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Posts Tagged ‘Art’

When I was younger, I was a fan of comic books. My brother and my shelves were often stacked full of beat-up and leathered Archie Comics, X-Men, Asterix & Obelisk, and Calvin & Hobbes editions. Our mom earned the nickname Suzy because her short hair resembled Calvin’s snarky and smart-mouthed friend, and though I always wanted to like the good girl Betty, I secretly preferred Veronica because we shared the same hair color (deep, I know). Comics were more than just escapist entertainment, they were characters we knew and loved. But often what was missing were characters we could also relate to, who shared similar backgrounds and stories. In Pakistan, those were few and far between.

Enter Kachee Goliyan, what the Express Tribune in October called, “The Pakistani version of Beavis & Butthead.” Launched in June 2011 by two friends in their early 20s, Nofal Khan and Ramish Safa, Kachee Goliyan began as Pakistan’s first online comic daily, aiming to “give Pakistan characters the masses could relate to,” notes the inside cover of their latest issue. When I sat down with Nofal in January, he told me how Ramish and he would carpool to college from North Nazimabad – a 45-minute drive – cracking jokes along the way. Their shared humor fueled and inspired the main characters in KG – JC & Sufi, who, in the first issue of the series, resurrect legendary folk warrior Maula Jatt.

Since January, KG has released three comic books, both online and in print, and have gained increasing popularity in recent months. Their Facebook page boasts nearly 20,000 likes, and Nofal said they will increase their circulation to 10,000 print copies by April. Kachee Goliyan will also be the first Pakistani comic to be showcased at the (first ever) Middle East Film & Comic Con, taking place in Dubai at the end of next month. One of their largest and most surprising fan bases is in Hyderabad, where Nofal joked they “got their first taste of stardom…signing 100 copies [of Kachee Goliyan] in one day.”

Currently, KG is in English, not Urdu. While the linguistic choice does narrow its audience, Nofal did indicate KG’s plan to translate their work into Urdu, especially as they gain more traction. The comics are (for now, at least) free, with all incurred costs covered through ads and sponsors.As start-up entrepreneurs themselves, Nofal and Ramish want to provide ad space to other small entrepreneurs, and so far, they have garnered a high response from sponsors.

KG is free, Nofal explains, to create a demand for these local comic books, particularly since the current market is relatively non-existent. The founders also want to inspire other young artists (Ramish is the comic artist of the duo), encouraging readers to post fan art on the KG Facebook page, and want to eventually use their platform as an avenue for other would-be comic artists to publish their work. Nofal told me, “Pakistan is full of potential. People are currently outsourcing their creative work to the country…we need to tap into that potential and channel it properly” to further build the animation industry.

While Pakistan’s animation industry is anything but saturated, there are other notable cartoonists, animators, and graphic novelists. Nigar Nazar is the first female cartoonist in Pakistan and the Founder of Gogi Studios. Jamal Kurshid is a graphic novelist who launched Wahid years ago, and Numair AbbasNumairical Studios will be bringing a Simpsons-like cartoon set in Pakistan, for Pakistanis. The overarching aim of these artists are similar: provide characters and stories a local audience can relate to. The cartoon medium is an added plus – allowing for many of these stories to be more approachable & digestible.

For Nofal and Ramish, there’s a plan – involving not just KG, but also building the market for local comic artists and consumers. Expect more brilliance from these young entrepreneurs – from merchandise to podcasts to – of course – more comics.

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The Pakistan Granta Issue

Granta Mag Cover (© Islam Gull, design by Michael Salu)

On Tuesday, I attended a really fascinating event at the Aicon Gallery in New York City. Entitled, “How to Talk About Pakistan,” the event centered on Granta magazine’s recent Pakistan issue and featured editor John Freeman, as well as Kiran Khalid (CNN producer), Mohsin Hamid (author of Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Lorraine Adams (journalist and author of The Room and the Chair), and Ayesha Nasir (journalist and filmmaker).

