Age old benefits
In our art world, hardly anyone admits the loss of his inspiration or acknowledges his creative impotency -- except for Ali Imam
By Quddus Mirza
"The proper school to learn art is not Life but Art". -- Oscar Wilde
An art teacher, who recently retired from an art college, showed her new works at a gallery in Lahore. Another artist, associated with an art institution for many years, exhibited his work a few months ago at a public space. Although both artists enjoy the title of 'senior' artist (the category exists in our art world only!), their works were not brilliant examples of involvement with art.

New message received... delete

Spam SMSes continue to irritate subscribers while regulators look for ways to tackle the menace

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

It's past midnight and you are asleep when your cell phone beeps aloud and you immediately reach out for it. The screen reads: "new message received." The moment you open it, you get irritated to find out some real estate adviser offering you a plot costing a fortune or a medic promising prompt recovery through herbal medicines and sometimes spiritual healers at your service with remedies to your problems and antidotes to spells of black magic.

The nuisance caused by such messages is shared by hundreds of thousands of cell phone subscribers who, most of the time, do not know who the senders are. The real irritant in this case is the fact that the messages are sent to all and sundry and without considering whether the recipients are the target clientele or not. This also hints at the fact that the data available with spam marketers is not specific and carries general entries like names and cell numbers.

Hafiz Kamran, a university student, complains of receiving spam text messages. This, he says, often blocks the text messages sent by family members, friends and acquaintances and at the same time consumes phone's battery.

Kamran says he has tried to contact spam senders on the numbers they use but these calls are mostly unattended. It seems these numbers are only used to send out mass text messages and not for receiving calls, he adds. The recipients, he says, are asked to visit a specific address to avail some service or buy a product or call a landline number for further instructions.

Kamran's perception is proven true when TNS talks to Kashif Husain, a Karachi-based consultant in foreign education. He says he has obtained a sim from a company which offers unlimited text messages for a few hundred rupees. This sim, he says, is used solely for sending out messages by linking it to a computer operated software available openly in the market.

Kashif Husain tells TNS he has bought this software for Rs1500, which can import thousands of contacts from Excel sheet in seconds. Any message typed in the text box can be sent to all these contacts with a single click of the mouse. He says he has entered numbers of his previous, present and potential clients in his data bank and not purchased any generalised data from data sellers. He thinks his activity is legal as recipients of his messages know him personally.

Here he shares a message received from an unknown sender which reads: "Send SMS to 100,000 people for Rs5,000 only. We have mobile numbers of all cell phone subscribers in Pakistan including businessmen, investors, professionals etc."

A phone call to a seller of "comprehensive data", as he calls it, reveals that such data is collected from all sources including the employees of cell phone companies, though they (the companies) claim they do not share customers' data with third parties without their consent. The data is obtained from these employees secretively, says the seller who does not want to be named.

Shahid Ghani, a Lahore-based lawyer, tells TNS that spamming was taken care of in section 14 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance promulgated by Pervez Musharraf in 2007, but unfortunately this law has lapsed now. "Therefore, there is no law in place at the moment to stop such practice," he adds. The concerned section of the law, he says, reads: "Whoever transmits harmful, fraudulent, misleading, illegal or unsolicited electronic messages in bulk to any person without the express permission of the recipient, or causes any electronic system to show any such message or involves in falsified online user account registration or falsified domain name registration for commercial purpose commits the offence of spamming."

The section further adds: "Whoever commits the offence of spamming as described in sub-section (1) shall be punishable with fine not exceeding fifty thousand rupees if he commits this offence of spamming for the first time and for every subsequent commission of offence of spamming, he shall be punished with imprisonment of three months or with fine, or with both."

"Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has started working on this," Khurram Mehran, Director Public Relations PTA, shares with TNS. He says as per the Protection from Spam, Unsolicited, Fraudulent and Obnoxious Communication Regulations 2009 notified on July 31, 2009, telemarketing is being made a legal activity. "However, the same is to be regulated and no subscriber shall be receiving the telemarketing voice calls/SMSes without the express consent of the subscriber."

