It seems that dreams for a better governmental system that shall lead to better standards of living for Pakistanis still exclude equalising the ratio of male to female artists chosen for an art show commemorating a “Naya (New) Pakistan”. With an abysmally low count of four female to that of eighteen male artists, Sanat Initiative exhibits compelling works in the show “Naya Pakistan”, a title borrowed from the hackneyed slogan of the ruling party that now moves to its second year of democratic rule in Pakistan. The event also marks a five-year anniversary for Sanat Initiative, that has consistently catered to Pakistani contemporary art with over a hundred shows in its five-year history.
The exhibition inspires from a silver lining that peeks through the swarthy clouds of turbulent politics and exploit woven within the fabric of the country’s existence. For the last seventy-one years, corrupt governmental reign and fraudulent policies have affected Pakistanis, with marginalized communities and under privileged affected the worst. Thus, each of the displayed works resonate with aspirations, expectations – and fears – of the artists who are yet resiliently hopeful for improved times. Their creativity channelises via an array of media including drawings, paintings, and sculptures.
Haya Zaidi’s Dawn of Hope is a mix of collage and paint dominating a polyester film. Working in her signature style of depicting glittery, rococo-ish excess, Zaidi’s artwork shows carefully rendered garbage that include food leftovers and discarded material. From this utter mess that dictates half of her film, arises two long figures on each side, created with short and repeated horizontal black lines. Attached to these floating figures are human arms that don shiny bracelets and rings. The fancy jewelry on the arms are a sign of how the bourgeoisie is probably that one segment of society that stays the least affected by turbulent political, social, or civil un-rests. It is also the elite that has controlled means of production with unfair systemised distribution, as indicated by the painted trash in Zaidi’s work. Hopeful innocence flutters through though, in the form of brightly colored kites in the middle toward the top of the frame; these kites are a symbol of change that Zaidi longs for with other contemporary art practitioners. However, Zaidi’s work leaves us wondering if there will also be naya art, as without the year mentioned on the wall next to the artist’s work, viewers might be left assuming that the work is from one of Zaidi’s similar looking previous creations.
Farhat Ali brings history into a current perspective with his Bahar se log Invest Karnay Ke Liye Aa Rahe Hain Pakistan Mein (Foreigners are coming to Pakistan to invest). Made with Indian ink on paper, the drawing depicts a local South Asian man resting on a chair with his legs drawn up on the chair’s wooden sides. A European company man, presumably from the British East India Company, triumphantly smiles as he stands with his legs crossed beside the local Indian. Visually referring to the ascend of the Britishers in the pre partitioned Hindustan under the pretext of trade investment, that led to colonization of the Indian subcontinent by the British, Ali points to the current foreign investments that continue to dominate the economic fabric of the country today.
Through his work, Ahmed Javed questions if there can be a Naya Pakistan to begin with. Javed works with miniature painting where visual perspective is often skewed. New Faces Old Tactics shows a local Pakistani man arranging a chaarpai, with a black bicycle placed near him. Bound within the periphery of a house, the composition rests in a modem-day setting as indicated by the man’ clothing and the architectural style in the work. Utilizing the format of the traditional miniature painting while depicting contemporary subject matter, Javed’s painting is a reference to the current government’s rule which for some, could be taking a leaf from its predecessors’ book. The title New Faces Old Tactics indicates toward the policies and tactics used by the current government that Javed believes to be the same as of before.
Other artists in the show include sculptor Abdul Jabbar Gull, Abid Aslam, Abida Dahri, Asif Ahmed, Haider Ali, Hammad Gillani, Irfan Gul, Mohsin Shafi, Muzammil Khan, Rabia Farooqui, Onaiz Taji, Noman Sidiqqui, Naveed Sadiq, Syed Faraz Ali, Zahid Mayo and veteran artists Shahid Rassam, and R. M. and Sadaf Naeem.
The show strangely recalls the “intelligent rebellion of women artists of pakistan”, as phrased by critic, artist and activist Salima Hashmi, who rose in the eighties to fight for equal representation and the prerogative to exercise freedom in choosing their subject matter in the visual arts. As the exhibition draws from social conditions and South Asian history, it statistically also raises concerns about the selection of artists. How long do women artists wait for equal representation in the arts? With Sanat’s sixth year running as a leading contemporary art platform in the country, in addition to its relocation at a bigger space in Karachi, scholars, artists, and viewers hope that changes will reflect inclusively for all genders in the country, at the gallery’s promising naya premise.
Naya Pakistan ran at Sanat initiative in August 2019.
 The exhibition was curated by Salima Hashmi and was shown in the UK, showcasing works of twenty-five women artists from Pakistan who were chosen based on their extra ordinary artworks and contribution to Pakistani art. Hashmi, Salima. An Intelligent rebellion: Women Artists of Pakistan, Cherry Print Limited (Wakefield), Bradford, UK, 1994.