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Karachi

November 24, 2017

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‘Pakistan has been what one would call a mixture of opposites’

The Oxford University Press (OUP) hosted a highly stimulating discussion with prominent personalities Sheema Kermani, Dr Asif Iqbal Farrukhi, and Kamran Asdar Ali, who have edited the book ‘Gender, politics, and performance in South Asia’. The session was moderated by another author, Rumana Hussain.


The event, held at the OUP’s bookshop at the Dolmen Mall on Wednesday, attracted a large number of the intelligentsia and elicited whole-heart participation from the gathering on account of the intellectually stimulating nature of the function.


The book is based on papers presented at a conference organised by the Tehreek-e-Niswan in 2010 aimed at a rethink of the issue of gender, politics, and performance in South Asia. It highlights the various aspects of the social impact of the arts — how cultural expression brings people together, thus weaving a more cohesive social milieu, mitigates or totally eliminates violence, and urges people to reflect and think.


Sheema Kermani traced the history of the Tehreek-e-Niswan 1970 onwards and said: “Thirty years down the road, we have events to celebrate.” This conference on performing arts was held in 1978, a point in time when the overly conservatives were having a field day, she added.


“Art has a meaning in society and life. We are there not only to entertain but to project our concerns over society and environment.” Referring to her street theatre, she said: “We came out of the auditoria because we felt that art was for everyone. In the face of such adverse years in our history,” continued Sheema, “the Tehreek persisted. We never bothered to obtain permission for our dance performances. Basically, motivation has to be there.”


All these decades, Pakistan has been what one would call a mixture of opposites, she added. “We’ve had diehard orthodoxy and modernity exist side by side. While during the Zia years dance performances were looked upon not as an artistic or aesthetic expression of culture or values and dance performances were banned, there were people who were patronizing the arts full blast.”


During the Zia era, she added, dance was not considered an artistic expression of issues but plain exhibitionism. “Dance performances were officially banned. Yet in this very era, there were plays and dance performances galore with a large following of patrons.”


Another thing Sheema pointed out, one with political ramifications, was that whenever there was an account of art in Pakistan, there had never been mention of (former) East Pakistan. To this, Dr Asif Aslam Farrukhi added: “We want to impose literary hegemony. It becomes part of our national amnesia.”


Kamran Asdar Ali endorsed this view and lamented the erasure of Bangladeshi contribution to Pakistan’s arts and literature and to artistic expression in the Pakistani society. By and large, it was very invigorating and informative event from the perspective of culture. The discussion followed an animated question-answer session.


While credit goes to the three participants of the panel discussion for their erudite views, the role of the OUP Pakistan Managing Director, Ameena Saiyid, could never be underestimated for her courage to take up issues which are sure to touch a raw nerve among a certain segment but which are of vital importance to the flowering of society, and then publishing these views.


This is something that contributes to the intellectual flowering of a society. Ameena Saiyid highlighted the latest of the OUP’s publications, seventy of them, would coincide with Pakistan’s seventieth birthday. Author and activist Rumana Hussain compèred the discussion most adroitly.

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