Lahore’s heat, somewhere in 2015, a rickshaw ride, a search for a material that would make footballs – across the quiet Chamberlain road near the orderly-frenzy of Shah Alami bazaar, Lahore, we discover a sleeping, content old man who has a treasure of leather. Every other shop has mixed reviews about the manufacturing of footballs. It is hub of material, yet a woman inquiring and the fact that it wouldn’t be required in that span of bulk; these are ‘new ones’ for the market. They are a little helpful, quite amused and more confused. Artist Farida Batool is in search for the material for an installation piece that would comprise of footballs. No ordinary footballs, but those printed in flesh, in marks, stiches, wounds and miseries of the body, itself. Recently in Oct 2017, upon return from a conference (Pakistan at Seventy, Saint Joseph’s University Philadelphia), where she was invited to present her work, through a regular conversation she shares how the installation needs to find a different manifestation, she has been thinking about it and shared ideas about re-visiting this work with fellow members during the time in Philadelphia. The restraint of the white cube/gallery didn’t do justice to the intent of medium. This interview, profile, studio visit has been a continual work; it was intended long ago, required recently, so there is no ‘specific’ occasion or event of an interview or profile, where I discuss with the artist and then do a prolific research to understand more, but an ongoing one.
Through the rickshaw ride we discuss the purpose and meaning of an artist’s studio, can the bazaar or time in transit work as one? Batool shares how her LOC (line of control) project was conceived within her car. It was a time when unforeseen familial constraints left no room for her to work in her own abode. So her free slots in transit or else, traffic signals, or office-desk converted into popup studios.
October 2017, an autumn silence, Batool’s home balcony in Model Town – an alive body lying dead, a wet white fabric, a hand pouring water on it, transparency, skin, light, I watch while Batool is in the execution process of her idea. Between splatters and muted splashes of water, different tenacities and visibilities of skin from cloth, between alive and dead, light and dark, the moment evolves, gently. There is brutal sentimentality and poetic callousness in this act. It is conquest and surrender together. We discuss the loss of her beloved cousin, and how recently she tried to film the path he must have taken to be released from life-here, abruptly, not by circumstance or choice but so-called humanity itself. Mimesis is carved in our bones and blood, Batool shares how she waits the entire year for the endearing and sublime, silvery rise of the Alam (holy flag) through the close congregation in Muharram. It is a moment of visual and spiritual reincarnation. Just recently there was a request from a lady to wrap a chader(sheet) of roses on the Alam, the vision was telepathic and therapeutic, and it reminded her of the work she had been conceiving. A chader (sheet) of roses, desi maroon-ish gulab (rose) that smells like weddings and funerals, shrines and festivals in our life here, yet, hers will be molded softly in metal wires. Batool’s gulabis violently lyrical and rigidly sensuous, it can cast a spell and make one ponder forever over every ‘happily ever after’.
Yesterday, while passing by a local theatre in Lahore, a colleague shared how it was her research requirement to sit in one of the front seats and watch a show. These are the shows that are submerged in the current vocabulary of Punjabi-seduction. While we smirked and booed over ticket prices and target audience, Batool shared how she had managed watching those shows with the most regular tickets, the last rows in the theatre. Her PhD research was rooted in online seduction that emerged from our locale – mujra (dance) being the cradle of male desire. Upon another discussion she shared “My PhD supervisor commented that my work/walk across the city was the final resolve, it was where my art/practice and research entwined” Batool reflects on the nuances, layer upon layer the wall chalking changes from religious propaganda or political mayhem to cultural jargon, it is a palimpsest, extremes collide and relax without making noise. We walk across, and move on, every day. A deep affiliation with theory and research for art’s sake or more began during her time in Australia as a graduate student. The lenticular, double sided, paradoxical printing, where images combine and separate upon perspective, came as the ultimate resolve. The artist still feels that she has not materialized or experimented with the inestimable possibilities of the medium yet, a few reasons being its inaccessibility and printing cost in Pakistan.
Batool reminisces over the time when ‘chand mera zameen, phool mera watan’ (my land – my moon, my land – a flower) were the lyrics and tunes of her heart as a child, she along with her siblings and cousins, sang and played in the courtyards, in proud ownership of those words. Tunes and myths are shattered as life unfolds. She was in London when a call from her father jolted this sense of ownership. It was suggested that she should not return until it was safe, the custody of her child was the concern. Batool’s father, who was at a powerful judicial position, suggested this. Is my homeland a place where a mother isn’t safe with her child? Is any child safe in my homeland? The artist’s thoughts are our very own, with more than just a pinch of salt. Her work titled with the same words (phool mera watan) is a blink of memory, where she’s between pigeons on Russel square in London and evaporates into smoke (that burnt the colonial Dyal Singh mansion in Lahore) – parallel to that a baby swims in the transformation of flowers, drones, land and sky. “Here lenticular gave me the space to address the larger question and critique the state. I love my country and I want to go back but does my country love me back? It is an irony that expanded my concerns to the national scope, structures and to question them” In 2015 Awami Art Collective is formed, a close group of likeminded individuals, activists, artists, academics, Batool being one of the founding and core members. Relentless, confident, creative activism has been a way of life for Dr.Farida Batool.
Yesterday during my Art History class at the National College of Arts, a student inquired about the eminence of ‘the number three’ in artistic compositions. This led to a brief discussion on the golden ratio (perfect balance) and the significance of odd numbers. Later on I kept thinking about how ‘number three’ leads to one – to the absolute. Batool’s practice is urgently seeking this absolute – In life and art, as a teacher, where she shares how a good discussion and engagement with students can be illuminating.
A line that joins the sky and earth, to mirror each other on the sublime lake Saif ul Malook, erodes through thoughts and enters flesh, Batool’s Line of Control is poetry. Her visions seek a larger truth, a paper boat moves and the movement is caught in time, a little girl skips in the city as if no one is watching, and one is dazed in the lenticular-ity of the moment, is it happening or will it ever happen?