"An interim network/subscriber level blocking facility instruction/directive for implementation has been issued by the Authority followed by a media campaign for the awareness of general consumers about the convenient procedure to block unwanted calls and SMSes. A fully tested and functional blocking facility with a common short code shall be available by the end of this year," he adds.

Mehran says that earlier the said activity was not regulated since there were no relevant regulations to cater to the same. "Now the telemarketers shall only be using those lists of subscriptions whose users provide consent to receive telemarketing calls/SMSes."

About the existing role of PTA in checking spam, he says, "PTA's Consumer Protection Directorate through its dedicated toll free number, e-mail, fax and online web complaint lodging system receives complaints on the subject. Action is taken as per regulations leading to suspension of numbers involved in unsolicited communication. It was against this backdrop of complaints that regulations were promulgated to cater to the nuisance faced by the telecom consumers."

Khurram Mehran says that sending of bulk SMSes through harvesting software is not allowed and any telemarketer who wants to initiate mobile advertising is required to register himself for Class Value Added License Service Registration with the regulator i.e. PTA and is required to provide subject services under the ambit of content based Services.

"The telemarketer shall advertise through the short code allocated by PTA and is to only send communication to those subscribers who have given their consent for receipt of such telemarketing calls/SMSes. The above stated regulations outline punitive measures against those telemarketers who indulge in sending unsolicited telemarketing calls/SMSes to consumers who shall place their subscriptions in 'Do Not Call Register' (DNCR)," Mehran concludes.


Perfect scheme of things

With a zeal for the medium as well as his erudition, Asif Raza has managed to carve a niche for himself as a leading photographer

By Nafisa Rizvi

Asif Raza is an intrepid explorer who happens to be an ardent photographer by profession. His recent exhibition of works titled 'To Grasp the Scheme of Things Entire' is a collection of images in which the viewer is able to sense the physical presence of the photographer's searching eye and incisive mind traversing the verdant landscape of his new-found homeland and finding in it a still heart and unconditional reverence for creation.

Raza has returned for a brief visit to Pakistan after 14 years, having immigrated to Canada in 1996. He is on a five-month sabbatical from his teaching post at George Brown College in Toronto so that he may share some of his experience and knowledge with students in Pakistan. Thus he plans to teach at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and then go to Bangladesh where he will conduct a workshop at Patshala, a leading institute of Photography.

"I enjoy teaching immensely and my students recognise my passion for photography and are infected by it. I have never received a negative assessment of my course from the students or the faculty, although I am the only non-white instructor in the department."

It is Raza's zeal for the medium as well as his erudition that has brought him such accolades. For most people one graduate degree is more than they can handle; Raza has several and a few post-graduate studies to boot. Ironically, his first was a degree in Economics and Statistics.

"The journey has been circuitous and, in many instances, serendipitous. I was living in Islamabad after my Bachelor's and was aimless and without direction. I joined the Institute of Modern Languages, which is now part of the Quaid-e-Azam University, and followed a rather intensive programme in interpretational French. It brought me good money, more than what I was to earn later in life but I was still restive and looking for my bearings. I went on to France and my love of literature led me to study French Literature at Besancon. That in turn opened up a somewhat tangential path to journalism and consequently photojournalism".

At this point Raza knew he had found his true calling and plunged into the deep end of learning the esoteric complexities of Ohotography for which he attended a programme at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. "It was quite rigorous because I had to study advanced sciences in areas of optics and physics and chemistry in order to build fluoroscopic and spectroscopic images. But it taught me the complex methodologies of imaging to an extent that would have otherwise been impossible to learn. Much of my technical know-how issues from this profound and fundamental understanding of the process".

"I returned to Pakistan and chose to live in Karachi where I had never lived before. I was young and starry eyed and recently married and wanted to conquer the world. Three months at an advertising agency brought me spinning back to earth. It was an awful experience and I knew that I had to venture freelance to survive the closeted mind-set of the people in charge."

