A human being is known for his/her untiring surge to modify his/her environment, so the whole idea of culture is based upon altering nature. Man constantly is trying to amend, improve and add into what is given to him, hence the human civilizations, which involve the invention of wheel to the creation of computer (notwithstanding language).
All these inventions – or interventions can be described and defined as important additions into human society, but these can also be considered as significant aspects of activism, since these indicate and include a desire to change the present and given state, in order to construct and offer new vision, version, possibility and potential.
In the realm of art too, artists are active in transforming their state of affairs, may those be only in the field of art or in the larger arena of society. A mere act of drawing a human figure on a piece of paper, depicting a group of people toiling in fields, portraying a family in their house, or rendering a city in its crowded state are attempts – contrary to assumptions – not in reproducing reality, but redefining actuality, since it is the artist’s perspective that edits, presents and preserves a certain aspect of truth, which is more credible as it is perceived through history.
But apart from these small and significant or insignificant skirmishes with reality, activism is a visible and valid part of art making. To start with, art activism redefines the aspects of how art can serve in transforming the existing conditions of a culture and its artistic expression. There can be various descriptions of art activism on the basis of a certain social position, context and constraint, but by and large it is understood to be the act of artists in the larger and vast arena of public sphere. Boris Groys talks about this phenomenon: “Art activists try to change the living conditions in economically underprivileged areas, raise ecological concerns, offer access to culture and education to the populations of poor countries and areas, attract attention to the plight of illegal immigrants, improve conditions for people working in art institutions.”
But what happens in terms of art activism when it is in relation to urban cultures, and in connection with a nation that is facing threats of multiple sorts. A country that is the target of militant, fundamentalist and extremist tendency still had to deal with the other side of life – the art. But living in a society that is perpetually negotiating with the threats on all level, the meanings of art activism is not synonymous with what is perceived in other countries, which are not on the forefront of war on terror. So what is translated as art and activism can be observed in the way essays on the theme by AminaEjaz and RabeyaJalil bring forth in our present issue. Both writers responding to the theme convey their separate views on this subject that is relevant for everyone regardless of region or relation. Likewise NashmiaHaroon delineates the art of activism, or just activism in her photo-essay.
In the present issue of Art Now Pakistan, the profile of Rashid Rana, the newly announced first Artistic Director of Lahore Biennale 2017 illustrates how an artist envisages the layout, dimensions, structure and systems of an art event that invites a large number of artists and galleries to Pakistan. In a sense just making this happen is the biggest act of art activism, which is not detained in the narrowed constraints of a theory.
In addition to other profile pieces, review and exhibition news, the Art Now Pakistan explores a new dimension of art, without making commitment, decree or judgment. It leaves the options and opinion open for a reader or a viewer (since in an online magazine it is difficult to discern the difference between the two!) to reflect upon and determine art, action and activism, with multiple, diverse and contradictory definitions – which are not definite – available to him