Tag Archives: Islamabad

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.

These Boots Are Made For Walking

Dada Giri (slang): bullying; pushing somebody around because you think you can; walking all over somebody.

Suffering from an acute sense of confusion and general embarrassment (the whole world is laughing and pointing fingers), I figured now is a good time to think about bullying. I googled dada giri and got some interesting results:

Well “dada” means elder brother and “Dadagiri” means exercising your rights as an elder brother but with a wrong sense. You force your juniors to listen to you and make them do whatever you feel like even if its wrong. And if they dont obey you, you simply punish them badly…!!

Emphasis on the exclamations! It sounds like the NCA (oh no, I’ve said it!) and most of the world, even.

Hit, beat, cheat or make pains to people; for money and other forms of profit. Demonstrate a power against a mass and loot them or produce a strong feeling of unsafe environment.

Uhm, yes. That sounds like the whole world.

I was bullied a lot (and still am to some extent since it seems to be the way of the world) and it’s not exactly fun. Being pushed around cannot be fun. It’s just in bad taste. A friend told me I was being a push-over when it came to somebody I care(d) about. And my brain tells me she is right. I don’t think I’m generally a doormat but in some situations I can be. Old habits die hard.

Somebody I care(d) about just ran away and has been denying communication. Everything in my stupid head tells me that reeks of abuse. I have a good heart (unreasonable, too, it seems) and I have forgiven such acts in the past. However, this time, it’s gone too far. I used to think I could forgive anything but I guess I was wrong. People can be abusive in so many ways. I have thought about this for the past 4 days. In silence.

I have always believed in common courtesy and I foolishly assumed that other people had similar inclinations. I have been proved wrong on various occasions but I never gave up on what I thought was goodness. Here, I confused myself. I have often confused myself with the noises that other people make in their heads. Being empathetic, I feel their pain and own it. Then I open the door to the blame-game which is form of bullying (usually I get bullied into some form of submission). This makes me wonder if I have masochistic tendencies. All of that aside, I forgive and forgive. But now I’m finding it harder to forget. Bullying is abusive. It is complete disregard of another person’s existence as a separate being with rights of their own.

I have also realized that such abuse stems from mental imbalance. But do I have to put up with it? Do I have to even be a part of it? My permissiveness just makes me party to it. I become the aggressor by allowing aggression. I’ve seen this happening to a lot of people. Are we naive and trusting or just plain stupid? Is it the Pakistani upbringing? Is it lack of self-esteem? So many questions arise but the truth remains the same: my friend ran out on me.

It hurts but it also makes me wonder why I am around such a person. A person who blames me for every failure of his own. A person who cannot come to terms with his own mistakes. A person who never apologizes or admits his mistakes. Being compassionate and eager to help/please makes me a prime target for such people. Their overestimation of themselves is justified. Their delusions are justified. And they have a convenient person to blame.

If I step back and look at it, I feel like a fool (emotional reaction) but I also see the need to back off (sensible reaction). This dichotomy is where the confusion begins. We are slaves to our minds and our hearts. When they say two different and opposing things, confusion is only natural. I’m not trying to justify my confusion. I’m just stating things as I see them right now.

People who commit such unforgivable acts of inconsideration have to be either completely selfish or completely stupid. They are bullies and I think they need counseling. But is that my problem? Am I out to save the whole world? That would be so ridiculous that it wouldn’t even be funny.

On a brighter note, I saw something absurd yesterday:

Aunties outside Masoom's Cafe. Coffee?

I think this one was looking for a nice spot to have a cigarette.

Sometimes, you get to see the strangest things in Islamabad that really change your perspective on life. Such things also have the power to make the pain of living easier to endure.

The Travelling Egg


One egg’s lower half transformed

And became the earth below,

And its upper half transmuted

And became the sky above;

From the yolk the sun was made,

Light of day to shine upon us;

From the white the moon was formed,

Light of night to gleam above us;

All the colored brighter bits

Rose to be the stars of heaven

And the darker crumbs changed into

Clouds and cloudlets in the sky.

