“But all the land in the world would mean nothing to me without you”
-Joseph Donnelly- Far and Away, 1992.
There is a sense of pride, ownership and resilience amongst those who chose to remain in their homelands, despite having all resources to go abroad for a better livelihood. They may leave their land and travel, for higher education, but ultimately come back home. They would impart what all they have acquired in terms of education by working in various institutions, organizations and some would even set up their own businesses, in turn providing jobs and gaining high revenues.
This loyalty to land becomes a challenging configuration for artists in Pakistan. There are so many reasons for this. Even though, the most far flung areas from the oldest, most prestigious universities and colleges, have set up impressive art centers across Pakistan, still there is little or no art education to be sustained, it remains a taste for the few privileged ones.
Places like, Jamshoro, Quetta, Peshawar, Multan, Faisalabad, Muzafarabad, Gujrat, Hunza, and Gilgit have large well-equipped government and private studios for various art programs, and a considerably large student body as well, but art in its respective function, purpose and progression remains nil and stagnant. This is true not only for institutes outside the major cities, but a wider spectrum in general for Pakistan.
There are only a few renowned artists that have made national and international waves, a number so small, that it can be easily overlooked in a more competitive global art scene, and if so recognized it may be only due to art from a poor developing nation of religious extremists amidst poor percentage of education and exposure. Certainly not true for all artists, but mostly make work on the political and social status of Pakistan, and ultimately, they paint a reality we are almost never ready to accept let alone work towards development and resolutions.
Unfortunately, in so many years since independence, Pakistan has only a few glorified moments abroad, with artists such as Imran Qureshi, Shazia Sikander and Rashid Rana. Ten or maybe fifteen artists give or take, that made it big, rest no one knows and nobody cares. However, at present, art scene locally needs so much attention and focus that we cannot even think of stepping in the global market. A resolution needs to be found urgently for the development of art, music, dance, architecture, literature and so much more before culture, tradition, and process becomes extinct for us.
Art Centre and its periphery would not only mean the art institutions, artists, but also the art galleries, theatre halls, museums, art studios, collectors, curators, critics, and even some multinational organizations, that place art graduates for various jobs. This above description of a center of art and its periphery is well covered by The National College of Arts, that remains the pioneering institution that encompassed the crème of the entire nation under one umbrella. Of course, now there are many other notable universities like the Beacon House University, Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Punjab University and University of Culture and Arts, that follow the same pattern of a quota system admission plans and tutoring. Students are from diverse backgrounds, exchange of culture, tradition and language is inherent, and so with it comes the deviations from set syllabuses as well. What these deviations in teaching methodology comprises of, shall be a long and an interesting debate that caters to such a variety of color and creed from few of the most culturally rich ethnicities.
However, art that is practiced here in these institutions of the major cities of Pakistan, and the art practice in the outskirts of the urban cities of the country is of little concern for the art world now. As in the age of digital media and connectivity, great information is exchanged and opportunities are made known to the masses. In question is the class or the sector indulging in these high-profile art enterprises such as art fairs, biennales, and competitive gallery exhibits, the viewership and the finances involved with and of course the merit that is required for such a participation along with the age-old discourse on what art is and who is it that actually set the perimeters of these when we may be speaking of the post-colonization, the colonization or the Higher Education Commission interventions. The elitist class, the affluent and the so-called intellectuals perhaps, that formulate the very core of what art is as after all even history proves that it was always the wealthy and powerful that did shape the civil and the civilizations through art, architecture and music. Why though, with such information available to all, still is, art in Pakistan internally, inter-city that is, and in relation to the outside world cease to provide a tough competition or a stable recognition. The answer is, to a great extent, lays with the primary and secondary level schooling system.
For he who would proceed aright… should begin in youth to visit beautiful forms… out of that he should create fair thoughts; and soon he will of himself perceive that the beauty of one form is akin to the beauty of another, and that beauty in every form is one and the same. (Plato)
The syllabuses, the input of the parent, student and teachers, the general mind set of the nation and its priorities all comprise of this utter crumbling state of the matter, that does not cultivate the importance of art in the well-being of a civilized nation that is receptive to humanities.
Major art colleges and outlying art centers are doing the best they can, some of the professors are foreign graduates, some of them leave urban settlements, cross the boundaries set by geographical divisions and reside in mountainous regions, imparting art education, formulations on refinement, sensitivity, philosophy, and physiologies of human behavior, but they have no help and they struggle as they have to work on a student body that is conditioned to think, art has no purpose, strained to know that they would have to fight a certain social structure that do not accept artists and art. Parents to convince of and about their passion. All of this because there is little or no money from art that they can make and not only does this love of the land, has a terrain of social issues, mismatch of infrastructures regarding qualifications, pay scales, jobs and topographical difficulties in terms of its resources, but also political and religious issues connected to this land.
The religious extreme parties claim almost all art practices as Haram. When the truth is that all Scared Text available across the globe clearly states that the only practice that is not allowed is making a business out of the Holy Verses, and we can see politics cashing out on religion all the time, controlling economics, social and land strata indefinitely.
However, artists, art education and art practice in general has an even bigger issue to deal with, larger than socio-political, religious, economic, cultural and geographical differences. Even if we were to say, hypothetically that, the schooling system evolves. Young minds observe colour, shape and form, relish in the marvels of supreme architecture of the world and study detail and idealism of the human body before they make decisions of whether they want to become a doctor or an engineer. If they learn and understand text, nature and language in context to heritage and tradition what would really happen is that they in turn inculcate in themselves ultimate refinement and aesthetics. This would result in shaping them as adults knowing fully well the importance of the mechanisms of psychological sublimations. This of course as we all know outline human behaviors and suppresses animal instincts, resulting in tenderness, love and empathy. Elements that are missing in today’s violent, war struck world. Art in Pakistan could change forever and its purpose, functionality and development could make this world a better place to live in. This is the essence, greater than all, art as a concept. A dilemma, that even the modern enlightened ones fails to grasp and keep blaming on the religious extremists, and if not them then on the sad state of the country and resources. Truth being, far is anything to do with art from all of this. We simply fail to comprehend concept and analysis of art or as Aristotle states, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. “
Artists in many areas outside the major art centers replicate or imitate, without any meaning or substance, beautiful picturesque landscapes and still life, sold in most galleries at a low price, great skill and labour, but even a camera or photoshop could do the same. Whereas those that are in the urban areas, in the so called more contemporary art practices simply almost lift images from the internet of other artists abroad. There would be very few who have personal or social, political concerns pertaining to the land they belong and would be producing unique and honest work of art.
To plainly say, there can be not again another Khalid Iqbal to stroke a brush of paint and bring out the mood and emotions of the sky or the land, or Anna Molka so deeply in love with this part of land, that she left everything and settled here just to paint the wondrous bright sunshine and four glorious seasons we have in Pakistan pioneering impressionism in breath taking landscapes. To further explain it is a long way for us to see another Shakir Ali, painting a bottle and a circle encompassing the entire genre of modernism.
Far and away we are no matter how center our location may be, far and away we are no matter how many resources we have today, far and away we are from the art that once was. A country that has not yet established it own law since the colonized British India, a nation that fails to teach its tradition embedded in Urdu literature, a place where people still feel that artists showing work abroad and foreign writers praising their work means success, materiality takes over spirituality and has made us deaf dumb and blind.
What becomes of art, and artists, where temples, mandars, and mosques are destroyed by those that are ordained by the law of that very Book they hold, that say, do not destroy any place of worship. What becomes art and artists………
What becomes of the broken-hearted
Who had love that’s now departed?
-Jimmy Ruffin, the Big Chill, 1983