KARACHI, June 24: As artists are greatly affected by their surroundings, not only the death and destruction caused by bomb blasts, gun attacks and arson activities but also the subsequent changes in lifestyle of people and their emotions associated with growing violence are bound to reflect in their work, say artists and art critics.
“Art is an outcome of external influences that are slowly or forcefully assimilated through the artist's vision."
The intense level of violence and insecurity experienced by artists (and the general pubic) in Pakistan, has filtered into the work that is being produced in Pakistan over the last decade,” says artist and curator Naiza H. Khan.
She explains that the level of violence has influenced the content of art but not really the way it is being produced and for whom it is being made. “I feel that artists are interpreters of their time and as such they carry the power to make us see and think about things that are beyond what is visible and obvious. Artists comment on issues which are urgent and critical to them and to social and political change.”
“There are an increasing number of artists working on the theme of violence nowadays but that is inevitable,” says IVS graduate Madiha Hyder whose recent work on how ordinary people have become hostage to militancy and violence has been appreciated by art connoisseurs.
“Reading reports of events of violence, terror, injustice and natural disasters on a day to day basis triggered my need to produce the recent body of work. Whereas my previous work has addressed the emotional impact of the violence, this body of work is more in the vein of documentation as they are portraits of ordinary people residing in Karachi, physically immersed in the chaos of the day and yet trying to find some impossible measure of quietude.”
When asked if her work also fetched buyers, she says: “I believe people can easily understand and relate to my work, especially people living in Pakistan, so yes it did!”
“They do sell like any other artwork,” says Sameera Raja, curator and founder of the city’s leading art gallery Canvas. She says if a viewer can connect to an artwork, it can sell and does sell. Ms Khan also agrees that there is an appetite for works that specifically take on the issues of the present political situation. But she adds: “This often becomes a marketing trait. Sometimes by the artist, and at other times by the market that promotes the work.” For art critic Niilofur Farrukh, a lot depends on artists themselves, what is their objective. “If they are willing to identify larger audience, they have to come out of their limited circles, cross that bridge and reach out to the audience,” she says.
Ms Raja, an NCA graduate, says that violence has affected artists. There is an underlying political and social commentary in most of the work being produced, she says while explaining that artwork can be political in direct or indirect ways.
From the acknowledged contemporary artists to relatively less known — Imran Qureshi, Rashid Rana, Naiza Khan, Jamil Baloch, Madiha Hyder, Sara Khan and Hasnat Mehmood — everyone has been affected by the wave of violence and has responded to it in their own way. Hyderabad-born Imran Qureshi, who used the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as his canvas, depicts his emotional response to violence by working areas with blood-like spilled and splattered red acrylic paint into patterns of leaves. Then there is Rashid Rana whose work ‘What Lies Between Flesh and Blood — Red Carpets’ comprising two beautiful large images of carpets leaves one shocked on a closer look as they reflect the brutality of animal slaughter and the cruelty exhibited towards the silent being in society. Jamil Baloch’s veiled women and jets, Sara Khan’s drones and guns, Zahid Husain’s hanged pigeon and Naiza Khan’s Bori Band Lash are just a few other examples.
"Artists have been responding to aggression for the past three decades, but violence has influenced art tremendously in more recent times," says art critic Niilofur Farrukh when she is asked if and how it has affected the community of artists in Pakistan. There is state aggression, religious violence, militancy, political, sectarian and ethnic killings rupturing social fabric and then there is violence against women, she explains.
“Certainly all this has affected artists and they have responded to it in their own way,” Ms Farrukh says, adding that artists along with poets became part of a dissident movement during the Zia era. A.R. Nagori was doing that in Sindh. The 1990s also saw bloodshed that was reflected in the work being created then. However, she says, more artwork with reference to the theme of violence can be seen these days.
Asked if this can be called an art movement, the art critic says they all are individual efforts. “There is the need of formalism in the work being created.” She explains that verbal expression and explanation of art movements generally come from the artists themselves in the form of a manifesto though sometimes art critics and others explain their understanding of the meaning of the new art being produced. She says many contemporary artists such as Rashid Rana and Imran Qureshi have responded to violence, but not all their work revolves around that theme.
Ms Khan says: “I think there is a lot of work coming out of Pakistan which is an outcome of the times we are living in…I find it more pronounced in the work of students coming out of art schools. I don't think violence can be termed an art movement, as there are no similar strategies of depicting violence and no coherent formalism that is an outcome of dealing with the issue of violence.”
“The artworks being produced can be called strands at the moment,” observes Ms Farrukh, “Maybe over the next five to 10 years, critics like us who are reading the situation call it a movement.”