In a Pakistan beset by conflict, the arts see nascent revival
Pakistan's music, letters, and visual arts blossom in a nation reeling from floods, conflict, and uncertainty.
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This nascent cultural renaissance extends to the visual arts and music. Last year, painter Salima Hashmi led one of the first major delegations of Pakistani artists abroad at the Asia Society Museum in New York. Ms. Hashmi, the daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a legendary Urdu poet, is dean of the School of Visual Arts and Design at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore.Skip to next paragraph
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She says that art has grown in Pakistan as a response to the daily indignities suffered by the country during its checkered history, during which it has been restricted by Islamic laws as well as the whims of dictators.
"In the last five to seven years, there's been a phenomenal rise in the number of [academic] institutions, the number of practicing artists. And the mobility of artists has ensured there's all kinds of cross-current, cross-fertilizations with other places in South Asia," she notes.
"Out of horror, something of beauty does occur," Hashmi says. In the "most terrible of circumstances, it is possible for the human spirit to survive, be positive, and offer a way of redemption."
Hamid, the author, agrees: "Art opens up spaces that terrorism and totalitarianism try to close off.… In that sense, art can be liberating."
Meanwhile, because musicians remain wary of bomb threats, they've had to adjust the presentation of their messages.
Instead of high-profile festivals, artists have taken to the airwaves and the country's burgeoning cable and satellite channels. Over the past three years, Coke Studio, an online live-performance venue for musicians, has led the way with a series of shows uniting singers from the Sufi Islamic religious order with Pakistani rock stars. The female pop duo Zeb and Haniya also helped popularize the music of the ethnic Pashtuns who reside on the troubled Pakistani-Afghan border via the site.
"We haven't quite got back to where we were," says musician Azhar, referring to the vibrant jazz scene of the 1960s that was fueled by mainly Christian musicians. Art was heavily censored during the rule of General Zia in the 1980s. Why? Because of its powerful – nonviolent – influence, he says.