For those who don’t know about Granta, it is an incredibly rich and textured publication first founded in 1889 but “reborn” in 1979. According to the website’s About section, Granta “does not have a political or literary manifesto, but it does have a belief in the power and urgency of the story, both in fiction and non-fiction, and the story’s supreme ability to describe, illuminate and make real.” The Observer once wrote of the magazine, “In its blend of memoirs and photojournalism, and in its championing of contemporary realist fiction, Granta has its face pressed firmly against the window, determined to witness the world.”

The Pakistan issue truly epitomizes this goal, containing 18 featured pieces by renowned writers and journalists like Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie, Declan Walsh, Jane Perlez, and the aforementioned Hamid, Nasir, and Adams. A mix of memoirs, poems, fiction, and “reportage,” the publication strives to showcase the nuances and complexities of Pakistan, a country so often talked about but so rarely understood.

The Tuesday discussion was ultimately important because it addressed this very issue – namely, how can writers be instrumental in closing the perception gap about Pakistan? Can fiction writers play a significant role in supplementing the news information that trickles down about Pakistan? And do writers have to be Pakistani or based in Pakistan in order to be legitimate resources on the country? Hamid, who recently moved back to Pakistan after years of being abroad, noted, “I felt that if I wanted to write about Pakistan, I needed to go back to Pakistan…or else I’d be wondering if my opinions were actually my own, or ones that I had heard that I thought were my own…”

Lorraine Adams, who co-wrote a piece with Ayesha Nasir on Faisal Shahzad, touched on the limits of journalism in her comments, emphasizing that most news agencies produce stories based on a “consensus narrative” decided on by the editors, not the journalists on the ground. Given that the original stories are far more contentious and nuanced than this narrative, a lot gets lost in translation. According to Adams, “People think that if they read non fiction or the news, they know a lot about the country than if they read fiction,” which is an untrue assumption.

The debate over the benefits of fiction versus nonfiction is significant and deserves further discussion. From a personal standpoint, neither fiction nor nonfiction alone will give you a full picture of Pakistan. While nonfiction and news items can give you a snapshot of the current affairs of the country, fiction stories can provide further insight into the cultural nuances and intricacies of Pakistan. Even if you read the work of Pakistani writers, “old” and “new” alike, their treatment of issues and their prose can sometimes be windows into the Pakistani psyche and experience. At the same time, there are obvious biases involved in fiction work, while nonfiction pieces tend to be less emotional and relatively more objective (though not always, of course).

Moreover, the line between both is becoming increasingly blurred, with writers like Hanif and Adams doing extensive research and reporting in order to produce properly nuanced and textured fiction work. Authors like Hamid, Shamsie, and Hanif also  straddle both lines, writing novels but commenting frequently on current events in Pakistan. In an article for Canada’s Globe and Mail, Piali Roy wrote,

Fiction writers like Daniyal Mueenuddin and Ali Sethi see literature as a project. They both have said in interviews that they see themselves as explaining Pakistan in all its complexity to the West, not merely as the “failed state” with budding terrorists in every bazaar. It may seem like a hefty burden for any writer to bear, but there is no doubt that Pakistan is a country in need of PR. Is there any wonder that nearly every one of these writers (dare I call them the Pak Pack?) are taking their advocacy role about the humanity of the floods’ victims seriously? Or that they rarely agree with one another?

Do Pakistani writers have a responsibility to always write about the positive side of the country? Yes and no. Writers, by virtue of having a platform, can and should discuss the nuances of Pakistan that often get swept to the side by Western news agencies. But those nuances shouldn’t always have to be about positive topics. As Hamid noted, “There is a notion and expectation that you must write positively about Pakistan, and if you don’t, you at least write hopefully.”

Adeela Suleman artwork at Granta event, courtesy Mahnaz Fancy

The discussion, as a whole, was fascinating and was further bolstered by the incredible exhibition in the gallery by Pakistani artist Adeela Suleman called, “After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies,” (see above image). Granta’s Pakistan issue also includes fantastic artwork by contemporary Pakistani artists, an effort by the publication to go beyond their typical photo essays and showcase local talent. According to a review by The Independent, “Granta’s Pakistan is a bleak but mesmerizing one that rages with astounding horrors. Yet this ‘immense homeland of heartbreaking beauty’ is not without love, romance, nor hope.” The print edition can be purchased here.

