Tag Archives: art in Pakistan

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.

Another One Bites the Dust

I’ve been thinking about my progressive loss of innocence. This is a continuing process. Understanding it requires some thought and practice. It gives birth to cynicism and pessimism, the almost identical sisters that run along, hand in hand, spreading poison.

But enough of that whining and bitching. In the end, I’m just pissed off that the world didn’t turn out the way I expected. So now, the ranting can begin:

The art-world in Pakistan bites me in the ass every now and then. It can’t even be called the art-world really. It’s probably just an art-meteor – the kind that burns when it hits the atmosphere and some random debris might just plonk down in somebody’s backyard – or some gallery, in other words. You see a shooting star when it burns, and make a wish, which never comes true. So, it’s pretty lame. It involves a bunch of suits and aunties in galleries oohing and aahing and stuffing their faces with oily samosas. Yes, that’s a pretty good definition of the Pakistani art-world/meteor. Shiny but no cigar. And oily samosas (ofcourse).

A recent event disappointed me more than usual. It was an epic fail. An International Artist residency came to its drab conclusion and left quite a few of us fiesty types in the doldrums. I’m quite sure the intentions of the various organizers were honorable – though I’m sure they couldn’t have predicted the outcome: a complete “shartfest” as I’d like to call it.

Shart: (According the Urban Dictionary) 1. a small, unintended defecation that occurs when one relaxes the anal sphincter to fart (blend of “shit” and “fart”) and 2. gas followed by mass.

Now, I’ve had some minimal experience with International Artist Residencies before, but the outcome was mostly interesting and sometimes mindblowing. Or maybe not. My mind just refuses to blow. It is firmly held together with cynical armor. This particular event was the result of five weeks of – well, I don’t know what, really.

I had a bad feeling about it from the beginning. A friend and I were asked to be on board as working members. Ofcourse, I was interested. I’m always interested. We were also led to believe that we’d be on the selection panel for the applicants to this residency. However, the “selection” was a complete sham. We were shown the work of the already selected artists and then the rest of the “rabble” who were rejected for vague reasons. We selected some of our own anyway but nothing really became of that. I suppose there were valid reasons. Besides, not having had the experience in such things, our selections were probably not considered. Again, I’m sure that the organizers had good intentions. Or not enough time. Or something.

Being reasonable adults, we welcomed them to the best of our combined abilities. But I have a job so I couldn’t really spend much time with the artists. Neither could my friend (who is also my colleague). We had nice conversations. We laughed. We went for dinner. The usual. I even arranged some volunteers to help them and take them around. These volunteers were young people who had graduated in the last two years. I figured it would be a good experience for them. Everything was making sense. Or so I thought.

A few days ago, the students (mine included) visited this residency space to look at the artists at work and to speak to them about it. This was a disappointing experience as one artist – a young woman from Pakistan – was extremely rude during her “talk” – she began by yelling “shut up everyone” even though nobody was talking. Being reasonable adults (and horrified and insulted adults), we didn’t walk out and sat through an excruciatingly boring presentation of her excruciatingly trite and boring work. Some students questioned her which led to a very heated argument (which kept us awake) but she ended up talking rubbish. We heard that later she went somewhere to hide and cry. We weren’t too concerned, however. She insulted us all throughout her “talk” and didn’t answer most of our questions with anything that made any sense. We realized that an artist cannot be a moron and then expect to be respected. We learnt a very valuable lesson. We also lost some of our innocence right then since we learnt that:

  1. Morons are funded and promoted as artists of some value.
  2. Morons with excruciatingly ridiculous work are also promoted and funded.
  3. Morons who insult large groups of people are accepted into programs that are meant for artistic and cultural exchange.

Having learnt all that, we were then presented with a complete “shartfest” on the open day of this program/residency. The work was dull mostly with a few exceptions – mostly work by two of the artists “from abroad” – although the third one (also from an Islamic Republic like our own pure and holy land) created mildly offensive work. The work was mostly offensive because it was boring and we had all seen it many times before. We decided we like to look at things we haven’t seen before. However, we are gracious enough to accept that everything has been done before but we also expect that people show us a new and interesting was to look at what we have seen before.

We saw arrogance and lack of common sense. We saw a complete disregard for our feelings. We saw decadence and lack of respect. We also felt insulted and bored. Then we felt more insulted because this open day and residency space was quite far from civilization and we had made a great effort to be there.

Some of the important things we (my students, my colleagues and myself) learnt were mostly related to what it means to be an artist. Having an artistic license does not mean that:

  1. You turn into a moron overnight
  2. You can be rude whenever you like and insult people
  3. You can make anything and call it art and then refuse to answer people’s questions. When you put something up for people to see, answering their questions should be the next on your list of things to do.
  4. You become arrogant and strut about with a knowing look on your face. Then you’re just a pompous ass.
  5. You disrespect people’s beliefs like it’s your right.
  6. You expect people to love you and your work even though you’re a pompous ass and your work is dull.

Perhaps I am very harsh in my evaluation of this event. But pulling punches when something as dumb as this occurs only makes it worse. A student has been very accurate in her understanding of the whole mess. This is a very hopeful sign. This new wave of young people who will have artistic license will not be complete morons who are disrespectful and pompous. They will have common sense and the courage to be honest.

Concord vs Discord: Update

It’s been a while since I’ve made any sense. I’ve moved into what I call my xanax-junkie-happy-place. This leads to the inevitable question: are all artists substance abusers? It is a stereotype after all. But since I’m in pharmaceutical heaven, do I care?

