Nairang: Art under fire

Lahore’s local artist community condemns police violence and extremism.

Sher Khan August 17, 2011


An avenue of expression for young, talented painters and artisans, Nairang Art Gallery has recently come under attack for perpetuating a liberal ideology.

The August 2 incident, regarding a police assault on the gallery’s female curator Amal Fatima, a recent graduate from National College of Arts (NCA), captured the attention of the nation. The local art community has condemned the incident and has shown solidarity in what is being looked at as an attack on the city’s creative space. “This is an attempt to spread fear so that the space for expression shrinks,” says former NCA principal Nazish Ataullah.

The art gallery, considered one of Lahore’s few prominent cultural hubs, has also become a hangout spot for local intelligentsia, writers, and artists. Some of the frequent visitors include Urdu writer Intezaar Hussain, human rights activist IA Rahman, politician Dr Mubashir Hasan, artists Quddus Mirza, Pirzada Najam, Arif Khan and Salima Hashmi.

“There is a streak of liberalism when one talks about Nairang,” says Nayyar Ali Dada, renowned architect and founder of the gallery. “However, I assume this is not a popular place in the eyes of the establishment.”

According to Dada, SHO of the Shadman police station, Rana Zulfiqar created a scene after a lady outside the gallery took some time to park her car. Following that, the police official barged into the gallery on the pretext that shisha was being served at the gallery. According to eye witnesses, the senior official first picked on a couple and questioned why they were sitting together, deeming their interaction ‘un-Islamic’. Later, he barged into a rehearsal of a Khattak dance performance and assaulted the female curator of the gallery, while also labelling her ‘fahash’.

Dada is shocked that the gallery, known for promoting a staunchly liberal and progressive atmosphere, has come under threat. “Artists in Ziaul Haq’s era were stifled, but the PPP is known for its liberal stance so it’s a little surprising.” However, he is quick to add that the “lower-stratum of society is changing and turning more and more towards extremism”.

Dada confirmed that two separate inquiries had been lodged, with one been handled by the chief minister and the other by the police. Dada added that the SHO has been captured and is being held as the main culprit, while it still remains to be seen what action is taken.

Waves of protest

The reaction to the news of the assault saw several protests in major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. The spread of the news was aided by the social media which has seen several Facebook pages and Twitter chains create a buzz.

Political economist and activist Feryal Ali Gauhar, who also has been a regular at the Lahore Bachao Tehreek (LBT) at Nairang, says; “I don’t leave the house as often because women and minorities are increasingly marginalised,” says Gauhar.

Meanwhile, reputed artist Dr Ejaz Anwar also called for the need to rise against such an ideology that seeks to justify abusing a woman on the excuse of vulgarity. “The reaction has been very organised and that shows how serious the issue really is,” says Anwar. “I think it’s clear that this form of high-handedness has to be challenged.”

Quddus Mirza, a renowned artist and teacher, points out that this was an attack more on personal space than on the arts. “In principle, the police do not have a right to intrude like this and the incident deserves direct condemnation.” He also stresses that it’s important to ask whether the SHO was directing the aggression at the cafe or the art. “I think that they have mindset against male and females sitting together. Therefore, the incident is the epitome of human rights violation.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2011.


komal | 11 years ago | Reply

actually the thing is tht the student must stay in their limits . it is fine if they are doin some thing like this bt if they are found thy mst confess n say sorry. this is an islamic state actually. n we mst keep it in our mind tht wht has islam instruct us to do

Farrukh | 11 years ago | Reply

@omer ali: I have been to National Assembly and that is not a place where country is built rather it turns into pieces there. I have been to Mudrassas and those are not the places where God is introduced to you rather it has been famous for Child Molestation that nobody dare to speak of. I have been to education institutes and those are not the places where eduction is a priority rather all they are concerned of is hard money. I have been to court rooms where you cant dare think of anything before bribing the guys there to see the face of the judge in your life. I have been to police stations and may God save all us from that place.... Still I will stand for the independence of those place, If someone wanna crack down any of these places he must full fill the requirements, No we wont allow you to act like Landlord or America here. Fallow the procedure, you just cant run into a public place and become The God of Morality there without have any legal proceeding, just becaz you are wearing uniform doesn't mean you are allowed to act like street gangsters rather a uniform should make you more reasonable. Neither I will support any Lal Masjid Maniac nor Musharraf in this country. Want to change things, not happy about situation please fallow the once agreed law and that doesn't stop people sitting together...

P.S. My friends are actually selling their paintings there from quite a sometime and it helped those artists survive. if you happened to visit the gallery there.

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