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Getty Image: Design by Athar Hafeez

Despite the security situation causing it to be delayed twice, Fashion Pakistan Week opened this past Wednesday to display the talents of Pakistan’s top designers. However, while FPW garnered significant media attention, most news outlets framed the four-days of runway shows in light of the country’s growing security concerns. Saba Imtiaz, who works as a journalist in Pakistan and blogs over at the Zeitgeist Politics, attended several shows during Fashion Pakistan Week and delves into the subsequent attention FPW received:

In the post-9/11 years, with Pakistan becoming a frontline state in the “war against terror,” the intense media scrutiny this country has faced has been unprecedented in its tumultuous history. And with the media scrutiny have come the stereotypes, from the oft-quoted portrayals of former President Pervez Musharraf as an “enlightened moderate” to the characterizations of cities and its inhabitants.

But as the war has come home – and one could argue that it always was – with military operations conducted in North Waziristan, Swat and now South Waziristan, and frequent terrorist attacks in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, the stereotypes have also amassed.

While many are true, several exaggerated and others just plain ridiculous, one of the most common phrases associated with the ongoing Fashion Pakistan Week has been that it is taking place “under the shadow of the Taliban.” Most articles in the foreign press have focused on how 32 designers showcasing cutting-edge fashion at a time when a military operation against the Taliban is ongoing.

While from an external perspective this may seem odd, the sheer amazement depicted in these articles at the thought of a fashion week is a tad strange. From the Times of India declaring, “‘Dare to bare’ Pak Fashionistas Thumb a Nose at Taliban” to McClatchy saying, “Pakistan’s Fashion Week Bares Country’s Frothy Side” and Life.com labeling a photograph of a model with a tattoo on her arm as “Tattoo vs Taliban,” its all been rather amusing – and often annoying – for those following the press coverage of the event.

For one, the purpose of the event was anything but to thumb a nose at the Taliban. Worldwide, fashion weeks are trade events geared towards retail buyers and journalists – and while Pakistan doesn’t have the former attending from abroad – it is putting together a rather comprehensive showing of 30 of the country’s designers for local journalists and buyers.

Secondly, with everything in the country being associated with the Taliban – several articles centering on Facebook updates of all things – have led to fashion also being bundled under the same umbrella. The focus in the press seems to have shifted from the designs themselves, and is instead all about defiance and courage.

If anything, Fashion Pakistan Week brought forward a far more interesting theme, one that has been emerging this year. For years, those who work in the fashion and entertainment sectors in the country have looked abroad for inspiration. This year, as Pakistan finds itself cornered into a rather uncomfortable spot on every level (including being lumped with Afghanistan as “AfPak”), singers, actors and designers have taken the effort to look inwards and seek inspiration in Pakistan. This has reflected in the songs that came out of Coke Studio this year, or at the collections shown at Fashion Pakistan Week, which featured a number of references drawn from different facets of Pakistan’s culture and history. These moves have created a whole new chapter for Pakistani pop culture, where one can actually identify aspects of the entertainment sector that are quintessentially Pakistani.

Which is why, as a Pakistani, while one often finds references to the Taliban and other extremist forces in every sector (when they don’t make any logical sense) irritating, this is a stereotype that we’re going to have to live with for a while. After all, the Middle East is still associated with being a war zone, and for decades, India was stereotyped as a destination point for hippies and yoga enthusiasts.

AP Photo: Military-inspired by Ismail Fareed

And so, the Taliban have been mentioned ad nauseam in press coverage for Fashion Pakistan Week. But if they do have access to the Internet during the current battle, they’ll be sorely disappointed to know that designers have gone on the defensive and showed a number of military inspired collections. From a model saluting on the runway as the Madam Noorjehan song ‘Ae Watan Ke Sajeelay Jawanon’ played in the background, to designer Ismail Farid’s collection called ‘Salute’ which was a tribute to the Armed Forces and those who have lost their lives in terrorist attacks. Farid’s models were clad entirely in ensembles inspired from military uniforms, replete with marching steps, canes, shackles, and in one case, an outfit that looked like a chic version of a suicide bomber’s jacket.

