THE ENDURING FACTIONALISM OF THE PAKISTANI ART WORLD.
Despite its many troubles, or perhaps because they call for sustained reflection in the realm of culture, Pakistan today produces art, music, and literature of remarkable originality. Although art is the most rarefied of these cultural fields, being accessible to the smallest number of buyers and audiences, it has arguably become the most factionalized of them all.
In my last piece for Newsweek I wrote about this conflicted world, describing how a few artist-critics were creating a canon for Pakistani art on the basis of censorship, exclusion, and a nationalism that is constantly disavowed. These were the very characteristics, I pointed out, which had defined the country’s long experience of dictatorship, whose culture therefore lives on in the work of those who profess to decry it.
That piece aroused some debate in the art world. Two of the art historians I had criticized complained, on this newsmagazine’s website, of “outrageous” and “unbalanced attacks” against them. The professional nous of these artist-critics to select and evaluate art help them determine its aesthetic and market value for museums, galleries, and collectors globally. But their links with particular artists and institutions make it difficult to distinguish the art historian from the agent.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with art historians preferring and even promoting some artists over others. What raises eyebrows, though, is the seemingly careful framing of Pakistan’s art history in such a way as to foreground friends and to marginalize, if not quite eliminate, rivals. Because artist-critics like Iftikhar Dadi and Virginia Whiles have produced the founding script of Pakistan’s art history, all subsequent interventions will have to take their narrative into account. This is why it must be contested.
Dadi, who teaches art history at Cornell, responded to my article by arguing that his Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia was neither a “broad, bland survey” nor devoted to contemporary art, but was a selective study of modernism in 20th-century South Asia. This is not true. Instead of being about “Muslim South Asia,” itself a meaningless aesthetic category, his book is devoted in nationalist fashion to Pakistan, treated as if it were the political telos of all the subcontinent’s Muslims. Unfortunately, the title ends up marginalizing non-Muslim South Asian greats, such as Pakistan’s Colin David.
Pakistani art is promoted as a form of Third World development.
Justifying the inclusion of his own work as part of the “Karachi Pop” movement in one of the book’s two sections on contemporary art, Dadi asks if I am “seriously suggesting that I should have omitted even this brief mention, and provide no context whatsoever for Karachi during the 1990s?” But as Ardy Cowasjee, owner of Karachi’s Ziggurat Gallery, points out in another comment to my earlier piece, it was Unver Shafi and Amin Gulgee who dominated the city’s art scene in that decade, so Dadi’s claim to be providing a “context” for it is somewhat disingenuous—especially since he ignores these artists.
Pakistani art is promoted for a global audience as if it were a form of Third World development, with its role in the empowerment of women, for instance, lauded in award statements. No Western artist, of course, would be described in this way, which throws light on the problematic entanglements, essentially with the marketing of a country’s misery, in which its Pakistani practitioners as much as critics are bound. But Dadi denies relying upon patriarchal genealogies by mentioning his work on female artists like Zubeida Agha. It was not the presence or absence of women in his narrative to which I objected, but rather the use of genealogy as itself a patriarchal form.
Dadi also takes umbrage at my suggestion that he’s unaware of the historical context in which the artists he studies work. Of this I gave two small examples, the first being Risham Syed’s use of the number 5. Similarly he doesn’t notice that Saira Waseem’s painting Round Table Conference might invoke the Round Table Conferences of the 1930s that decided Pakistan’s future. The futility of the original Round Table Conferences is mirrored in the meetings of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to which Waseem’s painting refers. But Dadi justifies these absences by stating that he is only responsible for the references his artists mention. To be sure, the art historian should trace the social resonance of symbols and terms beyond artistic intentionality.
Whiles, who teaches at the Chelsea College of Arts, had a walk-on role in my article; I dedicated one sentence to her Art and Polemic in Pakistan: Cultural Politics and Tradition in Contemporary Miniature Painting. Her response to my piece is unscholarly, and relies on personal and ad hominem arguments. Whiles can’t understand why someone not connected to the art world and its system of favors should risk writing, as I did, for no apparent cause or benefit. She describes my piece as “a foul text full of anger and subjective spite.” Having toyed with my being a “frustrated groupie” as a possible cause for the article, Whiles finally decides that I must have a “psychoanalytic” motive.
It is no accident that those who accuse others of psychoanalytic motivations should display them so clearly in their own writing. Thus Whiles imagines the late Zahoor ul Akhlaq launching a physical attack on me. Since I had acknowledged his role in the development of the new miniature, it is not clear why she thinks Akhlaq would engage me in “fisticuffs.” But given the fact that he had been murdered in exactly such an attack, this image is in rather poor taste.
