As I sit watching Professor Salima Hashmi, the matriarch of Pakistani Art, speak of the triumph of the Lahore Literary Festival’s second London edition at a private reception in St. James, I am struck by admiration, as she recites her father’s prayer:
“Aaiye hath uthaiyen hum bhi
Hum jinhen rasm-e-dua yaad nahin
Hum jinhen soz-e-mohabbat ke siwa
Koyee butt koyee khuda yaad nahin
Aaiye arz guzarain keh nigaar-e-hasti
Zehr-e-imroz mein sheereeni-e-farda bhar de
Woh jinhen taab-e-garaan baariye ayyam nahin
Un kee palkon peh shab-o-roz ko halka kar de
Jinn kee aankhon ko rukh-e-subh ka yaara bhi nahin
Un ki raaton mein koi shama munawwar kar de
Jin ke qadmon ko kisi reh ka sahara bhi nahin
Un ki nazroN pe koyee raah ujaagar kar de
Jin ka deen pairawi-e-kizb-o-riya hai un ko
Himmat-e-kufr milay jurrat-e-tehqeeq milay
Jin ke sar muntazir-e-tegh-e-jafa haiN un ko
Dast-e-qatil ko jhatak dainay ki taufeeq milay
Ishq ka sirr-e-nihan jaan tipa hai jis se
Aaj iqrar karein aur tapish mit jaye
Harf-e-haq dil meiN khatakta hai jo kaante ki tarah
Aaj izhaar karein aur khalish mit jaye”
Only then did I realize this is the same mantra she has used as an academic, curator, artist and educator for the art community in Pakistan. For decades, Professor Hashmi has, and still is, dedicating her life to promote the arts of Pakistan, whether it be antique, modern, or contemporary. From her internationally curated shows, such as the pioneering exhibition, “Hanging Fire” at Asia Society in New York in 2009, to her curatorial vision for gallery Rohtas II, which is always breaking the boundaries of today’s art scene in Pakistan and facilitating a place for young artists to experiment and showcase their practice. She also served as Dean for two of the largest educational institutes of arts in Pakistan, the National College of Arts and Beaconhouse National University: School of Visual Arts and Design, and shifted the landscape of Pakistani art for future generations.
Globally, Professor Hashmi is admired by all, especially as she unites Pakistan and India through the arts. Last year, she curated the exhibition, “This Night Bitten Dawn”, at the Devi Art Foundation and Gujral Foundation in India. Using the last piece of poetry her father had written after the 1947 Partition, she paired artists from both India and Pakistan to create an exhibition which examined the effects of this historic event and its impact on the future.
In her latest triumph, Professor Hashmi has partnered with The Citizen’s Foundation (TCF) and the Italian Friends of The Citizens Foundation (IFTCF), in sponsorship with the Embassy of Pakistan in Rome and The Italian Embassy in Islamabad to not only, exhibit the works of artists from Pakistan, but also to reward three emerging artists from the country to travel to Milan for a residency. “Art for Pakistan: Contemporary Artists from Pakistan” will be a fundraiser in partnership with Fondazione Sant’Ambrogogio – Museo Diocesano in Milan, Skira editore, the Lahore Biennale Foundation (LBF) and VASL Artists’ Association. All proceeds of the benefit exhibition will go directly to the TCF schools program to stipulate educational means for students and teachers in Pakistan.
The Citizen’s Foundation, established in 1995, has been promoting positive social change through education within and beyond Pakistan. Since its inception, Professor Hashmi has been heavily involved with the TCF, “Having been a great admirer of the TCF, I was pleased to help with this project. I was there from the beginning of TCF and respect their model; to give the underprivileged children of Pakistan the best education they can receive, is a wonderful initiative. I have taken the time to train their teachers, starting fifteen years ago, in regards to the arts, and to help get their families involved”
When TCF approached Professor Hashmi for the exhibition and residency program, she immediately knew she needed the help of her good friend Rosa Maria Falvo, International Commissions Editor for Skira, and independent curator whom has worked on projects such as the Dhaka Art Summit, Griogio Cini Foundation at the Venice Biennale and several more. In the early 1990’s, Falvo was visiting Pakistan with her partner Enrico Mascelloni. Mascelloni was researching the area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which lead to an exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, “The Thousand and One Days: The Art of Pakistani Women Miniaturists” in 2005. Since then, Falvo and Professor Hashmi’s friendship has flourished, which has led them to co-curate this exhibition.
