Performance artist and social activist, Sheema Kirmani, and her theatre group Tehrik-e-Niswan presented a performance depicting the attack on the curator and staff of Nairang Gallery Lahore by the Punjab police.
On August 1, an SHO from the Shadman police station, Zulfiqar Ali, entered the gallery with his squad allegedly without any warrant. He is accused of beating up the gallery’s 24-year-old curator for wearing a “sleeveless kurta pajama” and harassing the staff for coming to her rescue.
Art critic Nilofer Faroukh and television personality Mohsin Sayeed led the demonstration. “We have gathered to raise our concerns over the shocking incident and what it means for the expression of individual rights in our society,” said sculptor and painter Abdul Jabbar Gull.
The performance showed policemen killing an artist because they found paintings at an art gallery immoral and contradictory to Islamic values. The backdrop was drawn by political satirist and cartoonist Feica. It was a stylised depiction of civilians attacking a policeman with brushes, pens and pencils in which an officer held a screaming woman by her hair.
The protesters wore signcards on their backs, which read “Terrorism by police is unacceptable.” The crowd chanted “Long live Shahbaz Bhatti” and “Shahbaz your blood has sown the seeds for a revolution.”
“The disgraceful actions of the SHO are a clear violation of individual constitutional rights,” said Sayeed. He said that the behaviour showed that the police did not have any respect for women, and personal, private and creative spaces. This is not an isolated incident, he said. There have been numerous other cases of police brutality at the hands of the Punjab police. “The Sharifs need to take notice of this fact and begin taking strict action to protect the democratic rights of their citizens.”
If members of civil society remain silent then they will continue to rob us of our freedoms of expression and thought. He demanded that the SHO apologise publicly to the curator and the staff of Nairang Gallery and the police department should give him exemplary punishment.
Despite the fervour and commitment of those present, there were many who were disappointed by the small turnout at the protest. Visual artist Naiza Khan stated her disappointment over the fact that none of the students or faculty of the Indus Valley School came to speak up against “an attack on the artistic and intellectual community.”
Literary critic and journalist Ghazi Salahuddin said that the youth have risen all over the world whether it is Egypt, Greece, Syria and even London. “But here the youth is silent,” he said. “At a time when our civil liberties and our cultural and artistic heritage are being attacked, young aspiring artists and intellectuals are nowhere to be seen.” He said that despite the availability of social media, young people are still unable to properly organise themselves due to feelings of fear and apathy in society.
with additional input by Sohail Khattak
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2011.