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Where She is Not…: On the works of Akram Dost Baloch

 

We sync all new writing and art with history, literature and poetry. We make links of the past to the present and vice versa. We reminisce on past glory, learn lessons from failures and mistakes and boast tales of our triumphs. We are habitual attention seekers. Each of a different kind; even the hibernating shy ones are acclaimed for being shy. I’ve been assigned the task to see Akram Dost Baloch’s art in the light of art and revolution. The question being: can art revolutionize? I teach History of Art and Architecture at the National College of Arts, Lahore. The history of art is somewhat convinced never to let me go although I declared war with it quite a few times, but finally I have surrendered on a few secret conditions. Many a times I question: is history an ‘I’ or a ‘we’?  The dilemma is unfathomable, and perhaps we should move to the current matter: art, revolution and Akram Dost, as per now.

 

The Dadaists declared Da-Da i.e., blah blah! as a reaction to the action of war. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso inherited the African masks and bits of everyday ordinariness for their shocking creations. John Heartfield opens up Hitler’s ribcage and heart in his art. The Art Povera-ists took rubble, debris or uselessness and reincarnated it. Pollock rebuked all and spewed color on canvas, and this spewing was poetic and revolutionary. Rothko was exhausted by the infinity of his own colors. Here in our land we had men like Faiz Ahmad Faiz who brought revolution with a few simple words:

 

Bol k lab aazaad hain tere
bol zabaan ab tak terii hai
teraa sutawaan jism hai teraa
bol ki jaan ab tak terii hai

 

Speak, for your lips are yet free;
Speak, for your tongue is still your own;
Your lissom body yours alone;
Speak, your life is still your own.

 

Faiz did not bring turbans, veils and Kalashnikovs in his narrative but his words will jolt my heart every time a Qandeel Baloch or Mashal Khan are made to leave us or every time my Baloch friends will tell me that they can’t even visit home. This does not imply that visuals or orations with some or one of those components cannot have a lightness of being…

 

This is where Akram Dost’s mastery comes as the saving bridge of a landscape between the urgency and traffic of a pseudo-contemporary-terrorist-eastern-orientalist syndrome. Going through his interviews, reviews and profiles, one of his personal concerns is continual: the turmoil of his own lands. There is claustrophobia in the works; they are rooted in the eerie vastness of Balochistan with some traces of a succulent landscape, yet man upon man, and woman upon woman, they are confined and breathless – numb and expressionless. Distorted and carved like statues out of stone. The experimentation of form prevails in color, skill and technique. Dost is in conversation and play with the cries of his homeland. The turbulence finds refute in turbans. The works appear to be made out of dust, this subjects more questions than any answers; they don’t make staunch impressions but invite apprehensions. They consume us into mountains of pain without hurting.

 

For me the underlying boredom in his narrative is sensual and revolutionary. Like the color brown and the ‘history of art’, mountains, deserts, dust, battles, war, peace, buildings, patterns, sparrows, ants, chocolate, skin and tree trunks – nothing is possible without these two, they offer us an everyday sublime and by default we are thankless in creation, so we hardly accept it. A complex struggle, investigation and yearning of identity hide behind the simplicity of masks, figures and faces.

 

Dost lives and works in Quetta, his students who migrate to other cities as practicing artists take him as their most inspiring and revolutionary mentor. He has been awarded pride of performance.  Leo Tolstoy’s genius puts these words in a lovers confession in his majestic War and Peace: “The whole world is divided for me into two parts: one is she, and there is all happiness, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there is dejection and darkness…” I hope one day Baloch will have her. I hope one day we will care for her.

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