A group show titled Tawaiif explored the quintessential realms and nuances in South Asia’s Tawaif culture. This article reviews the show Knocked

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A group show titled Tawaiif explored the quintessential realms and nuances in South Asia’s Tawaif culture. This article reviews the show

Knocked down by the bizarre pandemonium of routine, I was experiencing a frenzied morning, replete with chores at home followed by a string of lectures to be delivered at Kinnaird. I knew, however, that today was the only day in my unconciliatory, work-laden week, that I could afford to make a visit to Gurumangat Road on, for it was Tuesday— a relatively easier day for me— and weekend felt like the dispersed, blurred lights of Muscat being viewed from a beach in Gwadar: a land far, far away.

After having delivered my second lecture, I took the shortest possible route to Gurumangat Road from Kinnaird in what was an overly-decorated rickshaw, bedecked with faux flowers, and colourful ropes sewn in intervals with illustrious tassels. The rickshaw guy halted in the middle of a very busy road, with dust-draped cars moving past at breakneck speed.
To my surprise, a kind attendant awaited me at the doorstep of Dominion Gallery, by The Colony.
Upon being ushered into the gallery, I was blown away by the finesse the place exuded. A vibe that emanated artiness in its contemporary, raw form. I was there to review “Tawaif”, a group show presented by artists inspired by The Colony’s theatrical production of Pakeezah, exploring the quintessential realms and nuances in South Asia’s Tawaif culture.

Utterance, articulation, elocution, enunciation, accentuation… the insular words kept hitting me in a beguiling fashion as I strolled through the artsy corridors, gazing at the hypnotic paintings by Aimen Kathia, Ammar Faiz, Amna Suheyl, Ayesha Rumi, Dinarya Khalid, Hussain Jamil, Hoor Imad Sherpao, Kaiser Irfan, Khadija Rehman, Laraib Ahmed, Qurutulain Dar, Shazma Arshad, Sumbal Sultana and Zainab Burhan.

The careful selection of colours gracefully radiates a ravishing effulgence; each work serving as a beautiful rendition of the Tawaif culture with its themes and complexities transcending boundaries. Amidst all these glorious pieces stands one displaying the magnificent Reykha ji, all dolled up in shades of pink and crimson—this caught my eye, and I was induced with a strange mesmerism, feeling almost like being teleported to the actual sets of Pakeezah.
In addition to the quality and finesse of these lovely artworks, the exhibition entails the very concepts of inclusivity, tolerance and plurality. The representation of the third gender, and acknowledgment of the transgender community’s social and political contributions to Mughal rulers through these works of art, is another key aspect worth-appreciating about this glorious exhibition.

Artists have done absolute justice to these nostalgic recollections of indispensable work in terms of bringing to life the elegance, poise and grace that these characters are vitally known for. This speaks for the vibrant, illustrative strokes that make a powerful statement on the notions of self-actualisation, and a rebellion against egotistical elevation through art.
The artists’ internal takes and thought-processes on the concepts surrounding society, gender, religion and politics seem to have seamlessly transitioned from the self onto these canvases where they articulate, subvert, and question the constructs of ethicality, beauty and the metaphysical realms while glamorising our centuries’ old Tawaif culture in a spellbinding, mystifying way.
Dropping by at the exhibition served as an antidote—the proverbial breath of fresh air—to the frenzied routine that city life entails for me with all its banal activities. This thought-provoking exhibition is open, Monday to Saturday, from 1pm till 5pm, and is a lovely initiative by The Colony bringing budding artists to light, so that we may recognise their potential at home, and provide them with more avenues and platforms to display their talent, paving way for them to eventually make us proud at international forums as well.

The writer is a lecturer in the English Literature department at Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore.

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