In a South African comedy movie of 1980, some folks flying a small plane over an unidentified area of Africa, drop a can of Coca-Cola; which, picked by a tribe down there, that believes it to be a holy object, and starts to worship it. The clip is a classic example of loss in translation. Of misunderstanding – or of Clash of Civilizations (on a lighter note); but it can also be viewed as a case of environmental problem. You leave your garbage at a site that does not belong to it, refuses to acknowledge it, but may recycle it.
There have been many cans of Coke and other colas dumped in regions, which do not profit from the sale of this North American invention/product. And more than the beverage, there are multiple other items sent to lands where they end but never perish, disintegrate, or disappear. Like a colonial ghost, the presence of these items resurfaces in many forms. Empty carton boxes of Black Label coming as cover of notebooks in Lahore; containers of imported cooking oil transformed as canisters for storing local grains, defunct compact discs of computer manufactured in Malaysia, (after some lines of holy text printed on them) serving as emblem of good luck in every car.
Besides all these assimilations, the issue of environment is a huge problem of our epoch, due to industrial waste. Materials which are not used, defunct and need to be destroyed (but hard to do so) land on the shore of developing countries. Apparently, Pakistan is the biggest market for discarded audio cassettes, video tapes, and CDS in the world. One does not know what happens to that heap of redundant material in our landscape, but one is aware of our own contribution in environment crisis. Polythene shopping bags that are choking our water canals, blocking our urban sewerages, and destroying our agricultural fields. And we can’t do anything about this monstrosity, except reading weekly columns on the subject by Ayaz Amir, the sole voice fighting this cause.
In the realm of art, environmental issues manifest in multiple ways. A conscious artist is perceptive about this major problem that surpasses national divide, and is of a global concern. But in his practice, he may encounter some sort of contradiction and conflict. He may be using materials, methods which can be harmful to environment. Or does not protest against cutting of trees to make stretchers of painting, logs for carving, furniture for an artist’s studio, paper to draw on, and so forth. This ethical position is the real question for many amongst us, as well as for the current issue of Art Now Pakistan. Essays, and other texts highlight the gravity of situation, but these do not suggest a solution, since art is about asking question than providing clues. As a nation, we have many answers. We need inquiries. Hence the current issue another question – rather a quest!