If art (contemporary or otherwise) is a critique on life, then an artist must be a critic. I shit on critics. I piss on them. But then it gets confusing, doesn’t it? Here I am, elevated to a place in the clouds with my drugs and my critiques – scorning the critics of anything I do. Does that make me a hypocrite? Does it make me insane? Sometimes, I even wish that they would criticize me some more which would make me more important (and/or get me more exhibitions – though I wouldn’t really know what to do with them).


The act of exhibiting


1. Extravagant and conspicuous behavior intended to attract attention to yourself

2. The perverse act of exposing and attracting attention to your own genitals

Well. Need I say any more? In this context, my work would be my genitals (sometimes, that’s pretty much what it is) and I’d be really creepy (which I probably am anyway).

But it all falls apart when I think about it. This isn’t what I started out to become. However, maybe I was always some weird kind of fetishist/creep and so I wandered into making/producing/propagating art – and essentially, myself.

After a long hiatus, I’ve thrown myself back into looking at other people’s exhibitions (genitals! genitals!) and here I am again, arguing/fighting with myself. Recently, I went to a few but came back with nothing in my heart and mind. Perhaps people walk away from my work feeling the same. I’m human and so are they and we’re all (mostly) free individuals (I hope) and we all have opinions.

Recently, my brother tried to convince me that having an opinion is a disease. But is that a choice we have? There is no peace anyway, so why bother? Yelling “death to the establishment” doesn’t really get you anywhere. There is no escape. In the same way, there is no escape from having an opinion. It’s like a bad penny – keeps turning up (especially when you need a good penny or to shut up completely).

I haven’t talked much about the trials of my job recently. That’s mostly because I have no time to think about it – there is just too much to do. I still have an office assistant who is the devil’s reincarnation as a short, over-reacting, ample young woman. Ofcourse, it would help if she could draft a simple letter but that isn’t going to happen in this life-time. It might take a couple more before she figures it out.


I haven’t posted for a while because I was insanely busy. With this and the degree show at NCA Rawalpindi. More on that later. I will upload images of the work on my website eventually – after the show opens.

Besides that, I am brain-dead.

Artier than Thou

Eat shit and die.

With that out of the way, I can begin to write about a recent event. A lot has been happening (not forgetting the aunties so far up my ass that I can barely breathe) and most of it is eventful. They aren’t going to pay us much from what I’ve heard. Whenever a budget has to be cut, let it be the education budget. Of course we’re just losers and we waste people’s time and money. Education? It’s hardly a priority. Teachers? Oh man, why do we pay them at all? Let them starve. They don’t do anything constructive anyway. Besides, they’re idiots who went to school. They have degrees. A degree is a degree even if it’s fake so why did they bother anyway?

I’ll find out at the end of this month how much money I’ve been forced to give for the floods. I have nothing against helping the people of my country. But this isn’t right. This isn’t my choice. This is by force. Oh well, what can I do anyway? I’m just a loser who went to school and I try to help other people go to school and we’re all idiots anyway.

Don’t they realize that education is our salvation?

Anyway, now on to arty farts. I went to an opening with amazing work and a dinner with mostly amazing people after. You do realize that there are afterparties to these things. However, there are always a few artier than thou types around. After a measure of inebriation, they tend to get unbearable. I swear I don’t get a single word of what they say. Somebody talked about donuts and the meaning of life and it made absolutely no sense whatsoever. There is something very wrong with these artier than thou types. Perhaps, I should explain. These arty types do not do any real work. They have weird government jobs though. But they haven’t made any art in years. They speak with great conviction about absolutely useless bullshit. This bullshit can range from the ordinary to complete fantasy. They never face the harder aspects of life because idealistically, our minds hang around in outer space and the world below is too crude for their sensitive “arty” existence. Such people often make me vomit in my mouth.

Surprisingly, they zone in on people like me. Just like the aunties, they realize that they can give me a lot of grief. And that satisfies their weird expectations from life somewhat. So they talk shit and I vomit in my mouth over and over. They analyze artwork in a way that makes it completely cryptic and elitist even when it isn’t. They frighten the laymen into submission. They make people hate art and run away screaming (while they’re vomiting in their mouths I bet). Who cares about their high-handed interpretations anyway? Who cares if they think the meaning of life is a donut?

Alas. I whine and whine. I should tell them to shove it and leave. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet. But soon I will have no choice.

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 despardes.com 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.

A Page with a View

4 pageviews. That’s uplifting. And this isn’t sarcasm.

They printed what I wrote in the paper. Surprisingly, I didn’t get struck by lightning and nobody laughed at me. That is a good sign. I searched online for a link for an electronic version but Dawn doesn’t really make it easy or I’d paste the link here.

The reason I am surprised is that it was a mediocre attempt to express myself – well not all of it. Some came right from the depths of my tortured soul but I compensated with adding mediocre bits that I am ashamed of and so I expected snickers and snide comments from people. However, nobody noticed. And if somebody did notice I probably won’t find out. So maybe it all worked out in the end.

Meanwhile, a friend in Lahore related his personal story from the aftermath of the terrible bomb blasts (on friday) and I felt so guilty. He spoke about the mincemeat they wanted him to identify as a little boy he was looking for and all I felt was mostly pseudo since I have recently managed to get some work from a bunch of art-makers to a gallery in the US – and it’s all about living in a war. All I know is the terror I feel. But it cannot compare to the loss of human life. How can one process it all?

I do not know how to understand anything anymore in a world that is so completely insane.