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.
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
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.