Meaningful art: More than just a pretty picture

Documentary film narrates experiences of budding Pakistani artists.

Maryam Usman January 26, 2014
Guests admiring impressions of various vistas in the US as captured by the artists’ imaginations. PHOTO: EXPRESS


Art is what you can get away with. This quote by American artist Andy Warhol resonates with the essence of the documentary film, “Art for Social Change,” which premiered at a local hotel on Friday.

The film documents the experiences of 14 Pakistani artists on an exchange programme to the US.

The participants represent a larger group of emerging artists whose work appeared in the “Pakistani Voices” exhibit at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC recently. While in the US, the participants collaborated with US art activists, engaged in community art projects and explored ways to use their art to promote key social issues in their communities.

“We were on the move all the time as we went to museums and conferences and met artists and musicians. The main focus of the trip was on how an artist is also an activist and how change can be brought through art,” said Sehr Jalil, a participant of the exchange programme.

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Seeing the works of artists such as Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg was a dream come true for Jalil, who said she had never imagined seeing the acclaimed art pieces in real life.

Jalil, an alumnus of the National College of the Arts, Lahore, where she is also pursuing an MA, said that unlike the US, there is a gap between art and society in Pakistan. The exchange programme, she added, had instilled in her a stronger sense of self-confidence and motivation to conduct creative workshops in her community.

At the event, two of her art pieces in mix media documented her journey to Washington DC and New York. She explained that the pieces dealt with the ideas of utopia and time travel, a struggle for a better world.

Meanwhile, Aneela Khurshid, another participant of the exchange programme, lingered near a large canvas with pieces of shattered glass suspended on it. “My concept is the distorted illusion of reality. Anyone who stands in front of it will see not a perfect reflection, but a fragmented image,” she said. Khurshid, who has worked with victimised women, aims to sensitise her audience to the frustrations of the neglected segments of society.

A venture of Morango Films, the documentary has been directed by Madeeha Raza. “This is my first project on such a large scale and it has been a learning experience of sorts,” said Raza, as she reminisced filming in subzero temperatures. Peter Brennan, the embassy’s minister counsellor for public affairs, said that art is not a static, inanimate object but a medium of communication, adding that the exchange programme encouraged the artists to express themselves and promote a culture of critical thinking.

“Not only did the artists have the chance to learn about arts and culture in the US, they also met with local counterparts and learnt how to transform an idea for social change into a community art project,” explained Assistant Cultural Affairs Attaché Jen McAndrew. “We hope this exchange will impart artists the tools to use their art and make a positive impact in their communities back in Pakistan.”

Jamal Shah, chairman of Hunerkada College of Visual and Performing Arts, who was a part of the tour, also features in the film. He talks about the strength of art in combating the menace of violence and extremism in an intolerant society.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2014.


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