Sultan Rahi in my Backyard

Yesterday, I did an “in and out” of the Film Art exhibition at Gallery6, Islamabad. An “in and out” involves a quick round of the gallery, looking at every artwork, avoiding the gazes of anyone I might know (to avoid meaningless conversation) and then making a fast getaway. This goes wrong often and one must have a whole range of excuses to be used according to the situation. For example, to a person you know well enough, you can make the excuse of being tired or sick depending on the excuse you used the last time. A good memory of excuses helps. To people you don’t know too well, a nod and smile is enough. And if they become a problem and attach themselves to you – well, then you can always tell them you’re dying to see the work and walk quickly to the next painting/art-work and avoid looking at them even if you have to pretend that the painting/artwork has sent you into a deep, comatose state. And you might have to develop a hearing deficiency to make it more effective. Trust me, its hard work.

Anyway, I wasn’t in the best of moods yesterday after a long day at work. And it’s hot as hell in Islamabad so all I wanted to do was get home and sleep. But I had been guilt tripped by Dr. Arjumand Faisel enough to attempt an “in and out” making sure he saw me at the opening. However, I have to admit it was an interesting show considering what they’re doing at Gallery6. Now, Gallery6 is an unassuming and mostly low-key gallery (not that Islamabad has anything high-profile when it comes to art galleries – except perhaps the National Art Gallery which is too strongly connected to the government bullshit to show anything too interesting most of the time). Following is a write up I found on about the exhibition:

ISLAMABAD: Gallery6 in Islamabad is launching a unique exhibition titled ‘Film Art for Homes’ – an exhibition of paintings by billboard painters.

The exhibition – a first of its kind in Pakistan – will open on Friday May 14 in Pakistan’s capital and continue till May 27. It has already aroused much interest both in the art circles, the media and among Islamabad art lovers.

Dr. Arjumand Faisel, the curator of Gallery6 , who came up with the unique idea told DesPardes he wants to introduce “film art” by billboard painters into every house in Pakistan. “I plan to take this exhibition elsewhere also to create awareness of film art in Pakistan and to make it available as a painting in drawing rooms of the rich and the poor,” he added.

Film art in Pakistan has survived as much as art in Pakistan survived the deliberate state policy of Gen. Zia’s regime to shun it.

Cinema billboards, with dazzling images, were a part of popular culture of major cities in Pakistan. Their enormous scale, bright colors and melodramatic imagery were used to excite public.

The visual power of these illusionistic billboards has been integral in building the public fascination with film stars for nearly five decades. But now, with demolishing of cinema houses and replacement of hand painted billboards by panaflex in the remaining few, the billboard painters are struggling financially. Their plight was noticed and brought to attention by Karachi School of Arts through an exhibition ‘Beyond Billboards’ in January 2010.

In recognizing the needs of these billboard painters, and in an effort to find regular income generation direction for them, gallery6 and EWCA-IC offered to build on the initial effort. It was decided to experiment with exploration of alternate avenues for the financially crunched billboard painters in which they can use their existing skill of painting film artists and film scenes. Four painters Aziz Ghouri, Faiz Rahi, Riaz Bhatti and Suresh Kumar were provided with canvases and paints and guidance for producing paintings in smaller sizes, based on their previous work and skills. To overcome their hesitancy, the size of their canvas was reduced gradually.

Dr Arjumand Faisel, the curator of Gallery6, said, “The reason for bringing the paintings down to a smaller scale was to present it in a size that can be easily displayed in a room or lounge of a house and also cut down the cost of work so that it can be sold cheaply in the market. It is envisaged that these painters will paint popular film stars and scenes of hit films and sell them in the market to the fans and earn their living. Also, interested persons will be able to place order painting of their favourite star with themselves, or getting their painting made with their family members or friends”.

In future, the plan is to provide other small objects like lanterns, lamps, candle stand, pen holders, etc. They will produce imagery of film artists and scenes and the work produced will be marketed. This will not only contextualize their work in a new way, but will also help them understand and explore new avenues for financial survival.

There are three partners for implementing this activity: Gallery6, which has planned this initiative and is marketing their work and promoting sales; Karachi School of Art that has long provided pioneering education in art and design, and East-West Center Association-Islamabad Chapter (EWCA-IC) that has provided seed money for this experiment as part of activities for celebrating 50 years of East-West Center.

I think it’s interesting that somebody thought about the billboard artists. I mean, they need to make a living too. But the cynic in me always wonders (always, always) if it isn’t another way to commercialize yet another craft. This is something that confuses me. This was a craft that was commercial to begin with. I shouldn’t apply my idealistic notions about the purity of art on everything. It means I am a hypocritical, elitist moron. And I don’t want to be that. Also none of this is about me either. I should just get over myself and my endless art education.  I sometimes feel that art education turned me into some strange alien in some ways.

On another note, I heard that Meera has turned 16. Wow. My ass.

4 responses to “Sultan Rahi in my Backyard

  1. does facilitating drawing rooms concern art galleries?…ideally…

    • It’s their bread and butter. Galleries need to make money to survive. And artists need to eat. It’s about business and profits. If a gallery were to just promote art, then they wouldn’t sell anything. But how would they survive? If they don’t, then who will show the work? Museums funded by governments and the rich? And what would they get in return? This is a difficult one to figure out. I think it’s important to identify what art can do (more than what art can be) in this situation.

      Ideally, the world should be a better place where artists can eat their paints and make art for the sake of art – but then what what would they make the art for? Entertainment? Beauty? Oh I don’t know.

  2. there are just no answers!:(….again!..but the more we ask the closer we get right?…

  3. Right. We get closer to figuring out our own answers if nothing else.

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