The term ‘Contemporary Traditions’ sounds paradoxical, but it may lead to a number of discussions, debates and doubts. To inquires how tradition is viewed in multiple ways and approached in diverse manners. For a majority of people, tradition is supreme, superb and sacred;since it has withstood the test of time and survived changes in taste. The attitude towards tradition is not merely about some practice from the past, but it reflects and manifests a society’s vision on its present and future too.
In Pakistan – a country with the history of 67 years and a past of five thousand years, the issue of tradition poses specific questions. As Thomas McEvilley describes India being a postmodern country before the invention of modernism, this region has witnessed an amalgamation of traditions in its long history, some culminating and continuing in others, while a few surviving as unique streaks in different phases.
According to Octavio Paz a society becomes aware of a tradition, only when it is out of it. So the matter of tradition is intriguing, because for most people the past presents a perfect example of many cultural, social, religious and political practices. Hence in a country – like Pakistan tradition, even though is defined in diverse terms, possess a potent place in the realm of art, culture, politics and religion. Often one believes in tradition being a solid and static entity that can be adapted – after the gap of centuries; or resurrected in its ideal state to solve contemporary situations.
Thus the efforts to infuse forms from the immediate and distant past – in visual arts, music, architecture, fashion – as well as in faith, have been evident in our recent years. Revival of Mughal miniature painting, fascination with Qawwali music, preference for Mughal and colonial architecture and the fashion of old dresses are signs of how a society has been seeking past forms to forge its modern identity. These concerns are important for creative individuals, because making a work of art (any work for that matter) addresses the dilemma of dealing with past (in the words of Henry Geldzahler artis to make it new). Different individuals have dealt with this basic question/condition in varying schemes; and the present issue of Art Now Pakistan brings a few points of view on this theme, relevant for all, and yet cannot be resolved.
Both SairaSheikh and Aziz Suhail discuss the tradition and its role or revival in present times, with their distinct and strong opinions. Dua Abbas Rizvi in her interview with WardhaSahbbirpresents the opinions of a person actively trying to relocate tradition with contemporary sensibilities of her age. This year has witnessed passing away of several artists, including ShahidSajjad, who in the solitude of his studio focused on the conventions of image making from tribes of Bengal to the local craft, and whatever he picked from his surroundings, he turned it into examples of high art. In his work, past and present pulsate side by side. This aspect of using tradition for a personal, poetic and pictorial purpose is highlighted in his profile by RabeyaJalil.
Although there can be numerous interpretations of contemporary traditions, and there can be diverse positions in this connection, but one realizes that each point in this regard is merely a single thought among many other different, diverse, contradictory and conflicting concepts. Here one may recall MianIjazul Hassan’s comment on the question of tradition. To him, only a person, who is not careful about the strain in his neck, will spend too much time looking at his back!