The exhibition will include artists from Pakistan, both established and emerging, and will be selling as a benefit show for the TCF. Artists include Faiza Butt, Naiza Khan, Adeela Suleman, Hamra Abbas, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Imran Qureshi, Adeel uz Zafar and another twenty-five artists from the country, who will be announced sooner to the date of the exhibition, in October 2018. As this exhibition is to raise funds, Professor Hashmi and Falvo had to narrow down the artists they selected for the exhibition, “This is artist’s for a cause, rather than art for arts sake. Rosa and myself had to ensure there is a high level of representation of art from Pakistan to be displayed, it should relate to the richness of art in Pakistan”
The venue of the exhibition, Fondazione Sant’Ambrogio – Museo Diocesano, in Milan, rejuvenated the cloisters of the Cathedral to create a museum in 2001, a vision originated by Archbishop Ildefonso Schuster back in 1931, was finally brought to life in. In the eyes of Schuster, the Museo Diocesano, which was ultimately inaugurated by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan, was a space to celebrate the arts. With Archbishop Schuster in mind, this will be the first ever exhibition of Pakistani art in Italy, and what setting could be better than this.
As exciting as this all may be, three lucky emerging artists from Pakistan will be selected by jurors, Principle of the National College of Arts (NCA) Dr Murtaza Jafri, acclaimed artist and Dean of The School of Visual Arts and Design at Beaconhouse National University, Rashid Rana, artist, art critic and head of Fine Arts at the NCA, Quddus Mirza, artist, Head of Fine Art at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) coordinator for VASL Aritst Collective Adeela Suleman, along with Director, Collezione d’Arte Contempora- nea dei Musei Vaticani, Rome, Micol Forti, Curator, Museo Nazionale delle Ar ti del XXI Secolo (MAXXI), Rome, Luigia Lonardelli and Independent curator, Art critic & Lecturer, Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan, Marco Meneguzzo.
Their residency will be hosted in Poggio Verde Country Villa, an eight-hectare property, which has been part of Luigi Crosti’s family since 1897, and has recently united with the Museo Diocesano, facilitated by Gretchen Crosti, wife of Luigi, who has been managing the Villa since 2014. In the early 1900’s, the villa was mostly a farmstead for the family, which later became a retreat for the family during World War II.
With its extensive history, one becomes envious of the artists from Pakistan who will reside in this haven for ten days in May of 2018. Maria Rosa Falvo, contemporary artist Faiza Butt and Collection curator of Contemporary Art, Museo del Novecento and Museo delle Culture (MUDEC), Milan, Iolanda Ratti, announced the three artists, whom shall be ranked from first to third, on November 16th at an event in Museo Diocesano, where the three discussed the exhibition and the overall objective of the project. Out of the three artists, the first prize victor will be announced at the Inaugural Lahore Biennale, set to take place between February and March of 2018. The lucky winners of the residency are Amber Hammad, Mahbub Jokhio, Unum Baber & Matt Kushan.
With regards to the emerging artists being selected for the residency, and to be announced in Italy by three acclaimed women in the arts, along with a distinct presentation at the Inaugural Lahore Biennale, I wonder how the artist may react to such a daunting experience. Professor Hashmi laughs while she states, “The Pakistani artist is a resilient animal… we can be very self-deprecating, which has much to do with our nature and culture from history”. As I look back at the history of artists of the country, this statement appears to hold true.
Professor Hashmi has accomplished yet another extraordinary achievement in her career of expanding the horizons of arts from Pakistan and I ask why, “It is my way of giving back to the community, through mind and imagination; this is my attempt to see if I can help in some capacity.” And I believe she has done just that.
*A special thank you to Professor Salima Hashmi for taking the time to speak to me, along with Asad Hayee, Gretchen Romig and Daniela Fontana for providing the information, and images, needed for this article.