An ongoing art project by Other Asias collective
What if Pakistan was to be restored, stabilized geographically, politically and intellectually?
The REDO PAKISTAN project started early in 2009 as an open submission travelling project, looking for artists and writers to reform the nation geographically, politically, and intellectually. It received an overwhelming response from over 50 artists from all over the world. The response was in the form of ideas, critical writing, creative writing, films, sounds, drawings and public interventions. It was first an exhibition put as part of the Shanakht festival in Karachi, the largest contemporary arts festival in Pakistan. On the first day of the festival, several political activists of the dominant political party in Pakistan took offence to a work of art, featuring late Benazir Bhutto on the lap of general Zia. This was exhibited by a group in the same gallery, Redo Pakistan. Riots broke out in the arts council as the angry mob went on to ransack the gallery and damage some exhibits, scaring away many Karachiites.
The next day, we took toll of the damage, packed up our exhibit and headed home after the Sindh Government refused to provide security guarantees to the organizers of the Shanakht Festival.
Since the project did not reach its due audience, we decided to put forth the idea of redoing the nation, in Lahore. The frequent suicide bombings in the public buildings, attack on the ISI headquarters, explosions in the Intercontinental hotel in Peshawar had left the Pakistani nation anxious and bewildered. Our experience with the project and the current situation of the country led us to think of urgent ways to communicate the idea of reforming the nation. We decided to curate the show in the form of a newspaper and alter the role of the artist as a newspaper vendor. The handing out of the newspaper to the audience was an important part of event which took place in the gallery and outside. The project activated the dialogue on a completely new level, drawing in newer and more enthusiastic audience who challenged the ideas at hand. The symposium in the gallery space high- lighted this new role of the artist as the vendor to be a most urgent and contemporary one. This form of curation not only catered to a lot of audience, but also mocked the existing role of the mass communication within the country.
Later last year, the project got selected and awarded by the Deptford X '09 and was part of the Flux festival in London. The project transformed itself from an activist to a more educational platform, where it reached out to the Pakistani diaspora based in London by investigating various version of Jinnah (at the launch event), Manto, Faiz A Faiz, and Iqbal (at the closing event). Redo Pakistan hosted film screenings, reading groups, performance events etc. In the course of the London leg, the project arrived at a juncture where, through the project, there came a summarized solution that activated the 2nd issue of the project by 'Declartion WAR against the Present Times' as picked on by Iqbal in Zarb-e-Kaleem in the year 1936.
The 2nd Issue 'Declaration of WAR against the present time' was launched in New York earlier this year. The project was curated by Meenakshi Thirukode at The Guild, NY, and was part of a group show titled 'Structures within an Intervention'. WAR, in the call sent out, was reinterpreted as 'to end a particular undesirable situation.' At a time like this when the word WAR has become so frequently used that it seems to have become a part of our everyday conversation, so much so that it has somehow lost its exigency. It was replayed by the artists, not only to declare and play WAR but also to suggest a fresh meaning, local to their context.
In between, a documentary was shot featuring Shahidul Alam talking about 1971 with three young Pakistani girls involved in the arts and its general relationship to representation and institutional exclusion. This is still in post-production and shall be online soon.
This summer the project was awarded a grant by the arts council of England for a series of events and commissions. Installed as a mock symposium and newspaper stall, the project has travelled within London and to the Midlands within a month. The project operated as a nomadic production line, generating new artworks, film events, performance, writing and critical discussion in relation to its new contexts and its journey.
The Aicon Gallery hosted the launch on the 24th of August kicking off a series of events in London. The organizers then began to use the art events as a means to raise money for the Pakistan flood crisis. Events at Departure and the G1 Gallery included commissioned talks and films by young British-Pakistani directors with Khaldoon Ahmed talking about the earlier Pakistani Earthquake, and Sadia-ur-Rehman speaking on the diasporic celebrations in London. 1947 promises were made at the speakers' corner performed by British-Pakistani playwright Avaes Mohammad presenting a poetic monologue framed around the poetics of Bhutto's speeches and Rez Kabir performing a fictional monologue around the speeches of Jinnah, Nehru and Gandhi. The performance was followed by a gathering by the creative community to show their solidarity with the survivors of the flood in Pakistan.
An open call was sent out for the most creative bookmark, the focus of which was Literature, history and future of South Asia. In this week long exhibit at the Walthamstow Public Library, which is surrounded by the largest Pakistani diaspora population in London, the “Designers United for a Cause Karachi” known as (D.U.C.K) won the first prize for their poster series relating to the Pakistani flood crisis.
On 24th Sept at the House Gallery the final event titled 'Iqbal, Deleuze, Jihad and Nuclear Nationalism' featured commissioned talks and films by Partho Sen Gupta. Let the Wind Blow about Nuclear warfare and Iman Poernomo of IMASE about Jihad reinterpreted by Sufism and Deleuzean cultural theory. The highly contested and engaged audience response showed that the historiography around Partition of India remains a really hot topic. Later a video archive of these events was hosted online.
The project will now travel to Pakistan for a series of interventions in public space. The artists and curators will be seen once again as vendors handing out the newspaper in different spaces. Radio shows produced as part of the 2nd issue are being aired.
- Hamja Ahsan (born 1981, London) is an artist and curator from the Bengali Islamic diaspora based in London & Cambridge and Dhaka. www,hamjaahsan.com
- Fatima Hussain (born 1983, Lahore) is an artist, curator, fine art tutor and theatre director based in Lahore and Islamabad. http://fatimaahussain.wordpress.com/
- They have collaborated together on transnational contemporary art projects as Other Asias since September 2008. www.otherasias.com /email@example.com