It was a rough period but Raza soon found projects that challenged him at least to some degree. He took on commercial, industrial and personal assignments and soon carved a niche for himself in the industry.

"There were times I couldn't find film and it was frustrating. I remember my first fashion shoot back in mid-eighties with a model who was also starting her career and later went on to become the leading model of her time. For the entire exhaustive shoot, I was paid Rs 150. From then on I went on to do many such assignments and it is ironic that one of my least favourite aspects of photography, fashion, brought me the most recognition and acknowledgement. But there was something good that came of it. I decided to use my authoritative influence very purposefully to give photography credence and validity as a profession, which it had previously lacked and has since maintained. Also, I taught my students and assistants everything I knew while putting into place, processes and systems that would later help them to launch their own careers and give them a measure of professional weight and stability".

But just as Raza managed to carve a comfortable niche for himself, circumstance forced him to leave the country and begin the process of setting up and settling down all over again, this time in Toronto, Canada.

"To leave a well-established career and be relegated to becoming a very small fish in a very big pond was, euphemistically speaking, challenging. I had to share a studio with a friend and do every job that came my way no matter how trivial. But then as I gained a foothold in the profession, I also re-discovered the joys of teaching. I had helped to set up the photography curriculum at Indus Valley School in its early days and I was keen to take on pedagogical enterprise."

Asif Raza currently teaches photography at George Brown College in Toronto, Canada where he has contributed significantly to the curriculum and has in fact designed a tailor-made course called Digital Imaging Technology, a 2-year Certificate Programme for which incidentally, he has been singled out for awards and accolades by the College.

"Among other things, I believe I have an edge in the technological aspect of photography. I have been using the PC since its earliest days and have experimented with image intervention in the days when it was not even acceptable, leave alone mainstream. Thus, befittingly, one of the courses I teach is known as 'Digital Darkroom'. Also, I have been researching creative imagery in journalism, engaging in it from a non-reportage perspective. From this research has issued the framework of a course which I teach called 'Visual Culture and Politics'."

With his interest in technological innovation, it is only natural that Raza would be inclined towards digital photography. He dismisses the reactions of photographers in Pakistan who vehemently claim their territory on either side of the digital/analogue divide. "It is only here that photographers have taken on the issue with such divisiveness and zeal. Personally, I enjoy both formats. It is important for photographers to know exactly what they want to achieve and to be able to have all the tools at their disposal and know the limits of each so that they may select the appropriate medium for the given subject and the coveted result."

"It's sad that there is no institution for the advancement of photography in Pakistan. I would have thought with all the new talent in the country, they would have taken the initiative by now. But photography is still quite insular and the practitioners have not felt the need to popularise it; to teach it on a large scale nor develop its potential. I feel that photographers have a societal role to play which they are not thinking about yet. In fact at the risk of antagonising a lot of people, I find that privileged Pakistanis take their advantages for granted and there is not enough magnanimity and sharing of knowledge and resources. Also, the culture of agreeing to disagree, which was already limited has waned further."

In spite of the obvious failings of Pakistani society, Raza's bond with his homeland has not faded and his yearning to give back by whatever means possible has seen him exhibiting, teaching and motivating young people to do their best and strive for things better.

Joan Sutherland who died last week was an opera singer par excellence

By Sarwat Ali

An Australian dramatic coloratura soprano, Joan Sutherland was noted for her contribution to the renaissance of the bel canto repertoire from the late 1950s through to the 1980s.

Sutherland was dubbed La Stupenda in 1960 following a performance of the title role in Handel Alcina. Pavarotti once called Sutherland 'Voice of the Century', while Montserrat Caballe described the Australian's voice as being like 'heaven'. Her highest note was a high F-sharp in altissimo.

Born to Scottish parents in Sydney, as a child she listened to and imitated her mother's singing exercises. Her mother, a mezzo-soprano, had taken voice lessons but never considered making a career as a professional singer.

