The exhibition ‘Letters to Taseer–1’ is a poignant reminder of the scourge of intolerance and violence that continues to brutalise our society.
A year has gone by since former governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was murdered by his security guard in broad daylight, and the ongoing saga of this horrendous crime continues to raise questions about where we are headed towards as a society. The murderer’s motive was a blatant expression of misguided religiosity and the fact that he has been hailed as a hero by certain sections of society, is all the more alarming.
There is an urgent need for intelligent and moderate discourse as well as concrete actions to restore the balance in an unequal society festering with resentment and misguided zeal. A surge of peaceful endeavours aimed at developing sensitivity towards socio-political issues can be the balm that heals the blistered fabric of our collective psyche. Artists in particular tend to take on this positive role as they have their finger on the pulse of the times and can communicate effectively, yet subtly and even beautifully, the bitter predicaments that need to be addressed.
Very recently, seven artists under the guidance of art mentor Salima Hashmi, displayed their works in the aforementioned context, at the Drawing Room gallery in Lahore. Faiza Butt, Imran Mudassar, Mohammed Ali Talpur, Noor Ali Chagani, Saba Khan, Quddus Mirza and Rashid Rana presented their responses to the murder of Taseer and in effect to the overall scenario of violence and injustice that has become rampant. The artists had utilised a variety of methods and mediums to express themselves on this particular issue, and distinctive quality rather than quantity, was the hallmark of the exhibition.
Viewers were initiated into the exhibition by the two small installations by Chagani; tiny bricks laid out like a wall with limestone and cement and titled, ‘Silence’ and ‘Frozen’, they symbolised the cold finality of death and the aftermath of the loss of life. Yet the smallness of the walls hinted at the ability we can have to surmount the odds. Butt’s Dura print on a light box was a masterpiece of symbolic expression through calligraphy, and made use of the verses of Faiz Ahmed Faiz to convey the dilemmas of a society beset with intolerance and hypocrisy. His famous poem Pa badolan chalo which Taseer had also recited in public some days before the fateful event, is known for its symbolic references to the struggle against injustice.
Mudassar’s delicate pattern making and symbolism in pencil and poster paint and Talpur’s mark making with ink on paper exuded an aura of serenity and created space for contemplation. A similar sense of mystical allegory was felt while viewing Khan’s installation, ‘Going home’, featuring shimmering white nylon mesh, cotton threads and fine dust. While it gave an angelic aura to martyrdom, it was also a reminder that “Dust we are, and to dust we shall return”—so indeed no form of arrogance can be justified, be it on the basis of wealth, or religion or any form of perceived superiority.
On the other hand, Mirza’s large mixed media painting on canvas was a more earthy and riotous rejoinder on violence and bloodshed that has been rampant in our society. A more sophisticated but equally ‘colourful’ expression was though Rana’s large visual—‘The red carpet’, which from afar looks like an ornate Persian carpet in hues of red, but closer inspection reveals that the image has been formed by ingenuously juxtaposing photographs taken in a slaughterhouse. Thus much intelligent discourse was instigated in the exhibition, and this will be an ongoing endeavour to be shared in two more exhibitions in the future. One looks forward to viewing these.