In a post by Saira Ansari on the forced mis-representation of Pakistan in the art scene, owing to what one expects to read and hear (an interesting topic in itself you may discuss at her blog), Ahmer Naqvi comments:
I mean, what do people think about it? Not whether they want to buy it or ban it, but what do they feel about art’s place in society? And it would be pointless to just flat-out ask people, especially as a journalist, because they would likely respond with answers they think they should give. [...] This limitation of critique exists for Pakistani film and music too, but interestingly, the critique of cricket as a cultural force often breaks out of these limits, which serves to highlight that it is possible to try and view these things outside of the terrorism/Moozlamic narratives.
This limitation of critique I want to look at briefly. Every single article I handed in to my editors in Lahore, that was critical of either a concert or exhibition was not considered for publication. And when I put them up on my blog, and the criticized artists read that, they objected not because they disagreed with my point of criticism, but because they considered any negative criticism unacceptable – no wonder, they are not used to it. With Coke Studio there have been some disapproving articles for some seasons, but not revealing any constructive criticism with doing away with it as ‘not living up to the expectations’. And just as it would be worthwhile having negative criticism being heard where it is due, the positive laudations could be expected to be more in depth than just some ‘WahWah’ spelled out in a couple of paragraphs.
To go back to Saira Ansari’s piece, and on answers that are expected to be given in a different context but likewise relating to the representation of visual arts (and artists) from Pakistan – and South Asia in general – let me recommend an interview by Simone Wille, conducted with Bani Abidi and Mohammed Hanif in Bazaar (PDF).
You obviously are concerned with issues arising of South Asian origin. You address the local and the regional, thereby framing a regional authenticity. How do you position your work within a global framework?
This is a question that is asked to a lot of people from South Asia or the Middle East. You are writing about Pakistan, so you must have a position. Whereas at the same time our contemporaries living in Germany writing about Berlin or Europe will never be asked that question because the Metropolitan European spaces are the ‘real spaces’ and outside of that is the periphery in a lot of people’s imagination and understanding. So I think that it is very curious that the question of ‘Why local?’ is only being asked to people from certain localities.
While the one level is that Pakistani artists often are expected to bring their work as an artist into relation with the terrorism/Moozlmanic narrative, this ‘why local?’ is the more subtle Expected that Abidi points out rightly. And also Pakistani media should see the arts more as art (and critizice them as such), rather than through the political or folkloristic perspective that does it little justice.