LAHORE: Discussion sessions, titled ‘Art Speak’, were held at Alhamra Art Centre on Monday as part of the ongoing Lahore Biennale. Visual artists Salman Toor and Komail Aijazuddin participated in the talk.

Toor talked about academically inclined paintings, his figurative works, and topics of interest such as romance, leisure, plants and flowers. He also talked about his experiences of New York and Lahore. The artist said he was inspired by Pakistani and Indian fiction. “I grew up drawing a lot and was also a calligrapher.”

His project Are You Here? combines painting, collage and installation connecting Lahore to New York City. The art forms aim to create an interface between seemingly divergent understandings of an over-connected world -- developing societies such as Lahore and the microcosms of cultures such as Brooklyn’s art scene where the artist lives and works part-time.

The stories in the paintings and text highlight issues of assimilation and resistance to cultural rhythms of both cities. The re-arrangable wall collage is imagined by the artist pointing to notions of adaptation in both cities as well as a fluid sense of self, moving between text and image, the sacred, mundane, and the profane.

The text includes random diary entries in (legible and illegible) English as well as Persio-Arabic gibberish, memories of graffiti dribbled in alleyways and mosques, calligraphic protest banners and shop signs in Lahore and New York City.

About his work, Aijazuddin said: “My work uses the vocabulary of traditional religious art such as gold leaf, illuminations, altar pieces, paintings, scrolls and votive objects to investigate contemporary ideas of divinity, belief, religion, identity, statehood, belonging, and the question of what constitutes personal faith.”

Ashish Rajadhyaksha, an independent cultural theorist and coeditor of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema (1999/2001), explored a long-term legacy of what was now called Bollywood by returning to the classics of the 1940s. He said cinema had a central role to play in mid-20th century talk of India and Pakistan. He said all that had a lot to do with migration. He then talked about the symbolic content of migration terming 1947 the bloodiest year in the subcontinent. He talked about the film Jugnoo and its commercial success and also showed some clips from the film. He further discussed the effect of cinema and that of Lahore on cinema.

Rajadhyaksha said several “schools” of cinema thrived in Bombay in the inter-war years. Along with the Calcutta and Madras schools was the Lahore School of Filmmaking. After Partition, amid the general effort to “clean up” the film industry in India, there was also an effort to eradicate a form of popular Urdu film, either by classicising it or by Hindustanising it. Such efforts were not unique to the subcontinent, but this one was special, unlike the Bengali or Tamil schools of cinema that could potentially retreat into a regional-national idiom, as Bombay had a major tradition of cinema that had nowhere to go: a cinema that remained in Bombay.

The talk proposed that contrary to the assumption that there is little of significance in the Bombay cinema addressing Partition, a large number of films precisely do so: that the refusal of the industry to die, notwithstanding the lack of institutionalised finance, is itself a retelling of this history.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2018