There is a famous line describing the character of Pakistan’s national cricket team. ‘The only team in the world who is able to clench defeat from an easy, clear and convincing victory’. Perhaps the reason for that fact and factor is that every player performs for his own sake, and not for the collective gain of the team.
In sports, and other teamwork activities, this behaviour is despicable, because qualities an executive seeks in a newly hired person is the ability to be part of a group, rather than preferring or performing on the basis of being an individual. To accomplish grand tasks, one needs a collective output. Pyramid, Panama Canal, The Great Wall of China, revolution, democracy and Jihad; all needed a government, committee, collective, company, party, Politburo, organization to make them possible. Yet in all these grand feats, one also spots the presence of a singular person, hence Qin Shi Huang (the first Emperor of China), Lenin, Mao, Hitler, Churchill, De Gaulle, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Khomeini, Bhutto and several others.
But in the realm of art, regardless if it is a collective output or a shared effort, mostly it is the solitary individual who stands at the helm; especially since that phase of history, when individual identities took form (perhaps soon after the custom of naming a person). One is in awe of cave paintings from Prehistoric Period; works which were not possible by a singular human being, yet one finds the imprint of two hands on some walls, something that precedents the present practice of signing an art work by an individual artist.
In the glorious age of Renaissance, as we well know, apprentices worked in artists’ workshops and helped in preparing large scale paintings and sculptures, but it is master’s name that is associated with the work. We still admire a Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rubens, Velasquez etc., considering that some of them had pupils to produce their artworks. The idea and institution of a workshop has continued till our age, in which contemporary artists have employed younger artists to work for them.
Yet the ownership is with the master, or the major artist, no matter how skillful, sharp and creative his team is. For some years Chapman brothers worked for Gilbert and George, where they were like other studio assistants, but once detached from the artists duo, both Jack Chapman and Dinos Chapman enjoy their rightful place in contemporary art. However it would be interesting to compare practice of both pairs, and how the ownership is divided, maintained, balanced. In our midst too, we also have artist couples, more recently of Saira Sheikh and Omer Wasim, but apart from two people working together, there are groups that produce art, or aesthetic objects. Raqs Media Collective, and Critical Collective are just two names in the long list of creative individuals who have joined as one voice.
But what is that voice, and whose voice? Because as one dreams alone, one thinks alone too; and perhaps art is a blend of thinking and dreaming before the act/stage of execution (for which one needs many hands). Art Now Pakistan examines this aspect of art in the present issue. In the two essays, by Ambereen Karamat and Dua Abbas Rizvi, the importance, impact and issue of individuality is discussed as it is indicated in the Photo-essay of Lali Khalid by focusing on separate individuals in order to capture their personalities and presence in their surroundings. Art Now Pakistan presents the interview with Amina Tirmizi Naqvi, an individual who has been supporting art both locally and internationally.
Probably the most urgent demand in today’s art is how to separate a person from a group, because one can suspect that artists, despite their democratic views and revolutionary ideas, in essence are solitary, lonely and self-centered individuals. Those who may turn into most awful dictators in the history of mankind if they are denied admission into an art school; for instance the Academy of Fine Art,Vienna!