Water slaughter | Shehr

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Pakistan’s 76th year will be remembered for celebrations, exhibitions, shows, performances and achievements, but the anniversary will also be remembered for the flood that submerged a third of the country, displaced large numbers of people , obliterated homes, hotels and other structures, caused many deaths, spread disease and caused millions to lose their jobs, shops, livestock, farmland and daily wages. The unprecedented water flow took everyone by surprise – those who were directly affected as well as those who watched the calamity on their screens and in the press. This included artists.

It was reported that a miniature painter from Sindh, Safdar Ali Qureshi, suffered from high water levels in his quarters, destroying his possessions and works of art and dislocating his wife and infant child. The lives of other visual artists were not directly disrupted by the greatest flood this country has ever seen, however, it is presumed that these creative individuals, like all citizens of the country, must have felt hopeless, helpless and unnecessary in the wake of this calamity. . Since artists are neither trained nor equipped to help rescue people, save their property, find their livestock, and manage their food, health, and other necessities.

Architects and product designers can and do produce tents to protect the dispossessed public from rain, sun and insects (likely epidemics); structures that can replace lost homes. But a painter, a sculptor, a videographer, a miniaturist, an engraver, an installation or digital artist, a photographer or a performance artist, could hardly contribute through his practice. Other professionals – such as lawyers, accountants, jewelers, teachers, actors, singers, authors, etc– may also have faced this dilemma.

So what should a visual artist do? Keep busy in their studios, continue to exhibit in galleries and sell to collectors, anticipate positive reviews of their new body of work, and feel powerful and proud to have successful solo shows when the miserable majority of their compatriots are reduced to a basic existence with bare bases and no means (those who managed to survive the slaughter by water). We also know the regular exhibitions organized in the galleries, several artistic events, online sales and Zoom meetings in this time of disaster. Much like people who visit movie theaters, eat expensive food in high-end restaurants, host parties and get-togethers, buy fancy dresses, attend weddings, and address political rallies when a large part of the Pakistani population is confronted with the flood and its consequences.

The crisis faced by creators is that if much of their country’s population does not live in normal conditions, how justified is their routine existence, especially in the silence and solitude of the studio.

Life goes on, and so should it. We can’t shut down everything else to focus on a problem, but when it comes to the arts there is a tendency to disbelief, because making art is understood to be a self-indulgent, purposeless activity. , need or use for the community. . Even a cobbler helps by sewing shoes for those who go barefoot after their loss, a tailor drapes those who don’t have another pair of clothes, a bricklayer rebuilds dismantled houses, a cook feeds a large group of starving people, but artists who consider themselves to be conscientious find themselves unable to benefit the inhabitants of their country through their productions.

Except by selling their works at auction; proceeds can be added to flood relief funds. Donating the amount of one work from each exhibition can rehabilitate thousands. We are fortunate to have stars in our art world who, if they choose, can generate huge sums from the sale of a single work – for the community affected by the floods. We are sure that they, as individuals or collectively, have done all this, and much more – like the whole nation. Yet, a sense of guilt lurks mainly because making art is a particular pleasure.

An artist works primarily for himself, fully aware that these pieces would end up in private residences, corporate offices, government buildings and museums. Their function is aesthetic, intellectual and historical, but they cannot directly serve society. In normal situations you don’t really care about that aspect, but when night after night you see men and women struggling in the middle of the pools of water, submerged dwellings, children in tents and survivors with their savings reduced to small packages, you can doubt to choose your brush, to hold your chisel, to operate your camera, to move your pencil, to use your computer programs.

Yet we never feel remorse over spending a large sum on dining out, acquiring a high-value watch (which tells the same time as a watch worth Rs 450) or managing a long list of online shopping ; because we operate in a world that has already been formed – firmly, between haves and have-nots. But when the flood dismantles the order of things, the latent problem, like the water level, arises. The crisis that a creative encounters is if a large part of the population of his country does not live in normal conditions, how justified his routine existence is, especially in the silence and solitude of the workshop.

Not only the deluge, but these Hamletian confusions haunt artists in all moments of misery. At war too; in which you know an army is fighting to preserve your sovereignty, enemy planes are bombing civilian sites and soldiers are being killed in combat, so what’s the point of being glued to your creative enterprise? Some have resolved this conflict by modeling their works for the cause. Poets writing war anthems, singers recording patriotic songs, painters projecting nationalist content on their canvases or preparing posters to project the country just side. Shakir Ali in 1965, answering a question (a covert accusation) about the drawing of the moon and flowers during the war between India and Pakistan, said that he had painted a moon which shone on the graves of his ancestors in the UP, and flowers blooming on both sides of the border.

Not war, but in other disasters, like the recent flood, one can speculate on the subject, or even the act of creating art, in a well-located, well-designed, and profusely equipped studio, and ponder to the possibility of a work of art. raise awareness of the community/issues to realize what Telugu critic and poet Nara recently wrote: “If a poet has the illusion that his poetry is meant to change society [when] the job of the poet is to write poetry.


The writer is an art critic based in Lahore

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