Contemporary Pakistani Art – Salima Hashmi and Kamila Shamshie at Jaipur Literature Festival 2015

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(Left to right- Salima Hashmi, Alka Pande, Kamila Shamsie)

As Salima Hashmi, Kamila Shamsie take centre stage, along with Alka Pande, their presence is as pleasant as the cool winter morning in Jaipur. As the crowds are quick to fill the Baithak, it becomes clear that this will truly be a worthwhile discussion. Pakistani Contemporary Art is a domain that has not been very well explored by us Indian audience. The long lasting discord with our neighbouring country has led to a lack of appreciation and understanding of the exemplary progress in art across the border.

As they seat themselves, Alka Pande points out that the panel in fact has “different generations of women,” talking about this beautiful subject matter which will allow us not only a broader perspective of Pakistani art but also tell us how the reception to the art has changed over time, if at all.

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Pande very poignantly mentions, “Despite a great dialogue between the artists at an individual level, the artists never publicly engage in dialogues or discussions,” perhaps this is why Salima Hashmi was so proud to announce that this year “India and Pakistan would share a pavilion in the Venice Biennale Pavilion.” The two countries may not regularly engage in public interactions but with the opportunity of a platform like the Venice Biennale, the countries can interact, share and learn from one another.

Despite the obvious political discord between the two countries, Salima Hashmi never shies away from acknowledging the support of the Indian galleries to Pakistani contemporary art. “In recent years, it is really the Indian collectors and the Indian galleries that have given support to contemporary Pakistani artists. The artists have created an interest that wasn’t there before.” Hashmi says.

1The focus now shifts to the poised and quiet Kamila Shamshie. A student of Agha Shahid Ali and someone who looked up to him a great deal, Shamshie is heavily influenced by his work. As she talks about her role as a novelist, she discusses how “in India there is a much greater interest in Pakistani artists than in the west. Writers have a movement of their work and a reproduction of their work without losing their original thought,” while commenting on the easier accessibility of a novelist to other parts of the world in comparison to an artist. Truly art cannot be reproduced, with another reproduction comes another meaning. “It needs to be acknowledged that if you are a writer writing in English, you have the privilege of being irrelevant,” says Shamshie on how the real, impactful work is actually always been done by the ground-breaking journalists. “I have always written the books I’ve wanted to write,” -a privilege very few are accorded.

3Delving deeper into the subject matter of censorship, Shamshie comments “From the earliest times we have inbuilt censorship. Our minds will simply not go there.” As the audience listens with great interest, she continues, “It’s safer for the mind to go somewhere else.”

As the three ladies continue to debate and discuss, the love for their art seems to transcend all boundaries. As someone once rightly said, loves knows no boundaries and truly their love for art, literature and culture transcend all.

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Grab your copy of ‘The Eye Still Seeks: Contemporary Pakistani Art by Salima Hashmi here: http://bit.ly/1BxgSQO

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