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Have You Seen the Thriving Art Culture Our Neighbour Pakistan Has?

Pakistani artists are producing art that signals a deep engagement with the politics and order of their homeland.

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It wasn’t sudden. Since its birth in 1947, Pakistan has had a vibrant art culture.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art says that Pakistani artists that were new in the artosphere, aimed to present themselves as modern, and in line with international standards. So they adopted prevalent European and American art styles. But they never forgot their loyalty to indigenous traditions and themes.

Today, when the nation is faced with a bloody present strife with religious fundamentalism and terrorism, Pakistani artists are producing acerbic art that signals a deep engagement with the politics and order of their homeland.

Rashid Rana, one of the biggest names in contemporary Asian art scene, produced the provocative piece, Red Carpet in 2007.

While it seems like an elaborate Persian rug at a secondary glance, upon closer inspection it shows hundreds of graphic photos of animals getting slaughtered at abattoirs – a social critique on the 2007 bloody assassination of former Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, that also killed many civilians.

#RashidRana #LissonGallery #RedCarpet5

A photo posted by Joe Richards (@byjoerichards) on

Though the artist substituted animals for humans, the carnage remains horrific and equally shocking. The work sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2008 for $623,000, the highest price ever paid for a Pakistani work of art.

The patronage of supportive gallerists and forward looking art schools in the country are encouraging other contemporary artists that are producing powerful works.

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This work by artist Farida Batool shows the socio-political upheaval happening presently in her country. With such a heavy theme to carry, the piece bears a rather morose title, Eik Shehr Jo Udaas Hai (A city that is mourning).

 Pakistani artists are producing art that signals a deep engagement with the politics and order of their homeland.
(Gif courtesy: Taseer Art Gallery)
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Well, you know the wall in this artwork by Fareeda Batool is also a metaphor for the wall we have hit as a nation. About how difficult it is to just live.
Sanam Taseer, Gallerist, Taseer Art Gallery

I spoke to Sanam Taseer, daughter of Salman Taseer, the slain governor of Pakistan`s Punjab province, who was shot down by one of his own bodyguards, while she was in Delhi representing Pakistan at the recently concluded India Art Fair.

Lahore’s Taseer Art Gallery showcased the work of innovative Pakistani artists like Mohsin Shafi and Saba Khan.

There are images of Lahore here that are, of course, very similar to Old Delhi. We did the curation with a view of Lahore as a city and the different aspects of it.
Sanam Taseer, Gallerist, Taseer Art Gallery
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There, I saw the work of artist Saba Khan, a satire on the Pakistani elite. In a facetious manner, Khan showed the increasing social gap prevalent in the country. Notice the hands serving the sweetmeats in the palatial palace, in Sweetmeats, (the work on the right). The use of beads signifies richness and the ostentatious nature of the rich in Pakistan.

 Pakistani artists are producing art that signals a deep engagement with the politics and order of their homeland.
Saba Khan’s work. (Photo Courtesy: Taseer Art Gallery)
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While artist Mohsin Shafi’s collages are largely portraits from his personal life.

 Pakistani artists are producing art that signals a deep engagement with the politics and order of their homeland.
Mohsin Shafi’s work. (Photo Courtesy: Taseer Art Gallery)
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Artist Huma Mulji’s work Arabian Delight, on the other hand, shows a taxidermied camel thrust inside a suitcase – a humorous take on the perceived “Arabisation of Pakistan as another Muslim state.”

As one can gather, many of these artworks are about Pakistan and its problems. Their techniques may be Westernised, but the works are still strongly homegrown.

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