Making art out of Pakistan's war zones -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Making art out of Pakistan’s war zones

By: Sonia Malik

LAHORE: There is a huge scar just above one of S Sajjad Hussain’s eyebrows. On June 18, he was among the 70 students on a bus leaving for the Balochistan Information and Technology University when a bomb exploded, leaving five Hazara students aboard dead and 56 others injured.

“For the entire week before the incident, we had a police escort. But it was not there that morning,” he recalls during an interactive session between artists hailing from Pakistan’s conflict zones and renowned artists from Lahore.

After graduating from the National College of Arts, Hussain, ethnically a Hazara, had returned to Quetta and established a department of Fine Arts at the Balochistan University. The blast, he says, shattered him and compelled him to return to Lahore, which he believes is safer for artists than Quetta.

Brought up in Quetta, Hussain says there is only one private art gallery in Quetta, other than the Arts Council. “It hardly holds any exhibition because of the security threat.”

Hussain’s work is among the five artists from the war-zones of Pakistan showcased at the Drawing Room Gallery. The exhibit titled P.S. {ART} will run till September 8. It will be taken to London on September 25.

One of Hussain’s untitled paintings shows the side portfolio of a soldier against a splatter of blood. “Blood is what I remember from the blast. All major Hazara leaders have been target-killed in recent years. This painting reflects that,” Hussain said.

Sajid Khan, 27, came from his village in Malakand Division to Lahore to receive a college education. “No one there knows what art is. To them, a painter is someone who refurbishes homes,” he said.

He has seven pieces – five graphite on wasli and two digitals on paper – on display.

One of his pieces is a small piece mounted on wooden frame which shows three little boys against a helicopter dropping bombs. This is my attempt at piecing together my childhood memories, says Khan, who graduated as a miniature artist.

All five artists live in Lahore and expressed reluctance at the idea of moving back expressing “fear of their lives.” After three sell-out exhibitions in the last year, Khan has rented a studio in Cantt.

Suleman Khilji, a Quetta native who graduated from NCA graduate in 2009, had five paintings on display. A bluish-red mixed medium on canvas depicts a boy, aged between 10 to 12. He smiles holding a gun titled ‘Incognito,’ the artwork is inspired by Khilji’s walks through an ammunition market in Quetta where many young boys pose for photos with rifles and kalashinkovs. “Quetta has become a dead city. Everyone is either hypnotised by violence or is in denial,” adds Khilji.

Shades of blue, white and red were prominent in his work. Khilji says the contrast of bright and cool colours reflects the “hidden meaning” of the pictures.

Shakila Haider, another Hazara who is studying miniature at NCA, has used the platform to showcase her father’s belongings. Haider’s parents emigrated from Afghanistan in the late 70s to Quetta. Her work features water colours painted miniatures on wasli. One painting shows her father’s chapen (a traditional Afghan coat), a shelf with books and a desk. “My father sided with the Russians and was a writer. He immigrated to Quetta after the war broke out and worked to give us a better future. This is my little tribute to him,” Shakila said.

An installation of several nests made of iron mesh swings in the middle of the gallery. Suleiman Khan Mengal, a resident of Noshki, a small town in Baluchistan, says his idea of making iron-meshed nests, all sizes and shapes, was inspired by the impact conflict has had on Baluchistan.

“So many homes have suffered,” says Mengal, who majored in Sculpture from NCA in 2011. He says a Baluchistan University professor was shot dead after he printed posters of his painting showing soldiers killing artists.

The session was attended by artist Quddus Mirza, former NCA principal Salima Hashmi and Alhamra Art Council galleries curator Tanya Suhail.

The exhibit has been arranged by Sehar Tareen, a student of the MA Applied Imagination Course.

“It is important to see artists from the war-hit areas of Pakistan. Their story is important and should be shared,” she said.

The Express Tribune