Archive for the ‘Ramblings of an artist’ Category

Dust of the soul

Posted: June 7, 2017 in Ramblings of an artist

A viewer looks at the finished product of art and judges it for its artistic and aesthetic value. An artist does the same. However for him, it is also a means of self-expression in which the very process of creation is source of satisfaction and fulfillment; sometimes with total disregard of viewers’ appreciation.

In the words of Pablo Picasso, ‘the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

In this modern digital world, the effort of get noticed has become tough with ultimate success in art being measured on the basis of ‘likes’ on social media or the number of  exhibitions. In this continuous effort to keep afloat, the sheer joy and satisfaction of creation may be lost. In so doing, knowingly or unknowingly, we forfeit the greatest rewards that art has to offer.

Art is not a business entrepreneurship. Here the ultimate success may not measureable in visible, material forms. Here the most rewarding part (if so pursued) is the process, not the product. To apply the mercantile laws to art and trying to make the process of production more efficient, productive or any other business like goal indeed makes being an artist just another job.

The worst part of this attitude is the mutual competition to be on the top with an aim to capture a narrow art market. Somewhere along the line the sheer joy of creative process is irreversibly lost. Art instead of being a source of enjoyment becomes another burden to carry.

Why would anyone commit such a senseless act?

This is a time of faith. To publicly express and display religious sentiments, exhorting others to do the same. A time difficult to avoid being swept in frenzy especially when being conformist seems easy and safe. Any attempt to keep aloof carries the risk of being brandished as infidel.

Even if the situation is not so bad (at least for the time being) pursuing art with an aim to uphold higher values of humanism seems precarious. The compulsion to take sides with everyone getting fanatic makes it difficult of practicing art with a dream of a peaceful world.

In this milieu of growing mistrust and xenophobia, art, a universal language; has the potential to make us realize that people all over the world are essentially the same. However there is a serious threat, that this might be lost in thick dust being raised by religious hatred and jingoism of holy wars.

However even in this situation, creating or experiencing art can at least relax and sooth us, though we may fail to make others feel the same The process of creating art engages both the body and the mind and provides us a chance to look inward and reflect.  Experiencing art also gives us reason to think and be reflective or may inspire us to keep  faith in human and ethical values Art provides a release, a place for reflection and away to engage our whole selves. We need art to keep our sanity

This reminds me of words of, art critic Raymond Steiner

 There was a time when the world thought that the artist was chosen, and that they were on a mission not to tell us what we have but what we might have if we’d only get our act together and see beyond the obvious. Art was supposed to transcend life, not imitate it. Crap is obvious—and I for one am wearied by its presence. Show me please the light at the end of the tunnel. Show me yet once again how beauty can nourish my inner being. Don’t show me what is, show me what can be, and how I might get there—even if only in my mind—as I lose myself in a painting, a musical score, a poem, or photograph.” 

 

Freedom of creation

Posted: December 11, 2016 in Ramblings of an artist

Recently in one of photography groups of Pakistan an interesting debate started when a picture showing few poor children was considered embarrassing by group administrators. The picture was deemed to project against national interest with a risk of creating negative image of Pakistan.

Group administrator sought opinion of senior photographers before decision to deleted the picture.

This issues repeatedly creeps up in groups and art circles and poses challenges to freedom of expression and the limits of liberty given to artists in a society obsessed with an idea of its image and how it is being perceived by the world at large.

I feel art tries to depict reality (whatever it is) and its vision is global rather than parochial. It addresses humanity rather than to a particular tribe or a nation. If a picture shows human misery and poverty, it means human society has still a lot of achieve. Still there are issues to deal, people to help and a long distance to the goal where we are able to provide a descent living to our brethren.

Banning such art (or books) is like gagging the voice of conscience and living in a world of self-delusion.

No one is going to look down at Pakistan just because we have few poor people.

Though we are ridiculed when our leaders are listed on top of corrupt politicians of the world. We are viewed with suspicion and hatred when terrorist are reported to have direct or indirect links to Pakistan. Reports of maltreatment to minorities tarnish our image, painting us as a nation of religious bigots and intolerant.