Whiles also claims to be “speaking truth to power,” which I wouldn’t have thought possible for a London-based academic whose work involves marketing high-end art to elite buyers. But maybe she is part of the same vanguard as Edward Snowden, and we just didn’t know it. If not honesty, can we at least expect some humility from Whiles about the profession she and I both share?
From our March 22, 2014, issue.
BY FAISAL DEVJI – MAR 18 2014
Over the last 40 years, Beaconhouse School System has developed into one of the largest educational systems in the world. Established in November 1975 by Nasreen Kasuri as the Les Anges Montessori Academy for toddlers, Beaconhouse has since grown into a global network of private schools, institutes and universities.
“We endeavour to and will continue to extend our reach so that meaningful, accessible and affordable education is readily available to all children”
Nasreen has played a significant role in the development and advancement of education in the private sector in Pakistan and has helped to bridge the gap between expensive quality education and affordable quality education.
Nasreen is very supportive of and has encouraged, women empowerment in the country. Under her wing, Beaconhouse is a female-friendly organisation and 62 percentile of employees and a considerable number in the senior management are women.
She is the chairperson of the board of directors of the Beaconhouse National University, the first non-profit liberal Arts University of Pakistan of, which Beaconhouse is the principal sponsor.
She has also served on several boards and committees some of, which include the Queen Mary College for Women, the National College of Arts, the Education Advisory Board of Pakistan, World Wide Fund for Pakistan, Sanjan Nagar Education Trust and the Punjab Education Foundation.
Kasuri has a Bachelor’s in Applied Psychology and History from Kinnaird College, Lahore; an MBA from TRIUM, the graduate programme of New York University, London School of Economics and École des Hautes Études Commerciales de Paris.
Kasuri is from a well established political and business family and was one of the pioneers in this area in Pakistan and her performance is an excellent example of the marriage of entrepreneurship to the availability of opportunity.
The Beaconhouse School System is said to be one of the world’s largest: having received an infusion of a significant amount of foreign capital provided by a private equity fund it has gone beyond Pakistan’s borders and established in some cases acquired school systems in Africa, the Far East and Britain. BNU is providing instructions in communications, IT, visual arts, architecture and economics.
“I am committed to serving the community by providing quality education of an international standard within our cultural framework in our schools across the country”
This one example provides a good illustration of how women’s advanced education and acquisition of modern skills have begun to change the social and political landscape. Well qualified women with right kinds of skills have decided not to stay at home and build and care for their families. They are increasingly becoming professionals and occupying high level positions.
“I feel privileged to be part of an organisation that has a long tradition of dedicated service for the nation. First and foremost, we are committed to serving the community by providing quality education of an international standard within our cultural framework in our schools across the country. We are one of the largest privately owned schools in the world with more than 241,139 students in caring and dedicated staff. Our schools offer the finest facilities, which include state-of-the art computer laboratories, fully equipped science laboratories, well stocked libraries, teaching aids and other essentials necessary for an environment that is conducive to teaching and learning. It has been 38 years since the Beaconhouse School System came into being and over these wonderful years we have grown from strength to strength and made significant contributions towards the quality and standard of education in Pakistan. We believe that every child has a right to education. We endeavour to and will continue to extend our reach so that meaningful, accessible and affordable education is readily available to all children. It is with this firm belief in the right for quality, accessible and affordable education that The Educators came into existence. We hope to forge a strong alliance with all those who believe in and share our vision by inviting them to join our cause,” Nasreen is quoted to have said.
Nasreen has been lauded for her services to the education system of the country. She was part of the Pakistan Power 100 honours outstanding achievers in London, rubbing shoulders with Abdul Sattar Edhi, Naeem Zamindar, Zouhair Khaliq, Tehmina Durrani, Monis Rahman, Namira Salim, Naeem Ghauri, Rashid Rana and Amin Gulgee.Nasreen Kasuri is a source of pride for the entire country.
A Prevalent Education System
Nasreen Kasuri heads the Beaconhouse School System, which has developed into one of the largest educational systems in the world. The school system has gone beyond Pakistan’s borders and established in some cases acquired school systems in Africa, the Far East and Britain.
First Non-Profit Liberal Arts University
Nasreen is the chairperson of the board of directors of the Beaconhouse National University, the first non-profit liberal Arts University of Pakistan of, which Beaconhouse is the principal sponsor.
