Category Archives: Random Flux

War is Beautiful

True drama can be conceived only as resulting from the collective impulse of all the arts to communicate in the most immediate way with a collective public. – Richard Wagner

Air Raid Precautions

On April 13th 2012, students from 4th Year Fine Arts (with their friends from other years and the Department of Architecture) declared and performed a “beautiful war” at NCA Rawalpindi Campus. This was their response to the following (given to them by the brilliant Fatima Hussain as part of their minor project):

“War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flamethrowers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metallization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others … Poets and artists of Futurism! … Remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art … may be illumined by them!”

– Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, 1912

It is interesting that Marinetti was able to ‘abstract mass destruction into the “world’s only hygeine” and he was able to view war as an aesthetic gesture.’ The objective of this assignment, however, was not to just find beauty in carnage, but to somehow transform ideas and notions about war and beauty. I couldn’t help thinking of Bertolt Brecht and his War Primer scrapbook project from the 1940s:

Popular war imagery is always beautiful. Popular war notions are also beautiful and moving. A friend recently said to me that “war is man at his best.”  Considering all of this, one has to contextualize war within the standards of beauty and attempt to understand how it can be transformed into process and product (another aspect of the assignment).

Meanwhile, the following illustrate the process and product of the response:

More pictures here.

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The Living Newspaper

On April 4 2012, a group of final year students from the NCA Rawalpindi Fine Art Department, performed the “Living Newspaper” at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi. This is on a day when Murree Road was blocked for a strike protesting the rising petrol and gas prices. In a way, it made sense for them to perform the agony (and ecstacy) of the news in public. Unfortunately, not many people were lying about at the Liaquat Bagh. I have often stared vacantly into Liaquat Bagh, to and from work since late 2007. Usually I see many people sprawling or sleeping on the grass as if the park was their personal space. In my head, I see it as a public bedroom. It has many romantic connotations – a bed of grass and a ceiling of sky. Considering the history of the park, one has to stop and wonder at how this space becomes a bedroom for so many people.

The Public Bedroom

From Wikipedia:

Liaquat National Bagh (Park), usually just referred to as Liaquat Bagh (Urdu: لیاقت باغ), is a famous park on Murree Road in the city of Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan.

Two Prime Minsters of Pakistan have been assassinated in this park.

The park was formerly known as Municipal Park, but was renamed “Liaquat National Bagh (Park)” after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951. It is known as a place for political gatherings and for speeches. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007 while leaving an election rally at the park.

One would think that this park was relevant to the Living Newspaper performance. However, it was used because it was most convenient on the day of the strike. Responding to convenience is usually the next best thing.

Following are some pictures from the performance in the public bedroom:

What I observed was a general apathy – a sleeping nation. I have no right to make sweeping statements, really. Some people roused themselves when the students seemed to be making a commotion (one performance involved loud shouting which gained some attention). I read the entire experience like an experiment of sorts. I have been accused of apathy time and again. It was interesting to see that everyone was apathetic. They didn’t really give a shit. These are the masses (well, a small fraction of the masses) that are referenced in everything – conversation, as expected (or unexpected) audience and in the news. It was hot and they were tired. They wanted some entertainment. Humor was gladly accepted. They were also confused about what we were doing there. One individual thought we were silly “not involving the media” in our cause. Did we have a cause? Did it seem like we did? I had a marvelous time.

He wanted to get his picture taken.

Unwoman

“My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”

From A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A friend suggested A Handmaid’s Tale and I cannot help responding to it – in my own context, mostly. This book has shaken me somewhat but I wish to limit my musing to myself and not aspire to make sweeping statements or have opinions about the world of men and women. Frankly, I am as lost as the next person. I am merely a revisionist. I revise myself as I see fit (or unfit). Sometimes, I feel like I have no right to opine on anything since everything revises itself.

My “context” is also revised – by men and women alike. I usually feel like a bystander, watching people tell me who and what I am. I revise myself and I watch as others revise me. And I am aware that I am not a victim. This is just how things are, I suppose, within a social construct. I can only bitch and whine. “Take control” they say. And I nod and plod on. What else is one to do?

I know and don’t really know, how others view me. Communication is deceptive. Sometimes, I catch myself believing them. Sometimes, I feel paranoid and withdraw into myself. No harm done. However, I feel a disconnect that I cannot explain or articulate. Is it the curse of the artist? I keep revising the myth of the artist, you see. We watch and we make. We watch from afar. We watch unseen. We have a gaze – the all powerful gaze, that is borrowed from the world and then given back to the world. The audience takes over and we are gone. Maybe we are living on borrowed sight.

This disconnect is powerful. It takes away my sense of self and emotion. It hollows me. Maybe I am living on borrowed self.

“nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”

In the book, the word that struck me most was Unwomen: Unwomen are sterile women, widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and politically dissident women: all women who are incapable of social integration within the Republic’s strict gender divisions.