I think we should not add another feather to this reputation by banning an artist for showing few ugly spots on the face of our society. Such situations do occur when a book or a piece of art is deemed inimical to what authorities consider as national interest or religious dogmas.

History is replete with such examples where art was banned and books burned as they were perceived to challenge national narratives or religious edicts. Can truth be suppressed by denying the right of independent thinking or freedom of creative expressions?

round-the-globe

Photography, like all creative arts represents an outlet of personal expression. The art per se is non-judgemental and a representation of a particular time. Famous street photographer Eric Kim says, ‘as a photographer, I see myself as a sociologist with a camera as my research tool to observe and record the people and world around me’

Many a time’s vision of a creative artist may be contrary to the existing social ethos. Ideas which aspire for a change in social narratives or the ones which tend to promote a global humanism as compared to a parochial view of nationalism may be viewed with scepticism. In such cases artists are under lot of pressure to conform to existing social narratives. Any deviation or open challenge may be severely censured.

The key elements of social narrative promoted in Pakistan in the last few decades are based on a puritanical concept of religion and nationalism which at times tend to touch the boundaries of   xenophobia and paranoia.

In my experience of working as a photographer with interest in portrait and cultural photography, most of the people tend to assess art not for its technical or artistic values. They just wish that it should be a vehicle to promote their religious / nationalistic sentiments.

A picture showing a Hindu woman bowing before Lord Krishna is immediately objected and declared against monotheistic principles of Islam and thus worthy of being rejected as infidel practice which has nothing to do with our culture of Pakistan. This rigid attitude tends to ignore and excludes a significant percentage of our population.

The word culture is a broad term with multiple layers of meanings. According to Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the word, ‘Culture’ is defined in

  1. The customs, institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or group
  2. The arts and other manifestations of intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

From these definitions it is obviously that culture is an extremely broad term. This is easily understood by an artist, but general public is not so clear on this concept. They tend to confuse religion with culture and Pakistan with Islam.

According to many people any picture which depicts life style of minorities should be excluded from, ‘culture of Pakistan.  They can’t understand that in a multi-cultural and multi-racial society like our country, life style of all these minorities are actually sub units of a bigger whole. A passion to promote a monolithic society abhors beauty of a cultural diversity

This intolerance is sometimes even extended to picture showing practices of Muslim sects with different views. This shows art and other manifestations of intellectual achievements are being seen through a tunnel vision of religious and sectarian faiths.

In its endeavour to be a social documentary, art tends be objective and non-committal.  Viewers may interpret in different ways depending upon their own set of beliefs and social mores. A picture of women in shuttle cock veils shopping in posh markets may be seen as an indicator of changing social trends where old is rubbing shoulders with the new. However, the image was interpreted as a deliberate attempt to ridicule what viewers thought was our cultural traditions.

Another picture where a woman was seen carrying a 20 Kg sack on her head while in a shuttlecock veil, became controversial. For some it was a wonderful picture showing slice of a culture depicting drudgery of life of an ordinary women and their hardships. However some others objected and labelled it as an insult of our society with potential to tarnish its softer image. They thought such pictures must not be displayed on social media as they might project us as a backward society which treats its women so harshly.

In one of my picture, an elderly bearded owner of a boutique was shown trying to cover his face to avoid the offence of being photographed while standing with mannequins wearing sleeveless low neck dress. For some it is a social satire on our confused moral and religious criteria. They view it as a serious photography where it becomes more than an art. It achieves the status of a social documentary, a record of our time and its trends.

Umair Ghani commented on this images, ‘Commerce and Art play a tug of war with Faith and provoke greater conflicts and challenges for those who consciously focus on such concerns. These trends affect everyday life and our understanding of it. Some societies have learnt to sustain that shock; others are too fragile to come to terms with this recent awareness’

However the same picture was severely criticised as an intrusion on someone’s personal space and violation of personal belief.  Yet some others critics labelled it as putting religious class under ridicule, projecting them as hypocrites. A conspiracy of so called modern social society where anything related to religion becomes a butt of jokes.

