World Day Against the Death Penalty: Who is waiting for you?

These performances are designed to haunt you for long after you leave. 
Updated 08 Oct, 2019 02:20pm

For one night only, Bari Studios in Lahore will be transformed into an immersive art experience where audience members can wander the historic studio grounds encountering and experiencing performance art up close and personal. 

Hosted by Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) to commemorate the World Day Against the Death Penalty on Thursday, October 10, We’ve Been Waiting For You is a landmark project curated by Natasha Jozi, featuring 11 performance artists in a surreal setting.

Last year, JPP presented No Time to Sleep, a 24-hour live stream charting the final hours of a death row prisoner’s life leading up to his execution. In partnership with, it received critical acclaim both domestically and internationally with 1.4 million views, 6,000 tweets and a hashtag that trended on Twitter for several hours throughout the performance.

Related: Playing the role of a prisoner on death row is an act of solidarity: Sarmad Khoosat

This year, these artists have delved into the underbelly of Pakistan’s criminal justice system, and the psyches of prisoners, guards, family members and executions in creating 10 brand-new, provoking, empathetic and sometimes grotesque pieces. 

The performances will be of different durations, with some lasting for as many as three hours. The event is set to start at 5:30pm and end at 10:30pm, while the performances will take place between 6:00pm and 9:00pm.

Through them, audiences will be asked to reflect on the emotional struggle that affect the nearly 5,000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan, and how this system infects everyone it touches — from the guards, to the executioner, to family members and, perhaps, even you. 

Here, you’ll meet prisoners waiting for justice, executioners who cannot articulate the profound experience of taking lives day-in, day-out, and guards who, too, are trapped in a system that dehumanises everyone it touches. These performances are designed to haunt you for long after you leave. 

Here are three pieces from the exhibition that the artists will be showcasing:

Resuscitate by Haider Shah

Negotiating with the criminal justice system in Pakistan can feel futile, like hurling your body against a brick wall. How many times would you be able to raise the strength to stand up, dust yourself off and run full pelt into the wall? Shah’s work tests the endurance of the human body and here he brings the frustrating battle with the criminal justice system and bureaucracy to life. In his solo performance, Shah enacts a repetitive act of creating and demolishing a brick wall, demonstrating how resistance is channelled through one’s physical self.

The Birth of Debris by Baqer Ahmadi

Executioners perform the same task. Day after day, the bones pile up. Baqer, an artist whose work centres around the human experience, depicts this repetitive work as mundane yet sinister. In this performance, flesh is cut from bones and, in a powerful metaphor, the artist alternates between the persona of an executioner and a prisoner.  

Can I Braid Your Hair Tonight? By Aisha Ahmed and Waleed Sajid

Condemned prisoners spend a lot of time wondering about their fate, not knowing when they will be hanged or if, by some judicial miracle, their life will be spared. The artist duo Aisha and Waleed suspend themselves above the audience using rope mesh. Through their performance they aim to create a power dynamic in which they both have fluctuating control over the other's safety, and also exercise power over the viewers below them.


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Nida Jaffery is the head of communications at Justice Project Pakistan. She tweets @nidafjaffery

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (1) Closed

Oct 08, 2019 03:58pm
A life for a life. That is the Lord's verdict and order clear and simple. Any deviation from the same would only create chaos and hatred among the people all around.
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