Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Shaanakth and the Beatification of Benazir

At around 7 p.m. today a group of PPP jiyalas stormed the Arts Council in Karachi during the first day of the Shaanakth festival. They were protesting the exhibit of a photograph of Benazir sitting on General Zia's lap. Along with vandalising the exhibit, they also threatened the organisers with physical violence. The police was present but no would would be surprised to know that they were missing in action.

Given the situation one can hardly blame photographer Amean J, one of the organisers of the event, for apologising for displaying the photograph. But he has nothing to apologise for. It should go without saying, but sadly always bears repeating: Every Pakistai should have the right to display what they damn well please, especially when they are making a political statement.

The violent reaction reminded me, if on a smaller scale, of the furore caused by the Danish cartoons. In both cases, artists provocatively sounded off on what they saw as the totalitarian nature of their subjects. And both times, the response of the subjects in question has only proved their critics right.

For the forseeable future, we will no longer be able to do anything but place a halo over Benazir's head, especially when our views will be exposed to a mass audience. Had Shaanakth been a private event charging a thousand-rupee entry fee, this photograph would probably have not incited violence from the PPP thugs. But Shaanakth is a free festival trying to attract a wide range of Karachiites, and as such you are nor permitted to accurately depict someone who, for god's sake, was nothing more than a flawed politician.

As of now, the festival is going to ahead. I would urge all our Karachi readers to make their way to the Arts Council tomorrow. Don't let the goons score another victory.


jamdesigns said...

Saint Benazir- now thats what the next exhibit should be called. And it should show her doing all those lovely things she did in her life for this country. And then we can sit back and see who storms what.

Everyone, please show up at the festival. This cannot be the victory of the goons.

Ahsan said...

Yeah, great point on the parallels to the Danish cartoons.

I'd like to see the "liberal" PPP disavow publicly the actions of their workers. Somehow, I'm not holding my breath.

You guys should check out Oba's post on this issue:

bubs said...

The liberal PPP has responded by announcing that they will be filing an FIR against the Citizens Archive of Pakistan and the Arts Council. Yeah, that makes sense. No point blaming the guys who were fucking shooting guns at an art exhibition.

AKS said...

Here's what the Chief Minter Sind's spokesperson Waqar Mehdi had to say:

‘Anything that is religiously or politically controversial should not be displayed. It should be acceptable to all. Even if offensive pictures of Altaf Hussain or Nawaz Sharif were displayed, we would oppose it. Our party believes in freedom of expression, but that does not mean it should be a free-for-all. People’s feelings should not be hurt.’

Do they have any idea of what freedom of expression even means?

This government really needs to rein in its goons. I'm honestly scared of driving on the main roads of Clifton and Defence, especially on the weekends. Jiyalas treat these roads as their personal jagirs, and there's little anyone can do.

In another example of the jiyala's supremacy over the law, a group of young men has started congregating outside a newly built, vacant house which faces my uncle's house (one street before my place). They come in 2 or 3 SUVs (affixed with mandatory PPP flags) accompanied by armed guards, turn the music up in their cars, start drinking booze in the open and generally create a nuisance. My uncle approached the chowkidar one morning to enquire who these men were, the chowkidar replied that he had no idea, they had threatened him when he asked them to leave so he just sits inside house quietly when they come. The noise reverberates throughout the neighbourhood (they even had loud music playing on 9th Muharram) but nobody has the courage to complain to the police or the DHA - they don't want to invite more trouble. So the residents of this neighbourhood patiently wait for the day when these guys tire of this haunt and head somewhere else. My uncle and his family meanwhile have started designing their journeys to and from the house around the schedule of these jiyalas, so that there interaction with them is kept to a minimum.

redkazim said...

It is time we stopped calling the PPP (or for that matter the MQM and the ANP) a secular, liberal party. These parties are as good as the JI.

BTW, I couldn't understand what political statement the artist wanted to make by showing Benazir in Zia's lap. I mean Bhutto in Ayub's lap makes sense, even Benazir in Musharraf's lap would make sense -- but Benazir in Zia's lap?

Serial Kicker said...

What you mentioned is only the tip of the ice berg. Don't get me started on what is happening in Lyari. Outlaws reign supreme.

BTW, I have a very vivid memory of Benazir, in one of her trips to the US, saying she would allow foreign troops into the country. She was a bitch who would go beyond all limits to satiate her lust for power.

Ahsan said...

My feelings are hurt every time Jahil Online or Zaid Hamid are on TV. Why are they granted freedom of expression? What about MY feelings?

AKS said...

Does anyone if the festival is still going through? I've been receiving conflicting news.

bubs said...

AKS: The festival was cancelled. And Sohail Abidi of the PPP filed an FIR against the organizer Sharmeen Obaid and artist Nilofar Akmut, which means they will probably be arrested soon. Akmut doesn't live in Pakistan but I don't know if she is here right now. I can't even begin to articulate how outrageous this is.

karachi khatmal said...

our show had the editor of Nukta and Amean J come on, and both of them were very apologetic and kept saying that yeah you have to be aware of the climate, especially in pakistan, before you exhibit.

but the editor lady - nilofur Furrukh - made an important point which was that since art is so rarely displayed in the public realm, artists have little idea about the public, and the public has little understanding or respect for the arts.

and, i find it really funny that the artist was not living in pakistan. speaks volumes i think.

Kalsoom said...

I agree that Amean J has nothing to apologize for. This is so ridiculous. It's one thing that the picture was offensive and for me to understand why people were angry with it, but it's a whole 'nother thing to justify wrecking an exhibition as a result. Are we so uncivilized that we can't just have a dialogue about such things? Ugh it makes my blood boil.

And to echo KK, I just interviewed this artist Faiza Shaikh, who is really incredible because she combines a lot of words from religious texts (Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc.) within her art to create messages of tolerance. My number one question to her was how people would react in Pakistan to her work. It's one thing for people to appreciate works espousing tolerance and interfaith in London (where most of her exhibitions have been), but it's different to gauge reactions in an environment that may be less pliable to such ideas.