Is documentary photography a violation of privacy? Can anyone claim privacy in a public place?  Laws vary in different countries.  Photography, as always, has lot of grey areas, where ethical concerns are involved.

Is showing social hypocrisy in a photograph is a breach of social rights, esp?

The obsession with a projection of a soft progressive image of Pakistan is so overwhelming that any image of poverty or human misery is advised to be pushed under the carpet and pretend that as if it never existed at all.

Similarly naked children sitting on the trash, addicts lying on the pavements, or poor children playing in villages are thought embarrassing. However it is a reality of our lives as much as hunger and war.

Such festering social wounds can be healed only when we admit and accept their existence. A denial is nothing but a self-delusion.

Art should not be used for promotion of what state considers as national interests. Rather it should aspire to uphold higher values of humanism irrespective of caste, creed language and race. Recent unrest in Kashmir after killing of Burhan Muzaffer Wani by Indian forces should be seen in the light of human tragedy rather than for point scoring by respective governments.

A sudden popping up of huge posters of Burhan Wani is unusual and would definitely catch the attention of a documentary photographer. He would be curious to know the reason behind this promotion and attempt to shape a new cult figure as this might have implications this society.

The picture though posted without a personal comment became a cause for heart burn and resulted in outburst of anger and abuse from my followers across the border. Both sides showing indignation with complains that I was being partial

These are issues which need to be debated. In the absence of a photography magazine and lack of interest by photography groups, we lack a platform to discuss photography as an art form with an to educate and enlighten not only the public but photographers as well with an ultimate aim to develop a tolerant and humane society.

thaap

Photography, like all creative arts represents an outlet of personal expression. The art per se is non-judgmental and a representation of a particular time. Famous street photographer Eric Kim says, ‘as a photographer, I see myself as a sociologist with a camera as my research tool to observe and record the people and world around me’

Many a time’s vision of a creative artist may be contrary to the existing social ethos. Ideas which aspire for a change in social narratives or the ones which tend to promote a global humanism as compared to a parochial view of nationalism may be viewed with scepticism. In such cases artists are under lot of pressure to conform to existing social narratives. Any deviation or open challenge may be severely censured.

The key elements of social narrative promoted in Pakistan in the last few decades are based on a  puritanical concept of religion and nationalism which at times tend to touch the boundaries of  xenophobia and paranoia.

In my experience of working as a photographer with interest in portrait and cultural photography, most of the people tend to assess art not for its technical or artistic values. They just wish that it should be a vehicle to promote their religious / nationalistic sentiments.

janmashtami

A picture showing a Hindu woman bowing before Lord Krishna is immediately objected and declared against monotheistic principles of Islam and thus worthy of being rejected as infidel practice which has nothing to do with our culture of Pakistan. This rigid attitude tends to ignore and excludes a significant percentage of our population.

The word culture is a broad term with multiple layers of meanings. According to Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the word, ‘Culture’ is defined in

  1. The customs, institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or group
  2. The arts and other manifestations of intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

From these definitions it is obviously that culture is an extremely broad term. This is easily understood by an artist, but general public is probably not so clear on this concept. They tend to confuse religion with culture and think Pakistan is synonymous with Islam.

According to many people any picture which depicts life style of minorities should be excluded from, ‘culture of Pakistan.  They can’t understand that in a multi-cultural and multi-racial society like our country, life style of all these minorities are actually sub units of a bigger whole. A passion to promote a monolithic society abhors beauty of a cultural diversity.

at-a-shrine

This intolerance is sometimes even extended to picture showing practices of Muslim sects with different views. This shows art and other manifestations of intellectual achievements are being seen through a tunnel vision of religious and sectarian faiths.

