Tag Archives: Philadelphia

The Art of War

My current situation is giving me nightmares. However, life does go on.

A interesting recent development. MQM has chosen my college campus as a playground today. Bhai sahab will be issuing his pearls of wisdom (from a video screen most probably – or perhaps through audio) from the campus which unfortunately resides within Liaquat Bagh. Being within its ill-fated premises, we are politically relevant somehow. It becomes almost impossible to ignore what is around me in these circumstances. But I am glad it is a Sunday and I can laze about in bed and think (and not be at work, braving yet another political rally or whatever it is, suffering road blocks for hours).

This brings me to another recent development. After the exhibition I organized and planned at the Twelve Gates Gallery in Philadelphia recently (called Postcards in the Time of War), I got an interesting response from a student at the Tyler School of Art. I thought it was important to post what she wrote to me here:

Seeing the exhibition “Post cards in the Time of War” as a student at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in today’s contemporary world, makes me realize how completely submitted American [art] students have become in terms of politics. Not only is there no awareness of current events/affairs on a(n) community, national, international level, but they are too apathetic to care even about their own work.

 A girl in my school painted an amazing piece of a nude woman with four breasts, the head of a wolf, and a big bold text that read “American”. Though she had the will to paint this powerful image, she did not have the will to fight when staff and faculty told her she would not be allowed to hang it due to its’ extreme political nature; a.k.a. the president of the university and her suits would be walking through for funding opportunities. I distinctly remember one of my professors even claiming that “it wasn’t worth fighting about” and that he “didn’t want a call at 8am to come and remove it.” But it didn’t end there; none of the students made a sound of protest about the situation but let it roll over them in a medicated wave of apathy.

I wonder how it can be possible to have the greatest years of American arts (music, performances, films, visuals) in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and end up in a place that protests nothing except what weight loss program is better. How can it be that students, and art students of all people, be so numb? When did we start accepting the white walls of our studios as fact and not a point to be argued?

We’re still in war, kids are still dying every day, politicians are still corrupt, and I think this is exactly why I responded toward this exhibition with awe and deep sense of hope. Knowing that there is somewhere in the world, where young artists are not just searching for an aesthetic or references to art in the past, but using their art to communicate about something greater.

The aspects of this project are extremely interesting; not only does it play off of American assumptions about South Asian culture, but can also make us aware of our own. The post-card as we know it today, is a Western invention created in Austria but patented in Philadelphia. A product of photography used to show events like World Expositions to educate the public about international culture.

But clearly this is not the only way that one communicates in Pakistan or else this exhibition might not have been successfully put together. By saying that post-cards and their imagery was the only way to communicate between the artists would be fallible. However, most Americans readily believe this due to the fact that they do not have much education on areas of South Asia or even the Middle East where Americans are currently engaged.

One of my postcards for the exhibit

I appreciate the fact that there was a response, even though it turned into some kind of fundraiser. Sometimes you have to let things go the way they are going. Anyway, she also asked some very relevant questions that I might post later. But this brings me back to what I was thinking about: is anything worth fighting about? I used to think so and maybe I still do somewhere deep inside. But since I am wallowing in self-pity I have started to wonder why I bothered at all. Once this fugue wears out, maybe I will get back to fighting. In a past-life I remember never giving up. Well, not for too long anyway.