Archive for the ‘Ramblings of an artist’ Category

My friends

Posted: July 9, 2017 in Ramblings of an artist

I have two sets of friends.
Those who live in Pakistan, face all problems, want this country to a be liberal progressive and democratic;  free from all types of senseless killings in the name of religion and sects. They are concerned that their children should live and study with peace of mind.
Then I have another set of friends.
Those who left Pakistan many decades ago without intention of coming back. They are well settled,  with their children now in European or American universities. Their children in many cases can’t even speak proper Urdu.
Naturally these friends always seem to be worried about Pakistan.
In discussions when they offer solutions for our problems, they tend to suggest Islamic shariah for this wayward country, stressing the need for some honest but ruthless fanatic to come and enforce it.
Their proclivity to support or justify religious extremism is surprising.
They tend to justify the brutality of militant organisation or show a soft corner for them. I feel their ignorance of ground realities of Pakistan plus a romantic attachment with religion combines to support mayhem caused by religious fanatics. 

Despite all protestations they prescribe a heavy dose of God’s fear for us, praying for some Messiah to push this bitter pill through throats of this poor hapless nation for which they have emotional link.
All this seems funny as I am unable to explain the difference. Does living abroad changes one’s outlook so much?

Posted: June 26, 2017 in Ramblings of an artist

All forms of art aim for self-expression and thus of life itself.  It doesn’t  matter much what the art is. It may be photography, painting, sculpture or writing, ultimately it remains a medium for catharsis and self-expression.

Important thing is to pursue your chosen art with honestly and dedication. It must reflect yourself in it. All else is art for art’s sake: a renouncement of meaning in favor of benign aesthetics, entertainment rather than exploration, obfuscating the self rather than revealing it.

But in the end, all art is expressive, and art that is detached from its creator and from the mysteries of life, expresses the detachment of the age and the culture that celebrates it.

A friend of mine recently asked me where I could find so many interesting characters?

Actually all these people exist around us though in our busy life of a metropolis we don’t seem to notice their existence. It is seeing without looking. 

The fast paced life in a capitalist culture is making us impervious to human life around us. As Albert Camus rightly said, ‘As a remedy to life in society I would suggest the big city. Nowadays, it is the only desert within our means’

My goal is not to document the life, or to capture its thrill to others who may not experience them otherwise. Actually the aim is to share something of my own feelings while roaming in streets. A conscious effort to cross that desert of feelings.

In the words of Charles Baudelaire,  “What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.”

I have no desire to attract people to the places that inspire me, but to inspire them to seek their own. To seek their own ‘innocent monsters’.




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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?


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.