Pakistan Power 100
Nasreen has been lauded for her services to the education system of the country. She was part of the Pakistan Power 100 honours outstanding achievers in London, rubbing shoulders with Abdul Sattar Edhi, Naeem Zamindar, Zouhair Khaliq, Tehmina Durrani, Monis Rahman, Namira Salim, Naeem Ghauri, Rashid Rana and Amin Gulgee.
Saira Agha – AUGUST 24, 2015
Pride, success, and glamour is how one would describe the awards ceremony held by Pakistan Power 100 in London on September 29 attended by hundreds of prominent personalities from the international Pakistani community.
Over 700 of Britain’s leading Pakistani citizens along with honourable Pakistani personalities like Abdul Sattar Edhi, Monis Rahman, Namira Salim, Naeem Ghauri, and Amin Gulgee were present at the ceremony. A large number of non-Pakistani invitees also attended the event to show their support.
Pakistan Power 100, developed by the British Pakistan Trust, has a mission to honour only the very highest levels of achievement from within the Pakistani community and positively promote the outstanding contribution made by Pakistani men and women on a local, national, and international level. The trust is a non-profit organisation that will use the Pakistan Power 100 list to generate funds contributing to the betterment of all Pakistanis.
The prestigious ceremony began, after an elaborate reception, with the founder of Pakistan Power 100 Khalid Darr. He was grateful to all the invitees and nominees for attending the awards and defined his vision.
Welcoming the guests, Darr said, “To build a better Pakistan we need to learn the art of working together, we should seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. The Pakistani Diaspora across the world is a source of great strength for Pakistan and I believe that if we all come together to collectively use our intellectual and financial capital, we can bring significant and positive change to the people of Pakistan.”
Pakistan Power 100 has a role to promote Pakistan to the global community, to showcase the greatest influencers and to work towards changing the perception of Pakistan through the highest achievers. After Darr’s patriotic speech, the awards were presented to the outstanding achievers in their respective fields.
When talking about outstanding Pakistanis, the first name that comes to mind is the magnanimous Abdul Sattar Edhi. Despite his ill health and a hectic schedule, he managed to show up and take part at the event. Edhi received the Humanitarian Lifetime Award for his lifelong commitment to bettering the lives of all Pakistanis. His devotion to the welfare of mankind was reflected in his heart-felt speech. It was a seminal moment of the night; Edhi received a standing ovation at the end, with many of the attendees in tears by his selfless and genuine words.
Darr believes people on the list deserve to be honoured for being an inspiration for the Pakistani nation. Other Pakistanis who were also recognised in their fields included The Professional Excellence Award for Mona Kasuri, Media and Arts Award for Rashid Rana, Social and Community Award to Imam Qasim of Al Khair Foundation and The Business and Commerce Award was presented to the Ghauri brothers.
Tehmina Durrani received The Writer and Literary Award and Aysha Vardag was handed The Woman of Excellence Award. The Future Leader Award went to Gulfaraz Ahmed while the special award for Friends of Pakistan was presented to Sir Chistopher Lee. The world famous Pakistani-British boxer Amir Khan received the People’s Choice Award. Monis Rehman, Ikram Butt and explorer Namira Salim were awarded the Trailblazers Award. Zakir Mahmood of Habib Bank Limited was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award. The singer/activist Salman Ahmad was also presented with an award as Global Ambassador. The glamorous gala event was then concluded with a brilliant performance by Salman Ahmad.
The complete list of Pakistan Power 100, Pakistan Women 100 and Pakistan Future 100 is available on the official website of Pakistan Power 100, http://www.pakistanpower100.com.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2012.
- 1988 to 2000
- Amin Gulgee
- Amin Gulgee Gallery
- Group Show
- IMF Show
- Print Media
- Public Works
- Solo Show
- Al-Nahda Royal Society
- Arabian Gallery
- Art Gallery
- Art Space
- Body and Soul
- Char Bagh
- Continuity – Kinetic Essence
- Cosmic Mambo
- IMF Show – The Search for light
- Indus Gallery
- Intercontinental Hotel
- Lahore Art Gallery
- Lawrence Gallery
- Looking for the Magic Center
- Open Studio
- Open Studio II
- Other Works
- Rida Gallery
- The Hilton Ankara
- The Search for Light
- Through the Looking Glass
- Walking On The Moon
- Washed upon the shore
- Zenith Gallery
- The Spider Speaketh in Tongues
- Urdu Press
- Wei-Ling Gallery