When we look back at the seventy years of independence in the South Asia today, we realise how time travels in a region that is proud of being heir to a civilisation more than five thousand years old. Not art, culture, literature, politics or economics, but in daily discourse of people from the South Asia, the matter of being late for 20, or 30 or 45 minutes is hardy an issue. Because time, that continues beyond centuries, is a stream or sea in which small frictions or fraction, or demarcation hardly matter.
However, in the present view, understanding and interpretation of history – like human life, the duration of a state or nation is marked with passing of years. So, when we arrive at the seventy years of being independent – from the English colonial power, we – as a seventy years old human, look back at the stages of our existence. We may question, if like a human child, a country can also experience phases of being infant, adolescent, mature, old and frail. Or like some freak, countries are fully mature at the time of their birth.
It seems that countries never had childhood, since they – like sacred entities – are beyond the cycle of growing old. They are identified without any reference to age, because in the house of nations, a country which existed since three hundred years has the same status and privilege – and power in relation to a nation that emerged just a few years ago.
Then there is an age of the country and there is the age of its citizens. A man came to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and asked him about end of the world. The Prophet said that for every human being the world would end in sixty or seventy years. Time till his own death! So, for a citizen the age of his country is relative, or irrelevant because he would only enjoy and experience it till his last breath (not more than 100 years in most cases). Yet the history of a country or its people encompasses years that are more than the normal life cycle of its inhabitant.
Today when we observe the seventy years of our being a Pakistani nation, we also question the chemistry of that national framework, and how the split of territories like East Bengal altered the course of art history in Pakistan. Also, how the two nations had coped with seventy years of their existence, separately and in connection, comparison and competition with one another. Art Now Pakistan brings forth the brief – or long and interesting story of past seventy years, and how art at one place, developed, or being detached from the rest offers the narrative of that region that has acquired its identity in the last seventy years. The two essay refer to that situation, particularly in connection to Pakistani art.
Unlike the life of state, the life of an ordinary human is limited; in last few months Pakistani art world witnessed loss of its two – most brilliant minds: Lala Rukh, and Saira Sheikh. Both would be recognized for the sophistication of their ideas and conceptual projects, like the Interview with Reena Kallat, the artist who reflects upon the division between India and Pakistan – or the history of our shared ‘separate’ locations. The book review is also about the histories of different artists, so perhaps one realizes that history is merely a fiction, but an essential piece of writing to recognize yourself, like in front of a mirror, when you see yourself every morning, then you decide what are you!