Promoting culture: Artists want clear policy, freedom of expression

In its manifesto, PML-N had promised to encourage art and culture.

Hassan Naqvi May 29, 2013
Artist Quddus Mirza said to be effective a policy needs to ensure the promotion and protection of the freedom of expression.


The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has won the elections and now people are wondering whether or not they will deliver on all that they promised in their manifesto and how.

Among them are artists, playwrights, dancers and actors – groups that have been long complaining that no recent government has taken any steps for the promotion of their respective work.

Several stakeholders and an art and cultural writer that The Express Tribune talked to described the art and cultural policy included in the PML-N’s manifesto as ‘vague’ and said that the party needed to come up with a clearer policy. They wanted it to include establishment of new institutions, reducing government taxes on entertainment and promoting cultural diplomacy. Their biggest demand was that the government give a free hand to artists and not clamp down on them in the name of societal norms.

Raza Rumi, an art and cultural writer, reviewed some of the points in the PML-N’s cultural policy. His first observation was, “Though some of the points outlined are worth pursuing... like most manifesto statements, this too seems overarching and non-specific.”

The film industry’s demise occurred, in his opinion, as a result of many factors. “[Producing] quality films alone will not be enough to revive the industry.” As for dubbing Pakistani productions in international languages, he said first there was need to get the Pakistani society in touch with its indigenous cultures than to promote them abroad. “Until Pakistanis learn to appreciate [our] art, it is unlikely that international patrons will see much growth or worth in the Pakistani culture.”

He said that the point stressing the need to promote regional culture needed to be expanded and concrete plans laid out on how to achieve the objective. He also called the point regarding promotion of “creative activities” as “quite vague”. “Media cities tend to have very little to do with art and culture, and are in fact often used to house broadcasters, communications and advertising firms,” he noted.

Rumi said setting up a fund to promote art and cultural activities sounded promising but warned, “Funds and trusts of such nature are beholden to the committees controlling them,” he said. Bureaucracy trying to define or intervening in art and culture is an “ill-advised idea”.

“More than anything though,” said Rumi, “the government should realise that occasionally art and culture appears to ‘threaten’ social and moral values. Great art always flirts with social boundaries, and continuously reprimanding artists and art that dare to defy expectations won’t nurture creativity.”


Playwright Shahid Nadeem agreed with Rumi. “I hope that the liberals in the PML -N get the charge of information and culture both at the national and the provincial level because, the right wing of the PML-N is no better than the Jamaat’s cultural crusaders.”

Nadeem said that the government should promote cultural diplomacy with India.

According to TV and theatre actress Uzma Hassan, the PML-N needs to reduce the government taxes levied on performances and venues. The entertainment tax levied by the last PML-N government in the Punjab was 65 per cent. The caretaker government brought it down to 25 per cent, at par with Sindh. But Hassan thinks that the new PML-N government will revise the caretaker government’s decision. “That essentially means no artist or company can make a profit,” said Hassan.

Dancer Wahab Shah said, the best way to promote art and culture was to set up many small institutions.

Fine arts

Painter Rashid Rana stressed the need for a flexible policy since “culture is not static”. Another imperative for him is the acknowledgement of the multiple identities in the country.

Artist Quddus Mirza said to be effective a policy needs to ensure the promotion and protection of the freedom of expression and provision of venues where all kinds of art can be practised.

“Art centres need to be established in small cities and districts,” said Mirza. “It is time to introduce Pakistani art to the world by participating in all the major art events and by restructuring the National Art Gallery,” he said.

Senator Pervez Rasheed, of PML-N said that the government will “encourage the people from the art and culture fraternity to come up with proposals themselves and implement them themselves.” He said the government would facilitate them by passing the enabling legislation they recommended.

The PML-N manifesto reads

•  Film-making and cinema industries are in crisis. Quality films will be encouraged to revive both

•  Art and cultural activities shall be promoted at all levels

•  Fund shall be established to support development of new talent

•  Existing art & cultural institutes shall be strengthened

•  Pakistani productions will be dubbed in international languages to project Pakistani culture abroad.

•  International level media cities shall be established.

•  Regional folk culture shall be promoted to preserve the richness of Pakistani culture and heritage.

•  Creative activities shall be promoted in educational institutions.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2013.


shandana khan | 8 years ago | Reply

and of courses we must remember that Pakistan has many cultures which underpin values, thinking and relationships with people. We are not interested in an Arabised culture, which is what many here tend to do. If this is what they do - it is only because they are evidently lost and keep seeking justifications for what they are. The Pashtuns have a definite culture (be this good or bad or both) and we are not confused on this count. This needs to be respected. There have been many attempts to 'change' this due to the strategic depth policies of the government - but a handful of lunatics does not mean that our culture has changed. This culture needs to be supported - our music, our Ghani Khan, our Rabab, our poetry -our very being.

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