Pakistani artist and educator Salima Hashmi on how cultural exchange can help ease tensions

When a life-size taxidermy camel fitted into an enormous suitcase was displayed at Art Dubai in 2008, artist Huma Mulji was depicting an immigrant worker who goes to Dubai for a better living and sends home money and suitcases full of goodies. The work was removed from the Pakistani pavilion by the Emirati authorities, as they thought it critiqued their culture. Another Pakistani artist, Imran Qureshi, made waves for his site-specific outdoor installation titled Two Loves, shown at the Nuit Blanche 2014 in Paris, where two unending parallel lines on 145 metres of ground tile, lay bathed in red colour to give a bloody appearance, influenced by a gruesome incident where two brothers were lynched by a mob in Pakistan in 2010.

At her lecture titled “Naya Lahore: Contemporary Art Practices in Lahore” at the India International Centre in Delhi, last week, artist and art educator Salima Hashmi shared these and many more anecdotes relating to art being produced in Pakistan. “Introducing some of the blossoming visual arts of Pakistan in India is essential to maintain channels of creativity. Also, it’s of great interest to artists, students and teachers of art to see what are the circumstances that generate such exciting and fearless works.” On being questioned by Yashodhara Dalmia, art historian and moderator of the talk, why India does not produce such responsive works, Hashmi noted, the education system might be to blame. Citing examples of leading Pakistani artists popular in India, from Khadim Ali to Rashid Rana and Abdullah Qureshi, Hashmi, who has been a teacher at Lahore’s National College of Arts for over 30 years, said, “Unlike India, well-known professionals in Pakistan also teach. So there is a chain in which artists, who have shown internationally, do not isolate themselves in their studio. They go back to the academy and open their work for inspection. In turn, they offer students their knowledge and experience. They teach students that the market should not determine the direction of their practice, and how they should document the times without fear.”

Elucidating on the current state of cultural exchange between India and Pakistan, Hashmi said, “We are geographically in the same region, and for our nations, who are sadly among the poorest in the world, it makes no sense to be in conflict. It makes no economic sense and certainly doesn’t make any cultural sense. Cultural exchange for me is acknowledging the fact that we enjoy the same music, same stories, same films and the same poetry.”

Hashmi is now preparing for the upcoming edition of Faiz International Festival, slated from November 17 to 19. To be held in Lahore, it will see author Pran Nevile in a discussion with noted Pakistani professor and historian Tahir Kamran.

Talking about the legacy of her father Faiz Ahmed Faiz — whether it be Indian artist Nalini Malani using his poem Lahu Ka Surag as inspiration for her seminal work In Search of Vanished Blood showcased at dOCUMENTA 13 in 2012, or Qureshi using the words “And They

Still Seek the Traces of Blood ” as the title and inspiration of his 2013 work — Hashmi says, “Faiz continues to be relevant, both on this side and that side, to artists, filmmakers and singers. My guess is that people, both in India and Pakistan, sense in him a man of peace and that is why he continues to be important even today.”

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