So the Taliban can chalk Fashion Pakistan Week down to a massive PR fail: the military themes received a standing ovation. Who knew we had such short memories?

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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The subcontinent has a long and rich history of Urdu poetry. Within this context, Faiz Ahmed Faiz is one of the most renowned and celebrated Urdu poets. Below, Rakesh Mani, a 2009 Teach for India fellow and regular CHUP contributor, commemorates Faiz’s 25th death anniversary with a tribute to the artist’s life and work:

Of Urdu poetry’s timeless greats, different poets are remembered for different things. While Mirza Ghalib is famous for his pining and pathos, Allama Iqbal for his patriotism, fervor and elevation to the status of Pakistan’s national poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz is still remembered as a revolutionary on the 25th anniversary of his death.

He was a humanist in the best sense of the word, and his poetry was free of any racial or religious prejudice. At every gathering, he drew large crowds and his poetry made him the center of attention. His genius was recognized early, and he was drawn into the charmed circles of Lahore’s Aesthetes Club and later, the Progressive Writers Movement.

A poet right from his teenage years, delivered this striking couplet at his very first mushaira, or poetic gathering, in Sialkot where he was studying for his Bachelors degree:

Lab bandh hain Saaqi, meree aankhon ko pilaa

Woh jaam jo minnatkash-e-sehba nahin hota

[O Saaqi, my lips are sealed. Let my eyes take a sip

Of that wine without drawing to ask for it]

After receiving a Masters degrees in English and Arabic literature, he became progressively more involved with the Communist Party. Like many of his contemporaries, Faiz’s politics was greatly influenced by the Bolshevik Revolution.

It was around this time that he met Alys. She had come to India to marry a Sikh gentleman to whom she had been engaged while he was at Sandhurst. Finding that he was already engaged to someone else, a heart-broken Alys married Faiz, and bore him two daughters: Saleema and Muneeza. Saleema married the noted Lahore professor and playwright Shoaib Hashmi, and became an artist in her own right.

At the behest of the Communist Party, Faiz then served in the British Army’s Information department in World War II. The Communists had changed their stand on the war, from opposing it to then supporting Allied action after the USSR was attacked by the Germans. His final posting saw him heading the propaganda department in Singapore.

Soon after his discharge, the Subcontinent was ravaged by Partition. The horrors of that bloody vivisection left Faiz deeply troubled and, although he decided to stay on in Lahore, he refused to accept the distinctions between the people of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. He expressed his sorrow with another couplet:

Yeh daagh daagh ujaala, Yeh shab gazeeda sahar;

Woh intézaar tha jis ka, Yeh woh sahar toh naheen

[This blemished light, this devoured dawn;

This surely isn’t the dawn we were awaiting]

In Lahore, he distinguished himself as a journalist and edited the Pakistan Times as well as the Adab-e-Latif and Lail-o-Nihar. But an iconoclastic leftist and an apostate were not easy things to be in newly independent Pakistan. He was soon charged with treason and imprisoned for complicity in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case.

But Faiz’s years in Hyderabad Jail brought out some of the greatest poetry he ever wrote. Dast-e-Saba and Zindaan-Nama, two of his most acclaimed works, were produced during this period. According to Faiz, being in prison was like falling in love all over again:

Bujha jo rauzan-e-zindaan to dil yeh samjha hai

Ke teyree maang sitaron say bhar gaee hogee,

Chhamak utthey hain silasil, to hum nay jaanan hai

Kay a sahar teyrey rukh par bikhar gaee hogee

[When the light in my prison window fades and night falls,

I see your tresses, with stars shining down on the parting

When my chains sparkle in the sunlight,

I see your visage lit up with the morning glow]

He continued to write poetry through the 70s and early 80s and won the Lenin Peace Prize, the Lotus Award and several honorary doctorates. Now a doyen of the literary scene, he became a thorn in the side of the military government and outraged orthodox society by denying God openly.

