British artist but the recent 'rescue' of one of his works is an even greater, remarkable story. Turner's watercolour painting of a Swiss mountain The Blue Rigi was sold at an auction last June for a record price of 5.8 million pounds. However, the painting was not given an export license so it could not be taken out of Britain. During this time, the government offered it to the Tate Gallery as the owner agreed to accept a matching price so the picture could stay in Britain.
The gallery was given till March 20, 2007 to come up with the money. Tate members and trustees put up almost two million pounds, the Art Fund chipped in with 500,000 pounds and The National Heritage Fund also made a generous contribution. But the most amazing thing has been the reponse of the public to the Art Fund and Tate's appeal for help. They launched an appeal asking people to "buy a brushstroke of the painting", urging people to buy or sponsor sections of the painting almost as if it were a mosaic.
The response was amazing: 11,000 people chipped in and donated a grand total of 550,000 pounds! The Tate was able to buy the painting and made an announcement to this effect on March 1, almost three weeks before the deadline.
What I found really impressive about this was that, in this expensive, materialistic world we live in, 11,000 people bothered to do their bit to keep the painting in Britain. They all thought that keeping a great national work of art in a public collection was an important and worthy cause. Among the people who contributed was an 11 year old who chipped in with his pocket money and thought that the whole thing was a rather good idea.
It is remarkable that people could rally round like this to save art. I think part of the reason for this attitude is that here public collections of art are open to the public and admission is free to most museums and galleries. The result is that you come to love and appreciate art and artists and are proud of the heritage they form a part of. Time and again, there has been debate about whether galleries should charge admission, but these have always been shot down by people who want to make sure that looking at art is open to all and that it does not become an elitist and costly pursuit. Thus, you are not charged admission but if you would like to donate, a large donations box is visible in every foyer.
The recent case illustrates that perhaps this is the right approach: people rallied together to save the Turner because they felt that it was right and honourable to do so. What makes a nation begin to consider its own art and heritage as something that must be looked after? I'm not sure, but I think the case of the Turner 'rescue' has some lessons for us to learn.