Shuttle cocks

In its endeavor to be a social documentary, art tends be objective and non-committal.  Viewers may interpret in different ways depending upon their own set of beliefs and social mores. A picture of women in shuttle cock veils shopping in posh markets may be seen as an indicator of changing social trends where old is rubbing shoulders with the new. However, the image was interpreted as a deliberate attempt to ridicule what viewers thought was our cultural traditions.

shopping

Another picture where a woman was seen carrying a 20 Kg sack on her head while in a shuttlecock veil, became controversial. For some it was a wonderful picture showing slice of a culture depicting drudgery of life of ordinary women and their hardships. However some others objected and labelled it as an insult of our society with potential to tarnish its softer image. They thought such pictures must not be displayed on social media as they might project us as a backward society which treats its women so harshly.

faith-and-the-buisness

In one of my picture, an elderly bearded owner of a boutique was shown trying to cover his face to avoid the offence of being photographed while standing with mannequins wearing sleeveless low neck dress. For some it is a social satire on our confused moral and religious standards. They view it as a serious photography where it becomes more than an art. It achieves the status of a social documentary, a record of our time and its trends.

Umair Ghani commented on this image, ‘Commerce and Art play a tug of war with Faith and provoke greater conflicts and challenges for those who consciously focus on such concerns. These trends affect everyday life and our understanding of it. Some societies have learnt to sustain that shock; others are too fragile to come to terms with this recent awareness’

However the same picture was severely criticized as an intrusion on someone’s personal space and violation of personal belief.  Yet some others critics labelled it as putting religious class under ridicule, projecting them as hypocrites. A conspiracy of so called modern social society where anything related to religion becomes a butt of jokes for so called liberals.

 

Is documentary photography a violation of privacy? Can anyone claim privacy in a public place?  Laws vary in different countries.  Photography, as always, has lot of grey areas, where ethical concerns are involved. Is showing social hypocrisy in a photograph is a breach of social rights?

misery-and-humanity

The obsession with a projection of a soft progressive image of Pakistan is so overwhelming that any image of poverty or human misery is advised to be pushed under the carpet and pretend that as if it never existed at all.

my-country

Similarly naked children sitting on the trash, addicts lying on the pavements, or a physically disabled persons begging around the market are thought embarrassing for national prestige.  However it is a reality of our lives as much as hunger and war.

lotus-flowers

addicts

tyre-race

Such festering social wounds can be healed only when we admit and accept their existence. A denial is nothing but a self-delusion.

burhan-wani

Art should not be used for promotion of what state consider as national interests. Rather it should aspire to uphold higher values of humanism irrespective of caste, creed language and race. Recent unrest in Kashmir after killing of Burhan Muzaffer Wani by Indian forces should be seen in the light of human tragedy rather than for point scoring by respective governments.

A sudden popping up of huge posters of Burhan Wani is unusual and would definitely catch the attention of a documentary photographer. He would be curious to know the reasons behind this promotion and attempt to shape a new cult figure and the possible future implications for this policy.  The picture though posted without a personal comment became a cause for heart burn and resulted in outburst of anger and abuse from my followers across the border. Both sides showing indignation, with complains that I was being partial.

These are issues which need to be debated. In the absence of a photography magazine and lack of interest in serious discussions by photography groups, we lack a platform to discuss photography as an art form with an aim to educate and enlighten not only the public but photographers as well with an ultimate aim to develop a tolerant and humane society.

Puzzle of life

Posted: October 10, 2016 in Ramblings of an artist

There was a time when we too, used to be considered human beings. Now this time has come when people come to have a look at us’.

A chill ran down our spine when we heard these words from the old man sitting in front of us, bitterness writ large on his mutilated face, his equally disfigured wife sitting beside him. It was a small stuffy room which felt more oppressive after his words. The walls otherwise bare of any decorations were decked with family photographs.

After a brief silence, the man said again, in a tone full of remorse,’ we are unloved. No one cares for us. Relatives are scared to visit this godforsaken place Clergy calls us accursed and warns others to avoid us if they want to avoid wrath of God’.

Only visitors we receive are people like you who come on a trip to see how we live here’.

We were numb and did not know how to respond. Our initial euphoria to visit leprosy centre seemed to be crushed under tons of humiliation. We felt ashamed as if our study visit as final year students was a beastly act which had deeply offended these lepers living in small dilapidated building far away in outskirts of Faisalabad.

Sensing our embarrassment, the wife tried to step in for our rescue. ‘The situation is not as grave. My husband is too sensitive. Please don’t mind his acerbic remarks. He otherwise has a very kind heart. We used to have a mud house in a small hamlet in Sindh when this curse struck us. We too had a caring family. The truth is that they still love us and keep on writing occasional letters’.