Dissedence is deceptively alluring. I am a person who dissents from established policy only to assent to another established policy. The show goes on. Only half of me is really awake. The other half is disconnected.

A New Resolution

From my post last year on March 23rd:

In Pakistan this day marks the passing of the Lahore Resolution. Republic Day of Pakistan was first observed in 1956 when Pakistan officially became an Islamic Republic (previously Pakistan had the status of a Dominion). The main events of this day include a full military parade and the awarding of honours at the Presidency (Presidential Palace) by the President. Every year, on March 23, the Pakistani people commemorate their National Day in remembrance of “The Pakistan Resolution” passed on March 23, 1940, in the historic city of Lahore which is also the day the country was declared a republic.

I was at Minto/Iqbal Park, Lahore on March 23rd this year for Lahore Agitprop Theatre performances (more on that here) and encountered a strange phenomena that I can inarticulately call a “moment” that changed my perception. And for a while, I didn’t feel cynical, bored or jaded. Perhaps it was the day itself, the space, the city, the performances and my students that created this amazing feeling. I am convinced that any other combination would not have worked.

These days all I feel is despair. The future seems bleak. I have no affiliations with any political party or their odious bullshit. I feel that I can do nothing; that I am helpless. Every day, I face people who are monstrous in their hate and ignorance. I work with such people; those who are teaching despite their ignorance and the vile poison they preach. I feel dejected and depressed. I don’t even remember what I believed in that brought me here.

But that moment at the park, I realized I was amused, delighted and moved. I am not jaded afterall. There is still work to be done. I don’t know how long this feeling with last but I intend to make the most of it. Maybe I should thank my students and colleagues with me that day. Maybe I should live in it for as long as I can.

3 In a Crowd

Sentimentality: falsely emotional in a maudlin way; extravagant or affected feeling or emotion

Mawkishness makes bad art. But then again, that is a matter of opinion. The work of these three artists is notmawkish. In fact, it is all but sentimental. And  that, in my opinion, makes their work fascinating. In my quest to find meaning within every visual stimulus available, I have often been disappointed by the overly mushy sentiments of the angsty. Also, I have been forced to keep an eye out for images that are compelling without the artifice of sentimentality. With this work, I feel like I need not worry about the maudlin depth of emotions.

The three artists have externalized what they have felt into images that one can relate to, without the discomfort of too much familiarity. We don’t want to live inside their skins, yet we do want to see what they see. We like mystery and we like to be amused. These artists do not disappoint. Most importantly, the work is relevant to the space and time they exist in which makes it more fun to look at and ponder on.

Atiph Khan and Sophiya Khwaja enjoy satire. We can see that they laugh at the misery inflicting our universe. Yet, it doesn’t appall us – this amusement. We laugh with them. Atiph draws from the so called history and culture of the region as well as the popular visuals of truck art and other kitschy iconography to reflect on what surrounds him. He is interested in the commonality of popular imagery as well as the news – which afflicts us daily and imposes a veil of threat on our lives. Laughing at it makes it digestible. His work also reflects on the current position of many people on the events in the country. We are frustrated and we laugh it off to survive in the chaos.

Sophiya Khwaja uses figures in humorous poses to make amusing statements on the current events in Pakistan. These figures are awkward and funny in the face of terror. Representing a particular culture within the country, the culture of the English-speaking, upper middle class Pakistanis, she brings out the attitude of laughing intelligently about the horror thrown in our faces daily. We can chuckle with her at the absurdity of it all.

Zaira Ahmed speaks about time changing familiar things. She draws upon an image she has seen for years of a building that dilapidated with time. This image perhaps means a change for the worse. What keeps her work within the realm of the “non-sentimental” is the essence of sensible observation of architecture. Her images represent a sort of unemotional vision of things falling apart. We need not shed tears for a building. But we sense impending doom or even loss.

All three artists speak of the transient nature of time and space. In this, they are screaming in a crowd louder than themselves. However, that does not take away from their work but gives it a place within the madness. In Bob Dylan’s timeless words:

There’s a battle outside and it is raging/It’ll soon shake your windows
and rattle your walls/
For the times they are a-changin.

PS: Unfortunately, Atiph (or Atif) Khan felt that whatever I had written about the show was too “negative” and did not know who Bob Dylan was. My little opinion was discarded. However, I am posting it here because I can.

Seat 48D

The following is what I wrote in a shaking aircraft where there was no internet. I got to where I was supposed to be in one piece. Some art did occur.

The Barf Bag

October 8, 2011

02:22pm

I’ve spent my entire life in airplanes but now they frighten me. Suddenly it isn’t so cool to be suspended in mid-air inside a frail metal body. It isn’t cool at all. Turbulence and no smoking; blocked sinuses and impaired hearing. No, I don’t like it anymore. They have a strange monitor display up that shows a garishly colored map that is supposed to tell me where I’m going. Like it’s a consolation – like it’s supposed to give me a sense of purpose while I sweat in growing terror. Also, the sudden turns this plane seems to be making seem unfamiliar. Am I imagining things?

