The Art Of An Epoch


Suited to yellow journalism, like rape, abductions, and other variations on crime. Traffic jams no longer make an impact. Roads have been dug up in the sector around the CMs House and Holiday Inn, and that is enough to create a traffic situation of the sort that would do credit to any Jalsa three times a day.

What was surprising was the mood of the people caught up in the jam. Even the great oil-tankers and water carriers saw that overriding a rickshaw would get them nowhere. Bearing out Mr Omar Qureishis views on cricket as a unifier, a clearly Muhajir individual on a scooter thought nothing of asking a Pathan with a transistor glued to his ear in a Suzuki what the score was; while his pillion-rider passed it on to the Sindhi asking from what happened to be a Pajero. A distinctly matey atmosphere pervaded, pan, challia and cigarettes were interchanged and even refused quite happily – and everyone inched forward.

Is one guilty of prejudice in recalling a traffic jam around the environs of I.I. Chundrigar road in spring 88? People drove over pavements, some got out of their cars, and a nervous inquiry as to what was afoot drew forth the answer “they cant keep the traffic running and they think they can run the country.” At least, democracy has depoliticised reactions to a traffic jam! And in something of that spirit one hopes that the epoch tomorrow will take the form of a peaceful projection and toleration of views that are necessarily diverse. One hopes that the sound sense of the masses prevails over polemics and makes the 26th a good day to enter in the citys ledgers. So lets not quibble about the money spent on the steel for the stage. Steel bars survive. In fact if Jalsas are to be a way of life, they are a good investment, for there will be many more stages.

Sometimes people say that things in Karachi are a bit better. Perhaps they are, or perhaps one cannot continue to absorb the negative aspects indefinitely, and the mind focuses on more pleasing prospects: Like Eqbal Mehdis colours and canvases at the Arts Council. The fact that some paintings sell so well prompts a certain curiosity about the comparatively new phenomenon of the Art Gallery. Ali imams the Indus remains in a class by itself, though it is no longer the only one. Chawkandi in the fashionable Clifton area has proved a survivor, unlike many others that surface for a while and then fade away. Zuhra Husain, whose brainchild the gallery is, says quite frankly that her gallery is commercial.

There is a market for art, and she helps the artist find that market. Of course, an art gallery has to maintain a standard of selection and she feels that her gallery offers those who have been through the initiatory process of group shows at the Arts Council, the Goethe Institute and the PACC an easier point of access to the market than they might find on their own. The commission retained by gallery owners in Pakistan is much lower than anywhere else in the world. And art prices let us remember are quite high. The VM gallery which is part of the Rangoonwalla trust is subsidised, and so charges even less of a commission. Expenses for arranging an exhibition is quite high, and no one, not even the artists, feel that galleries are unfair to them.

Its Art, art lovers say, and gallery owners and directors in this case, is what a civilisation is remembered by. Certainly, changing attitudes to art offer insights into our social development. The links that emigrants have made with the west have brought a new kind of awareness. People like to take paintings as gifts for those overseas, who value an original work of art. Originals are also apparently becoming popular wedding gifts here! A good painting is a good investment. There is also the concept of a painting as part of the decor and when it takes the place of calendar art that is not something to scoff at unreservedly.

The other interesting social reflection yielded was that young artists too, like other young people, want short cuts. They arent prepared to face the rigours of training and discipline. Senior artists are ready to accept “shagirds” but the shagirds are in a hurry to lift a trick or two and make their way. But art has no short cuts. That might be the most relevant thing it could teach us today, and let us bear that in mind as we view tomorrow.