With a wide sweep of her stump of an arm, she pointed towards pictures on the wall. ‘Look at those pictures. This is our whole family. Whenever there is a marriage or childbirth, we are informed with a picture of newcomers. We paste them on here. These albums arranged according to family tree give us a feeling of being in touch with our loved ones. Deaths of our loved ones sadden us and in fact the whole community of lepers mourns the death’.

‘We miss them a lot. We know they love us and must have the same feelings about us. It is just that they are scared of being infected with this illness’. Then she broke out, with tears rolling round her cheeks which she tried to wipe with what used to be fingers. ‘I wish them a life full of happiness. We wish, God protect them from this illness’.

The room suddenly was thick with grief. The man averted his gaze and started looking out of window, probably trying to conceal his emotions.

All of us were quite, not knowing how to behave. Finally after an eerie silence for what seemed an eternity, we decided to slip out of room leaving the couple immersed in their misery without uttering a word of consolation for them.

It was an overcast wintry morning when we were escorted on an academic visit under guidance of our associate professor of medicine. The day had started with feelings of a break from the monotony of daily routine with a promise of sightseeing.

What we saw was beyond our expectations. In our over protected family lives, we had no idea of the extent of human wretchedness, isolation and misery. We had seen poverty and patients without limbs in our hospitals, but these lepers stumbling on their stumps of limbs, disfigured leonine faces, festering skin wounds were too much to absorb. One could just palpate an aura of gloom, dejection and loneliness pervading in the court yard.

We saw few patients who were admitted before partition. No one bothered about them when in 1947, assets were being divided. Their relatives opted for India and left them here. They felt being uprooted, not knowing where they belonged to, hoping that finally their dead bodies would be disposed according to their faiths.

This small community of sick people were allotted rooms and were allowed to do what they choose. They had small patches of land where they would grow vegetables. The life in that compound had developed a rhythm and style of its own.

Some of us had the courage to shake hands with them as well. That seemed pointless bravado at the time but the psychological lift it gave to those poor people—treating them as normal human beings instead of animals as they were used to—was incalculable

On our way back, the whole bus had an ominous hush. Everyone seemed lost in one’s own thoughts. Our teacher too was immersed in his own imaginations. After few minutes, I mustered the courage to ask him, ‘Sir! I wonder what it was. Why there is an untold misery and why we are unable to eradicate this illness and provide these wretched people an honourable living? Sometimes I wonder about the life itself. Is there a meaning to whole conundrum, we call creation’?

After a gap of few minutes, our teacher responded back, ‘No idea son. Probably it is the curse of God. May be they are bearing the cross of some unknown sins committed by their past generations. We should be thankful to God for all his grace and benevolence. That is all I know’.

This whole incidence which occurred almost 35 years back is still etched in my memory.

——————————-

All those minor details came rushing to my mind when I was on my way to lepers house Rawalpindi. Time had changed; I was now a professor of medicine and was on an academic trip with a small group of house officers. Our aim was to look at the patients with a view to being enlightened at the progress hitherto achieved against this illness.

I was not sure how my own students would behave? Would they be shocked as we were? I had shared some of those details with them in an attempt to prepare for the possible emotional shock.

On a bright spring day, we set off in a small wagon to a congested place in the heart of city. I felt a pleasant surprise when we disembarked from the wagon to see a neat building with a busy outdoor and a clean hospital at its back.

I looked for those miserable creatures of yesteryears but instead found only few patients, all with minor skin lesions and faces brimming with hope of recovery. Dr Christine Schmotzer, medical director of the facility briefed us and with a pride on her face,  mentioned that Pakistan, since 1996 has been declared a leprosy free country, first to achieve this milestone in Asia. The few people admitted were old cases who needed regular check-ups and care.

All this has been possible because of dedication to Dr Ruth Pfau and her team of German nuns who have devoted last 50 years of their lives in service of lepers of this area forsaking their own personal and family lives.