-From the Kalevala, the Finnish National Epic

The egg is an organic vessel in which an embryo first begins to develop – in a way, this marvelous vessel houses the creation of life. Just as the cosmic egg held the entire mass of the universe, compressed into a singularity before it was born, the egg is the beginning of wondrous realms of imagination and creation itself. It is a pause before something happens.

The Traveling Egg showcases the work of seven artists, who got together to think about eggs. These artists are curious people in search of images that best represent something as absurd and wonderful (and profoundly common-place) as an egg.

Note: This thing is driving me crazy. I thought it up and it sounded like such a great idea at the time. Right now, I’m just nervous, anxious and a little scared. Not good. But good luck to all the artists. Will hang the show today and figure it out.

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.

Slow but Satisfy

I have realized that life keeps presenting me with weird signs and I just have to really consider them to understand what is really going on in this mad world. Keeping in mind the strange mystery from a previous post, I have decided to consider the following cryptic message that will undoubtedly change our lives (forever, from the looks of it):

He is slow but satisfy

Now this truly befuddled my already confused mind. What is this message telling us? The sexual innuendo – the leery smiley…it all points to one thing: hedonism. Yes people, the world is changing (as usual) and this person is declaring his/her (though, probably his) freedom from the chains of tradition and hypocrisy. However, notice the two ladies in the back – their heads covered from the evil men of our society. Now this is where I am truly bewildered. Did I misunderstand? Is it not what I thought it was? I have been misled!

He is slow but satisfy. Indeed. Perhaps his car is very slow but is called Satisfy. Or maybe he is called Satisfy (you can never underestimate the stupidity of some parents when it comes to naming their unfortunate children). Or maybe the guy who made the sticker was declaring his opinion and conned the owner of this car into believing it meant something else. Oh who the hell knows anyway.

These bewildering signs and messages are truly beyond my pedestrian mind. I am philosophically challenged. I am a philistine – completely lowbrow. I’ll never ever understand!


I suppose I’ve been silent long enough. It’s just that I had lost my voice for a while. One sleepless night, and the voice comes right back. Like a bad penny, you know. So here I am again, to rant early in the morning.

So, I was at a wedding last night. And yes, it was awful. But it got me thinking. What’s up with the ostentatious, shameful consumption at weddings? I mean weddings are disgusting as it is but looking around me, I saw overdressed people stuffing their (bored, caked with make-up) faces. This brings me back to auntie (and uncle) bashing. Hell yes. Think grey-white make-up, crusty eyes and too much lipstick. And then add to it the over-abundance of food. Food goes in, lipstick goes on glasses and everybody goes home.

Holy matrimony aside, weddings are truly awful. You have to admit nobody looks good at weddings. People look awful. They eat too much. They smile too much. It’s awkward and boring. I was dragged to this wedding by my parents because it was one of those neighborly obligations. They threatened me with an early demise so I had to lather on make-up and go. Of course I couldn’t beat the aunties. They had more make-up on than I manage in a year. Doesn’t anybody tell them how the harsh lights bring out the paste? They look like monsters.

I was also mostly bored out of my mind so I spent a lot of time staring into space. That gave me the opportunity to watch some aunties stumble out of the men’s room. I mean can’t people read? Or maybe they’re blind and they can’t tell that the picture with the skirt is the one for the ladies? And the one without the skirt means for men. Maybe aunties are born without the ability to figure that one out. They probably try to squat on urinals in their expensive clothes (plus lots of gold jewellery) and wonder what isn’t right.

People spend shitloads of money on these weddings. The clothes, the food, the venue…it’s nasty really. I mean, there are people out there who are starving and have no electricity. And all I can do is bitch about weddings being a waste. Depressing, really. But I was depressed to begin with. Certain personal matters have fried my brain. Also, I am not getting any younger. Weddings remind people about that and they talk. Oh yes, they talk and they look at me with their crusty pitying eyes. That doesn’t really help. It just depresses me some more. Alright, enough of the personal shit.

Weddings suck. I shouldn’t go ever.

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.