But there were many grave incongruities in his personality. He championed the cause of the poor and disenfranchised through his poetry, but enjoyed the life of a wealthy man with a penchant for fine Scotches. He believed passionately in communism, but fraternized easily with the social and industrial elite.

President Ayub Khan decided that the best way to destroy Faiz’s spirit was to give him power. He appointed him President of the National Council of Arts and gave him a state bungalow. Soon Faiz succumbed to the ease of life and the pleasures of the bottle. In a chilling last poem, it seemed as though he had a premonition of his death:

Ajal key haath koee aa rahaa hai parwaanah

Na janney aaj kee fehrist mein raqam kya hai

[Death has some ordinance in its hand,

Alas, I don’t know whose names are on the list today

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Faiza Shaikh, a London-based artist from Karachi, is groundbreaking in her work, [click images above to see enlarged pieces of her art]. Using strong, bold colors, her art fuses modernity with religious philosophy. Each of Faiza’s paintings impart a message of religious tolerance and peace in a world torn apart by division and polarization. Her show, entitled, “Forbidden Love” will be previewing at London’s Black Rat Gallery on May 22, 2009. She recently also partnered with British NGO, Women’s India and the Tongues on Fire Film Festival, to exhibit her work as part of the festival at BAFTA. Although she has shown her work at various exhibitions in London and Pakistan, her show in Mumbai [scheduled for 28 November 2008] was canceled amid fears that the religious depictions within the collection would spark unrest. Given her message of unity and tolerance, such a development was indeed unfortunate. Below, Faiza talks to CHUP about her collection and the inspiration behind her work:

Q: Much of your art fuses Islamic, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu traditions – what inspired you to use themes of religion and tolerance in your work? Is there a method or a purpose behind the kind of texts you use in a specific piece?

I paint the philosophy I meditate upon. I use texts from Quran, [Bhagavid] Gita, Tora and others to represent the universality of their ideas. Religious intolerance arises from our ignorance about each others faith. My art simply says- look into the mirror of your own being. Know yourself to realize that your battles are unnecessary. When every religion speaks the same truth and everything ends in the same reality, all of this is just a tamasha (spectacle). Life is sacred as it is an opportunity to touch the light of our existence. It is about universal truth. My purpose is to engage the viewer and the engagement is achieved by the use of the texts. Once my painting is placed on someone’s wall, everyone asks the meaning of the verse. They can be directed to the translation that accompanies the painting. It may spark a debate or a conversation or perhaps just appreciation.

Q: Have you faced any kind of religious opposition to your work?

Frankly, I am not bothered how the viewer sees my paintings, however I take extreme care to ensure that the sanctity of each religion is adhered to.

Q: What is your opinion on the current state of Pakistan’s art industry? How can it be bolstered/improved?

Pakistani Art should be the next big thing I hope. The critical ingredient to catapult Pakistani artists to the world’s stage is good marketing.

Q: The arts medium – theater, dance, film, and art – can often be used as a commentary on society. In Pakistan in particular, recent films have been a commentary on politics or current affairs. Do you feel like your work and message have a place within the current debates raging in Pakistan?

Absolutely. The message of my art dispels misconceptions which are based on heresy rather than on knowledge. In this way, an attempt is made to create harmony and peaceful co existence. The influence of living in London is that it teaches the beauty of tolerance. The society allows respectful co existence of all cultures. The English and the French have fought many battles, similarly with the Germans and yet today they are part of the European union sharing common currencies and common laws. Should the subcontinent learn from this maturity? If the politicians fail to display this maturity, should they be nudged into this direction by a mere artist? We live in hope.

Q: The observation of art is considered a subjective experience, but is there one particular message or lesson you hope your audience takes away from your work?

“Art is never chaste. It must be forbidden to ignorant innocents never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes Art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not Art.” -Pablo Picasso

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