We kept on listening with a sense of unbelief. Does this world is still not devoid of those who have faith in humanism above the barriers of religion, caste, language and colours? With all this rat race of materialism, these nuns seemed other worldly.

Pious faithful, who in order to earn the paradise of God, have made this world a hell for others were understandable for us but who were these creatures and what were their motives? Was there a method in their madness?

These thoughts occupied my mind on our way back. All around me, students, equally impressed and awestruck,  kept on chattering.

Impressive——- Theses ladies are angles in human form——- We are the first in Asia——-I wish they had embraced Islam——–Can’t believe we are free of that nightmare of leprosy——-Would these ladies receive the grace of God in the hereafter? ——I never knew about this hospital though belonging to this area——–But she was graceful, isn’t it?

This incessant chatter kept on humming in the wagon and then all students turned to me. Sir! What do you think? We did not find those monsters you talked about. What is life after all? Is there an absolute truth in all this never ending circle of life and death? Would these ladies be in paradise for their service to humanity, even if they were not faithful?

I looked at their faces, curious to understand the ultimate truth,  questions pouring out in torrents, with an expectation to receive a philosophical answer from their guru.

I listened to all this with patience and after a silence of few minutes said,’ I have no answer to all your quarries. Honestly speaking I am still as clueless to solve the mystery of life as I was many decades ago.  This is all I can say about philosophy of creation. This is all I know’.

Confusion

 

 

 

’ Army is the only binding force of this nation’. This statement is often repeated ad nauseum on electronic and print media. The claim never analysed or challenged is accepted as a universal truth by all and the sundry. An attempt to analyse or challenge this axiom is seen as being unpatriotic.

It may be true in current socio-political scenario. However it implies instability, a nation with no internal cohesion, just at the brink of collapse where a persistent brute military force is needed to counter centrifugal forces from disintegrating its inner fabric.

According to Webster dictionary, a nation state is defined as’ a form of political organization in which a group of people who share the same history, traditions, or language live in a particular area under one government’

From this definition, it is obvious that a true binding force for a nation is/should be geographical boundaries, a government which is perceived to be legitimate and looking for the welfare of its subjects and last but not the least a common culture, history and heritage with which people are able to identify themselves. Only then they can realize themselves a part of a greater whole with common threads to unite them to shared ideals.

It is important that all sections of society must feel an emotional attachment to it and feel their personal interest in its survival. A deficiency in this regard can’t be compensated by increasing the military might and stoking the flames of jingoism. Such a strategy creates nations not only in a continuous state of conflict against themselves, but also a risk for peace and stability of the whole world.

It must be understood clearly that a stagnant economy, fractured judicial system, serious energy crisis, rapid expansion of youth population demanding jobs, miserable education system and last but not the least extremism and religious intolerance threatening the very existence of society are the real issues.

They demand a paradigm shift from a security state to a welfare state. This situation needs strengthening the civil institutions and a viable government seen alive to the situation.

What is/should be the role of creative artists and writers in this situation?

The creative people have to play an important role to highlight the real issues and educating the masses. Instead of romanticism with a supposed glory of the past, there is a need to focus on the issues and problems of common people. A humanitarian approach, one which discards the differences of religion, sect, race and language ought to be adopted with an aim to minimize mutual friction and bigotry.

A shared history and culture needs to be projected. Ours is multicultural and multi religious society, with its roots in one of the oldest civilization, Dravidian civilization which existed about 6,000 years ago.

An artificial creation of roots which claims a historical heritage in Middle East is not only against the very logic and definition of a nation; it has proved incapable of providing sufficient cohesive force. Instead it has alienated different sections of society and promoted jingoism. Instead of a pride in being sons of this soil, it has led to a search of heroes outside this area. That is why our history books seem full of eulogy for those who attacked and plundered this area. This is nothing but an attempt of creating heroes out of dacoits.

The tilt requires a correction of facts and enlightening the public and here creative artists and writers are important to play the role of torch bearers of knowledge, tolerance and promotion of harmony.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wished, ‘ I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character’

This can’t be achieved till we are able to achieve the ideal, dreamed by George Bernard Shaw

“You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.”

A stage where patriotism should no longer remain the last refuge of a scoundrel