LAHORE: Art and architecture will be an important theme in this year’s Lahore Literature Festival (LLF), in addition to various forms of literature.

While it will be hosted in Lahore, itself once the capital of art and culture, and in a building meant specifically for arts – the remarkable Alhamra Arts Council – there will be much room for discussions on art in all forms.

The festival will feature a talk with Salima Hashmi and Martand Khosla on their book -- The Eye Still Seeks -- revolving around the contemporary art movement in Pakistan. The book offers an overview of the movement and features interviews with artists and pieces by writers, including Mohsin Hamid and Kamila Shamsie.

Salima Hashmi is well known throughout the country as an artist, a National College of Arts alumna who also taught there for 30 years and retired as the principal. Her works – with a trade mark abstract aesthetic – have a dominating presence in the Lahore art scene.

Martand Khosla is a partner in renowned New Delhi-based architecture consultancy firm, Romi Khosla Design Studios. He received his training at the Architecture Association in London. He has designed the Jamia Art Gallery and the Castro Cafeteria at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, which bear the hallmark of his stark design language which emphasises clean lines and open spaces.

Speaking of contemporary art, Unver Shafi who is considered a tour de force in contemporary Pakistani art, with his colorful, dreamlike compositions bringing surrealism and fauvism together in a distinctly Eastern tone, will be discussing his work and its role in the modern art movement in the Pakistani art scene, within the larger context of the rise of Pakistani art in the 21st century.His “Fabulist Series”, a collection of acrylic miniature-style paintings, was hailed as a groundbreaking work.

Besides fine arts, photojournalism will also be featured in the LLF. Max Becherer is an Islamabad-based photojournalist who left a staff job at a newspaper to move to Baghdad and document the Iraq War in 2003. His work has been featured in Time, The New Yorker and The New York Times. By documenting the everyday lives of ordinary Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghanis, he has managed to bring to light a more human side to some of the most troubled regions in the world.

Becherer is going to be talking about his work documenting the lives of emerald miners in the village of Khenj, Afghanistan, in 2007. The images capturing the miners’ backbreaking work and their camaraderie as they played buzkushi portrays an Afghanistan reeling from war through the lives of its unsung inhabitants.

Becherer is also the International Advisor to the Board for the South Asia hotojournalists’ Association (SAPA) and has photographed more than a dozen front-page images for The New York Times as well as the iconic cover photo of the November 22, 2004 Time issue on the Battle of Fallujah.

Several of the panelists at the LLF this year have documented the pain and loss that accompanies wars. From novelists to journalists to photographers, they have allowed us to visit some of the most war-torn regions, past and present, through their excellent records, and see them through the eyes of those dragged into these conflicts.

Born to a Sierra Leonean father and a Scottish mother, Aminatta Forna experienced a tragedy that changed her life when she was 10. Her father, who had founded an opposition party against the government in Sierra Leone, was arrested by the secret police in 1974. A year later, he was hanged for treason.

Forna’s life long journey to look for her father’s killers was captured in her critically acclaimed memoir, The Devil that Danced on the Water, released in 2003. She has since written four novels, one of which -- The Memory of Love -- won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in 2011.

Her latest novel, The Hired Man, about an Englishwoman’s life in a Croatian town still haunted by war is going to be launched at the Lahore Literary Festival this year.

Forna is currently the Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and has held the post of Sterling Brown Distinguished professor at Williams College. She is intimately familiar with the tragedies inflicted by war.

Romesh Gunesekera, a Sri Lankan-British writer has delivered a similar treatment of conflict in his native country of Sri Lanka by exploring the deep sociopolitical and ethnic rifts in the emerging democracy in the ‘70s and ‘80s in his novel Reef. His recent work, Noontide Toll, which he will be launching at the festival, explores the lives of Sri Lankans in a new era that is still haunted by the horrors of the old.

When speaking of journalism, comic journalism is a department which cannot ever be ignored. The festival has therefore invited Joe Sacco, the journalist-cartoonist whose drawing style does not easily betray the grave subjects he tackles. The Maltese-American’s books, Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza capture his experiences in the West Bank and Gaza, showing the everyday struggles of Palestinians through eyewitness accounts and testimonies of war-afflicted Arabs and Jews. He has also covered the Bosnian War in his 2003 work, The Fixer, which uses a similar candour to address a conflict that took a toll on civilians on either side of it.

Sacco’s skill at using a medium often neglected in hard journalism to bring a sense of immediacy and personality to reporting have earned him a reputation as a pioneer in his field.

Max Becherer’s work also speaks volumes on this theme.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2015

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