Sutherland was 18-years-old when she seriously began studying voice with John and Aida Dickens. She made her concert debut in Sydney, as Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in 1947. After four years, she made her stage debut in Eugene Goossen's Judith, and the same year after winning Australia's most important competition, The Herald Sun Aria, she went to London to further her studies at the Opera School of the Royal College of Music with Clive Carey.

She was engaged as utility soprano, and made her debut there in 1952 as the First Lady in The Magic Flute, followed in November by a few performances as Clotilde in Bellini's's Norma with Maria Callas as Norma.

Sutherland married Australian conductor and pianist Richard Bonynge and since she could produce high notes and coloratura with great ease on his recommendation she explored the bel canto repertoire. She eventually settled in this Fach, spending most of her career singing dramatic coloratura soprano and in 1958 at the Royal Opera House, she "stopped the show" with Let the Bright Seraphim from Handel's Samson, earning a ten minute-long standing ovation. In 1960 she recorded the album The Art of Prima Donna that remains today one of the most recommended opera albums ever recorded. The double LP set won the Grammy Award.

When Sutherland toured Australia, young tenor named Luciano Pavorotti accompanied her, and the tour proved to be a major milestone in Pavarotti's career. With him she made a very successful studio-recording of Turandot in 1972 under the baton of Zubin Mehta though she never performed the role on stage.

In the late 1970s, Sutherland's voice started to decline and her vibrato loosened to an intrusive extent. In 1997 she published an autobiography, The Autobiography of Joan Sutherland -- A Prima Donna Progress. While it received scathing reviews for its literary merits, it does contain a complete list of all her performances, with full cast lists.

One wonders what has been our relationship and response to the vocal music of lets say the European tradition. If there was vocal music in the European classical tradition it has been the opera. Classical music in the last four centuries had focussed more on instrumental music. The pianoforte when it was invented and improved upon changed the face of classical music. And for us, who are non-European, it is much easier to appreciate and understand instrumental music. One reason could be that vocal music in some form engages the word, which does become a limiting factor when the singing takes place outside the circle of those who understand the language or have some historical links to. The European tradition had little truck with the English language as most of the operas were written in Italian and German, the languages not understood at all in regions like South Asia.

Instrumental music since it does not have a language in the verbal sense can be appreciated among a larger circle. During the colonial period when the people here were exposed to European classical music the elite in emulating the ruling elite thought that one most positive indication of being civilised was to appreciate the symphonies and sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven. The upper classes in the Indian subcontinent were only interested in the high classical tradition as it was considered to be high brow and representative of high culture and also because there was no concept of popular music which was usually equated with being common, low brow and rudimentary.

Vocal music too has a characteristic that is rooted in culture and tradition. The intonation or the method of intonation is different in different cultures but the response to vocal music is rather rustic. If the language is understood then intonation takes a poor second place. The response to the lyrics and poetry much more than to the method of intonation takes precedent. It is a response that is crude and basic rather than being that of an initiated person.

It was only when the popular music started to gain momentum after the World War II and English became the language of popular music emanating from the United States and England did the rest of the English understanding world start to positively respond to it. This was initially facilitated by the Hollywood films and then by the breakthroughs in technology, which could carry all kinds of music to the farthest corners of the world.

In the West too the classical tradition has now been limited to the more initiated with popular music becoming mainstream musical expression. Though plenty of European classical instrumental music was used and adapted or worked upon in the subcontinent, particularly in the films, opera as a form never could take root. The trinity of music, dance and drama, which was enunciated in the Natshastra, has been the ruling format while a play based exclusively on singing has probably never been attempted -- though many playwrights have written operas.


Age old benefits

In our art world, hardly anyone admits the loss of his inspiration or acknowledges his creative impotency -- except for Ali Imam

By Quddus Mirza

"The proper school to learn art is not Life but Art". -- Oscar Wilde


An art teacher, who recently retired from an art college, showed her new works at a gallery in Lahore. Another artist, associated with an art institution for many years, exhibited his work a few months ago at a public space. Although both artists enjoy the title of 'senior' artist (the category exists in our art world only!), their works were not brilliant examples of involvement with art.

