Red, White and Black

A Different Sort of Museum
7 September, 2007, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Pakistan

I came across this piece in the Newsweek and thought it was interesting enough to share. At the very simplest, it was a nice break from the usual negative articles that one sees about Pakistan in publications like the Newsweek;

In any case, the article is posted below and I wonder if it is a testament to the revival of art in Pakistan:

Pakistan’s Museum: Musharraf’s Surprise

Musharraf approved Pakistan’s new art museum, but not its antimilitary edge.

By Ron Moreau

Newsweek International

Sept. 10, 2007 issue – To many people, the mere mention of Pakistan conjures up visions of bemedaled generals, gun-toting militants and perhaps the mountaintop hiding place of Osama bin Laden. But the country’s spectacular new contemporary National Art Gallery may help to banish those stereotypes. Set on a hill overlooking the capital city of Islamabad, the imposing brown-brick, for-tresslike building incorporates architectural motifs from the country’s varied cultural past: Buddhist, Hindu, Mogul and British colonial. The four-story structure features plenty of windows of varying shapes and cool Oriental courtyards. It’s topped off with a distinctly modern feature: large, curvy “scoops” of aluminum, which collect and diffuse natural light into the 14 galleries inside. “The galleries are subservient to art,” says Naeem Pasha, 64, the Pakistan-born, Penn State-educated architect who designed it. “Each has its own atmosphere and plenty of natural light.”

The art inside is as innovative as the building. Most of the more than 600 works on display are by living Pakistani artists, two thirds of them women. Much of it has an unexpected edgy quality that seems at odds with the largely conservative Muslim society. Indeed, visitors are confronted with a provocative image even before they set foot inside the museum: just outside the garden entrance, six three-meter-tall black, female figures are draped in all-encompassing burqas, hovering almost like ghosts. The towering statues by Jamil Baloch seem to convey the message that women, even in purdah, are giants, ruling the realm.

Some strikingly angry works hang on the wall along a yellow-brick ramp ascending to the gallery’s second level. Two photographs, called “Witness,” show mangled and seemingly decomposing clay bodies sprawled in the dirt, partially covered with leaves. They bear witness to the slaughter of civilians by U.S. air power in Iraq, says the artist, Durria Kazvi. Farther up the ramp is a large rectangular work of metal and clay, perfectly depicting an expanse of cracked desert land. Stuck in one corner is an unexploded mortar round. In this work, the artist Baloch seems to be depicting the wasteland that Baluchistan province has become under the Pakistan military’s offensives against tribal nationalists.

Another antimilitary work, the video installation “Left Right” by Hamra Abbas, sits in an adjacent gallery. It shows three soldiers carrying AK-47 rifles marching mechanically on air and water and across the desert, symbolizing the military’s omnipresence. When President Pervez Musharraf inaugurated the gallery last month, facing extreme pressure to resign from the Army, he seemed rather nonplused when he viewed the piece, according to a gallery official who accompanied him on the tour.

But it is largely due to him that the museum even exists. It’s had a long and tortuous birth, mirroring Pakistan’s political upheavals. The late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto conceived the project in 1973, but construction didn’t begin until 1981, when military dictator Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the man who hanged Bhutto, funded the purchase of the land. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto laid the foundation stone in 1996, just before she was overthrown. Then funding completely dried up. Three years ago Musharraf looked out his office window and saw the partly completed but largely abandoned structure that he said looked like a warehouse. He summoned Pasha to explain, and the architect gave the president a short PowerPoint presentation that sold Musharraf on completing the project. In 2005, he released some $9 million to finish construction of the gallery.

He didn’t place any limitations on what it could display, however. Among the gallery’s most striking works are some of its smallest: traditional-style Mogul miniatures with modern themes. Haji Mohammad Sharif’s classic-looking “Hunting Lion Scene” features a nobleman on his horse spearing an attacking tiger with the help of court huntsmen. Nearby is an irreverent but wonderfully creative miniature called “Dialogue With Tradition” by one of Sharif’s students, Saira Waseem. It depicts a similar hunting scene but with a difference: mounted on the horse is Ronald McDonald wielding the golden arches logo as his weapon against an attacking lion with a cow’s head. Two empty Coca-Cola bottles lie in the foreground while disembodied traditional costumes hover overhead.

Equally iconoclastic is an exquisite modern miniature, Aisha Khalid’s “Silence With Pattern II,” of five women in burqas, their backs to the viewer in a room of checkered and flowered cloth. Breaking from the classical, flat miniatures, Khalid’s piece presents a three-dimensional perspective that draws viewers into the painting. Waseem Ahmed also reinvents the miniature with “Burqa,” a delicately drawn, late Renaissance-style nude woman holding an apple, her body covered head to toe in a diaphanous burqa. Like so many of the other works in this timely new museum, it challenges conventional views and gives Pakistanis and art lovers around the world reason for hope.

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

i have read about this museum somewhere else as well..would love to visit it!

Comment by malaika rizwi

HI Ayesha,

Its nice to see that you are back with your blogs. Hope you are doing good.

Comment by prabhu

Interesting. Good to see an article about us that doesn’t have the words terrorism or suicide bombings in it for once. lol.

Comment by Prophet Ali

Hi: Nice blog.

Thanks for visiting mine

Here is an article which has pretzels and Jailaibis imbedded in it…

Comment by moinansari

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