Creative Pakistan – What is the need?

Last weekend, Karachi had the chance to once again be swept away by Karachi Literature Festival, or as we more lovingly like to call it KLF. And while for the sake of this post, I would refrain from commenting about how it was yet one more year of the same old topics and the same old names any negative comments about the event. Instead I would focus on one of the only rare and extremely bearable of the more interesting session, for me, in the event.

Sherry Rehman and Jude Kelly on Can “Creative Pakistan” save “Unstable Pakistan”? Image:

Can “Creative Pakistan” undo “Unstable” Pakistan?  is a question that has been asked far too many times, so much so that now you really take a moment to consider whether the question “So what is it that you do?” really worth answering. “Oh I am a curator.. and I worked for Museums and Art Galleries before….”

“Really.. wow… must be tough. But it hardly makes sense in a country like ours? People have so much more to worry about”

And while I would love to say to such people “I tried so hard to kill this one talent that I had, but goddamnit, I am one stubborn person, who just won’t budge from wasting her time on this useless pursuit”, the most that you can really do is, give a smile and move along or get a kick from under the table from whoever is accompanying you to ensure that you don’t put yourself, but primarily them, in an awkward social moment. 

But when you put this question to two dynamite women, Sherry Rehman and Jude Kelly, you are sure to get fireworks, and a whole room bustling with people, ready to not only listen but also agree, understand, take the message back with them, and to preach it – far and wide.

As SR rightly puts it, “Culture should not be be burdened” with the task of eliminating terrorism or to bring about a change in the country, where as it is, there is “very little space for democratic transaction”, making cultural institutions and cultural movements a much needed impetus.

But unfortunately Pakistan has had the misfortune to be in a position where culture is constantly used for legitimizing the politically correct narrative of that time, and therefore to rely on culture to be the force to enforce stability is a fool’s errand. Bringing stability in the region is “someone’s else’s job and they need to do it.”

And while all this is great in terms of unloading culture, art and the artist, from the task of bringing a change, the question still remains “Why?”

It is so we can make a statement that we are not at war anymore – “we are moving forward”, as Jude Kelly very rightly pointed out. It is a statement to the anti-forces that be that we refuse to take a backseat and live in a state of war, instead we are people who are civilized and have the need and the urge to create and think, and we would be damned if we don’t create and celebrate.

Since those first handprints that appeared millenniums ago to now, it is innate to humans to leave a mark. It is in them to let the world know that they were here and they are immortal. The artist is an observer, and is probably doing the only thing that he knows how to do, the only thing that seems natural to him and what makes him unique. He is not a policy maker, neither he is a leader. The artist is not doing a crime by indulging in a pursuit that might seem too trivial to many. But consider him the social consciousness or the documenter of that society, who needs to bring the plight of the people and his own soul to the limelight.

So let him do his job, let him waste his time, but all the time, let’s take a hint from his practice as to what else needs to change in the society. Take a clue from him, and then go bug the right people about the injustices of society!

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