There isn’t much to amuse me around here. Maybe I should pay more attention. Meanwhile, the craving for a cigarette (a nice fulfilling deep drag) is driving me a little crazy. Maybe this has everything to do with my stupid addiction. I’ve noticed smoking is the most boring addiction. It doesn’t even make you look good anymore. It just smells bad and hurts something awful. Oh well, so much for that.

Atleast there is eye-candy. For some reason, there are only male flight-attendants on this flight. And most of them are a sight for sore eyes. Maybe you are required to be decidedly pretty before they hire you now. The older ones looked like anybody’s uncle. I wonder if they’re straight or gay. I’m tempted to ask just to have something else to do besides get paranoid about the turbulence and crave cigarettes. I wonder how they’d react though.

This brings me to something I have been noticing recently. It suddenly seems to be that the majority of the Pakistani male population is unattractive. When did that happen? Was it always like this? How did I not notice before? Has something changed? Every day on the road, I make it a point to look for at least one attractive man. I look into cars and stare at the pedestrians. I know that is mostly rude but if the men can do it, so can I. Besides, I feel like if I could spot one good looking man on the streets, then there might be hope for Pakistan after all. And everyday, I am disappointed. Maybe you have to be on a plane to spot nice looking men. These days, even clean-looking men give me hope.

I have been periodically reading the instructions on the Nicotine Replacement Treatment gum I bought before I left. I still haven’t popped it. It’s for when the craving gets so bad, I start groaning with pain. If I can still type, it isn’t too bad. I wish they had internet on the plane so I could tweet about everything. Also, has anyone else noticed how suggestive my seat number is?

Smack My Bitch Up

the woods

by Nadia Batool Hussain on Saturday, April 7, 2007 at 2:26am

it started with the eclipse, with how kissing a man and marrying a man are very different things, with neruda, with tears on the early train, legs brushing on strange legs, gloved hands and sitting on the floor. but then the keys were misplaced. and we got lost. and then we found it. the finger bridge. the hot chocolate. navigating the slippery rocks in trusty boots. gurgling stream – or was it the river? i am not a nature girl. we were looking for something in the woods. a story? then began the telling and the listening. the diner. the cemetary. sprinkles and jimmies. more words for my brain. if only i didn’t feel so sick.

The internet is a funny place. It documents life in a way. All those years ago, I was looking for something. In those faraway lands, right here at home – I was looking for something. We’re all looking for something.

In my quest, I found a lot of pain. No, this is not a sentimental journey into the past. This is a frank self-evaluation. If you’re not interested, nobody is forcing you to read on. Why so glum, chum? I ask myself a lot these days. Everyone makes mistakes but some of us make more than their fair share. We make the mistakes you can overlook on a good day. Our hearts and our minds are carried away by kindness. And then, when kindness is replaced with what lies under it, we are disappointed. And then we are marked with yet another scar. All of this is almost self-inflicted. We allow and so, we deserve.

And here I am, so many years later wondering if indeed I am masochistic. Nothing new here, people. I’ve talked and written about this too many times. But am I masochistic? Are we all masochists? Do we enjoy this miserable game? I look around me and all I see is suffering and insecurity. As somebody told me recently, these are difficult times for us all.

On another note, there has to be more to life than just this crap. That’s what I tell myself every day. My art practice is almost at a standstill. My health has deteriorated. Work is weird. Everything seems to be falling apart. Even the aunties have quit their aunty-ness. This is all so depressing.

But there is something…perhaps a new obsession which is difficult to define at the moment. It is absolutely illogical in the context of “real life” and makes no sense if I think about it too much. However, it has given me more inspiration than anything else for a long time. That got me thinking about the practice of art-making. Maybe the whole idea of muses was closer to the truth than I thought. Who knows? In constructing my own reality, I can do anything. And isn’t that what I do? I construct reality and then show it to other people. For some reason, they’re interested in looking. That part of art-making has always pleased me a great deal. People like to look. As long as its worth looking at, I suppose.

Sometimes when people tell me that they “don’t get art” I want to smack them. What’s there to get? Why do they expect profundity? Why can’t they just look and let it tell them about a new world somebody else constructed just for their viewing pleasure (or their own viewing pleasure). In this brave new world, where we “share” everything – our thoughts, ideas, pictures and emotions, what’s the harm at looking at some artwork and just – looking? Why do people expect some profound statement in a picture? I have to admit it frustrates me.

hand touching hand

Many years ago, in another world, I was manning the coffee station at a wedding at the Racquet Club, Philadelphia (wearing my sweet black bowtie) and the wedding singer did a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” – the following lines got stuck in my head:

Hands, touching hands, reaching out
Touching me, touching you

Those were good times indeed. I had been on my feet for 10 hours but I felt alright. That’s where this drawing came from. Those were good times, yearning for that feeling – but it was a good yearning. That’s where my artwork comes from. Life and those moments when songs or people get stuck in my head. Is that so profound? It is something we all know.