Somehow, we are keen to categorise our artists as senior or junior, not just in informal discussions, but in academic meetings and for state-sponsored art exhibitions too. For example in the catalogue of 7th National Exhibition of Visual Arts, held in 1996 in Islamabad, senior and junior artists are strategically segregated into sections of 'Masters' and 'Artists of Substance'. It would be interesting to note that some names (such as A.K.Sajjad, Aftab Ahmad, Masood Akhtar and Waqar Ahmed Sheikh), from masters' class hardly had any presence in the art world of 1990s; they were not practising a great deal nor had shown extensively.

Yet the organiser, The Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), was compelled to create these categories, and then to split artists in sections, which by their nature are arbitrary, porous, assumptive and false. Artists being described as young and junior at one point could be introduced as seniors and masters at another time; since there is no clear demarcation of age or years of professional experience after which an artist gets elevated from one category to the next.

Sometimes an artist can die 'young', not physically but in terms of his art practice and visibility. For instance in Art in Pakistan (the first book published on Pakistani art in 1954) by Jalal uddin Ahmed, artists like Sadequain, Raheel Akbar Javed, Murtaza Bashir, Colin David, Jamil Naqsh, Rasheed Araeen and many others (including Sufi Waqar, Ishrat Ali Khan and Aminul Islam) were mentioned in the chapter 'Experiments by Younger Artists'. Some of them are now our most respected names, while others faded away while they were still 'young artists'.

In the present time, when change has become the only reality, classification of senior and junior seems irrelevant and redundant. There is hardly a field that has a monopoly of a specific generation. Today a young person may achieve a lot in the field of science, technology, economics, business and even in art; an achievement unimaginable by a man of older generation. Yet there is a fascination for being addressed as a senior or seasoned artist.

This is a cultural phenomenon where parents and elders are normally honoured to a level where they get to decide the future of their offsprings. It is considered improper to contest their views or decisions. Similarly in our art world (and in literary circles too), seniors are revered a great deal. In a group show, one notices the works of older artists put on prominent places, while young artists' works are usually hung in far off areas and at the end of the gallery -- regardless of the worth and quality of their creations.

This kind of treatment to a 'senior' artist often has a negative outcome: often the older artists tend to repeat their previous works or even produce works which are of lesser standard. And this phenomenon is not limited to the two artists who recently displayed in Lahore. Their age earns them admiration, but their work hardly matches that esteem.

Meanwhile, a visit to any commercial art gallery in our cities would reaffirm that a whole crop of new artists dominate the art world, in terms of ideas, imagery, technique, and consumption. Not only this, it is a reminder of an unpleasant truth: that only a few 'senior' artists have been able to maintain their creative capabilities over the years and have managed to enhance it.

One wonders why this happens in our surroundings because in the mainstream art of the West, most artists' years add new dimensions to their work. Many European and North American artists working today are more than seventy (if not eighty) and yet are producing fresh ideas and new imagery. It may have to do with the cruel competitive world of art market -- spread from galleries to academia to media -- or it may have connection with a culture where one's years do not automatically entitle the artist to command respect and acceptability and one has to prove oneself regularly.

In our society, on the contrary, age is considered synonymous with success and achievement. There are many amongst us who are benefiting from this norm in society. Hardly anyone admits the loss of his/her inspiration or acknowledges his/her creative impotency. Only Ali Imam had the courage to talk about it. Once discussing his art, he disclosed that at an early stage f his career, he realised he did not have the creative ability that could sustain him as a painter in the future, so he moved to other areas of art, such as teaching and gallery business; though he still made one or two paintings in a year in order to sell these because of his name.

We have many dried up artists like Ali Imam, but do we have anyone as courageous, confident and clearheaded as Ali Imam, today?



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