Book on Pakistani art launched
KARACHI: A book on contemporary Pakistani art titled The Eye Still Seeks by eminent artist and art educationist Salima Hashmi was launched at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture on Friday evening.
Ms Hashmi engaged in a conversation with Asma Mundrawala on the occasion. The first question focused on the motivation for the book with reference to a chapter ‘The urge to spin a story’ in it. Ms Hashmi said she was not trained to be a scholar — she was a ‘maker’ and a teacher. In the 1980s, a lot of interesting things in the field of art happened but nobody wrote about it, she said. There were many artists, writers and poets who were achieving courageous feats, and there were not enough people to document them.
On the question of the writers and curators whose work is included in the book, Ms Hashmi said the Penguin Books India approached her. They wanted to bring out a book on contemporary Pakistani art because over the past 20 years it had caught the attention of the collecting public. The reason why Pakistani art was so exciting was its sociopolitical context. She said they [the publishers] asked her to get hold of a political scientist to pen the framework essay, which was a difficult task. So she thought ‘why not go to fiction’ and got in touch with novelists Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid who through their fiction had touched upon ‘what makes Pakistan tick’.
Ms Hashmi said the novelists responded to her call with enthusiasm. Mohsin Hamid had lived in Lahore in the ‘90s growing up with artists like Shazia Sikander and Rashid Rana. It wasn’t difficult to ask him to write on Rana. Kamila had already written on Naiza Khan’s work, she said, and with reference to Hanif she remarked that his essay on Asim Butt gave an edge to the book.
In response to the query about which was the most dynamic period in Pakistani art, Ms Hashmi replied, “It’s right now. It has never been so fertile, so full of ideas.” She pointed out she was humbled to see that every week new work came out and made her pause to think that in this barren landscape, where there’s very little appreciation, people were constantly producing art; their work was fearless with a peculiar combination of technique and content, leaning on all kinds of historic and personal narratives from different parts of the country. “The young are doing things people 40 years ago did not even dream of,” she said. “Pakistan is rife with tremendous ideas in visual arts. It is unbelievable. The young don’t stand on shifting sands but on the shoulders of the generations before,” she added.
On the topic of education, Ms Hashmi said the country had always had exceptional teachers. Art mentors had felt that they had to give back whatever they’d got. But this was not unique to South Asia, all over the world it was like that. She acknowledged the fact that “good artists are teaching”.
Responding to the question about the production of the book, Ms Hashmi told the moderator that the publishers didn’t offer her enough money to pay to the contributors, so she had to come up with a creative idea to keep their interests intact. She lauded the efforts of the publishers for meticulous production of the book.