The political slogan Naya Pakistan has become a quest and a dream that has captured the nation’s imagination. A recent show at Sanat Gallery Sanat, to celebrate its five-year anniversary, invited 22 artists to respond to Imran Khan’s 22-year-old dream of Naya Pakistan, and brought together a diverse range of perspectives to the present and future of the nation.
Most works are rife with political satire and irony, questioning the supposed empty hope that those in power give to the citizens. Haya Zaidi’s signature gruesome yet striking collage work comments on our undying hope in the face of disillusionment, or perhaps the inevitable disappointments that result from false hopes. Disembodied arms and vines seem to grow out of a mound of garbage beneath a sky full of flying kites. Inspired by the poem Subh-i-Azaadi by Faiz Ahmed Faiz on the horrors of Partition, it is relevant to our current times and the struggles for a better tomorrow.
Asif Ahmed’s drawing brings attention to the labour class, and the rosy dreams they are shown, but in the end, they are the ones who have to struggle and suffer the most. The work depicts a child from the labouring class rendered in shades of grey, a representation of the bleak present, his eyes covered by colourful lollypops and a golden crown atop his head.
Twenty-two artists reflect on the hope represented by the promise of ‘Naya Pakistan’
Noman Siddiqui uses his usual disparity of visuals and meaning to bring to light our own hypocrisy and misplaced sense of nationalism. The shiny balloons depict a fragile sense of hope used to pacify the public, and the upside-down star and crescent in front of the ‘I Love’, coupled with the title of the artwork ‘Kiya Yehi Piyar Hai?’, reveals the superficiality of our patriotism, which only awakens on August 14 and is limited to flag-waving and blaring patriotic tunes.
Other works twist around popular slogans and phrases by Prime Minister Imran Khan, questioning them through wit and satire. In ‘Baahir Se Log Invest Karne Ke Liye Aa Rahe Hain Pakistan Main’ Farhat Ali uses the title intelligently, set against a realistic ink drawing of an Indian man in a pagrri relaxing with a newspaper, his legs up and smoking a pipe, while a tall British man casually stands smiling nearby. The piece draws a comparison with our history of colonial occupation and the cluelessness of the rulers of the time that allowed it to happen.
‘#GhabranaNahinHai’ by Muzammil Khan uses a popular line by Imran Khan with images of rubble and destruction outside shop shutters, pointing to the tattered state of our economy. Yet, the artist seems to still hold out hope for the future, keeping an ominous veil over the future, as Naya Pakistan is still shrouded in mystery.
Syed Faraz Ali’s sculptural piece depicts a U-turn sign comprising miniature heads of the prime minister, refering to the nickname given to him by the opposition. All the heads face different directions, as if to allude to a sense of confusion and indecisiveness.
Not all works have a negative interpretation of Naya Pakistan, however, and some still hold out hope for a future that is still unfolding. Abdul Jabbar Gull’s familiar winged form, mounted on a golden map of the country, simply titled ‘Hope’ is self-explanatory.
Abid Aslam uses his language of large images comprising small punctured holes and motifs to point out that the larger picture is not always readily apparent when you are too close to a situation, and can only see individual elements that comprise it.
Abida Dahri uses an abstract language of geometric lines hinting at the Pakistan flag that appears in tatters, yet its resemblance to a construction site tells us that the future is still under construction.
“Naya Pakistan” was displayed at Sanat Gallery in Karachi from August 6 to August 8, 2019
Published in Dawn, EOS, August 18th, 2019