36 cm X 36 cm
acrylic on canvas

My article in the Times of India's Crest mag (Nov 28, 2009)

Interview in Young Asia TV...

107 cm X 76 cm
Acrylic on canvas

(A report in Sri Lanka's DAILY MIRROR)

By Shabnam Farook

Abandon eight artists in a breathtaking location for four whole days, give them the freedom to draw inspiration from their surroundings and allow them do what they do best. Your guess is as good as mine - the results were magical and that was just what the organizers intended when the very first ArtEast Art Camp got underway at picturesque Jet Wing Vil Uyana recently.

ArtEast, founded by Mr. Karthik Menon (art enthusiast), is focused on promoting the development of varied art forms in Asian countries. As a first and inaugural event of ArtEast, "The Dialogue and Prelude", an interactive art workshop and tour was held in Sri Lanka from 26th of October to 1st of November for which five artists of repute from India and three well known artists from Sri Lanka participated. These artists who hail from diverse backgrounds worked together in a common platform with the intention of creating an opportunity of socio-cultural exchange among artists and art enthusiasts.

During the art camp, the artists were only too glad to share their experience in terms of their culture, thoughts, process, markets, audience, teaching and many more. The casual interaction was useful to see one another's cultures, styles and countries through their counterpart's eyes.

Prabhakar Kotle, who specializes in paintings was thrilled by his first visit to Sri Lanka and found the location inspirational. "It was like being at home," he smiled. Prabhakar, was excited by the idea of an art camp and pointed out "It is important to organize art camps like these which fuel dialogue and casual interaction between artists from different countries. There needs to be more co-operation among Asian countries in developing Asian art. It's time for Asian art to receive its independence. We should not be overwhelmed by western thinking, it’s time to look inwards for inspiration."

Dhiraj Singh an abstract artist from India, expressing his views added "During the art camp there were lots of ideas flowing. There was an informal exchange of ideas morning, noon and night, even during breakfast, lunch and dinner." For him, the art camp was an important event that succeeded in breaking down barriers and changing the artists’ attitudes...

Read full article here!

[120 cm X 80 cm (each), acrylic on canvas]
My works at the camp

(Another one in Sri Lanka's SUNDAY TIMES)

ArtEast, a workshop held in Sri Lanka opens up creative dialogue between Indian and local artists

By Megara Tegal

The treasure trove of distinctive art and architecture that is the Sri Lankan aesthetic heritage is yet to be unearthed and brought to the eyes of the world. This is the view of some Indian artists who were in Sri Lanka for a six-day workshop titled ‘ArtEast’ held at Vil Uyana recently to promote art between the two countries.

“The objective of ArtEast is to promote development of art forms in Asian countries. As part of the initiative we build relationship with artist communities through different interactive mechanisms. We have been meeting artists individually in Asian countries during our previous travels. However, the objective of this art camp is to meet them collectively and understand them by facilitating an interaction between artists from two countries,” says Saravanan Kandas, the main force behind ArtEast.

Sahar Zaman, a CNN IBN art journalist, who was covering the workshop for the art show she hosts, said, she thought the idea of the camp was great because she believes a lot of interaction should happen between artists in India and Sri Lanka. “It’s funny how close we are geographically and how close our culture, heritage and history are. But there’s somehow not so much interaction between our countries.”

“I don’t know what’s stopping that, it could have been the war that kept artists away, but I see a lot of promise and a lot of hope in this project and hopefully these events will set the ball rolling in spreading the word. When the news spreads about this artist camp organisers are going to follow suit and come here to Sri Lanka because it’s a place and a relationship that artists need to explore much more than we have,” said Sahar.

Other artists who participated in the workshop echoed Sahar’s sentiments about the connection between Indian and Sri Lankan art. Indian journalist cum contemporary artist, Dhiraj Singh, says “We are from the same cultural ethos. Art being a product of that ethos it’s inevitable that there are similarities. I see this (workshop) as a great platform for artists in India to reach out to Sri Lankan artists.”

Full article's here

This wonderful show was put up by our friend, Ellis D. Fogg (a.k.a. Roger Foley), who's been described by the Australian National Film and Sound Archive as the country's "most innovative lighting designer and lumino kinetic sculptor". Roger had been for some time playing with the idea of using his psychedelic, 1960s-inspired 'light works' in a uniquely Indian situation. Sahar provided the opportunity when she asked him to shoot a special Diwali story for her channel. The idea was to give Diwali a new twist and also make some kids at the Sai Kripa home in Delhi very happy.
In the video they can be seen having a blast on a specially designed 'light stage'.
Roger's works can be seen here...


Though late by four decades, the subcontinent at the turn of the century has had it real good for Pop Art. It has been a time when recognition has finally come knocking down doors and glass ceilings that separated the street from the high-brow. Anything and everything can now be ‘artified’. A big part of this new openness is the IT boom and the unprecedented shrinkage it had caused to the world. A lot that was earlier considered un-doable is now possible. An image, for example, can be magnified 1000-fold and printed on to any surface. Art is slowly moving from the realm of visibility into that of thought. And it is within this realm of thought that a great creative convergence is taking place.

In India we had had a somewhat early start in the ’90s with shows of ‘calendar art’, installations inspired by kitschy juice stalls and with Bollywood making its presence felt in the works of serious artists. The new century has been seeing an expansion of ideas about art. Purists are beginning to see the avant-gardist’s desire to break free from the shackles of medium and message. Notions about art and authorship, originality and function, concept and technique are being questioned and the art of the soil is getting its place under the sun.

For most people anywhere in the world Pakistani trucks are like creatures of myth and legend. They may exist somewhere in the past (or future) but there’s just no scientific reason why they should at all. No one even knows exactly where they started to be like this. Or who was the first guy who painted his truck like that. Among the many versions I was to hear in Pakistan the one that sticks is that they are actually carts of long ago. They have over time developed steering wheels and acquired an engine. But essentially, they are carts that once pulled along the ancient Silk Route like herds of fiercely-coloured but harmless dinosaurs. Looking at them this way laid to rest a lot of speculation in my mind about their origins.

‘Truck Art’ as this growing movement is increasingly being referred to is actually an organic, indigenous Pop Art movement. A movement that is defined by its colours: shocking pinks, blinding yellows, fluorescent greens and iridescent blues. It is traffic- stopping stuff. Almost as if the painters have sponged up all colour from their surroundings, distilled it to a point of severe concentration and then used it on their vehicles. The resulting art is ‘folkish’ both in the repetition of its motifs and its acceptance of orthodoxy (its own), yet it sits very confidently at places usually given to showing all that’s considered high brow.

In other parts of the world communities that base their livelihoods on the movement of cargo don’t any more have the time to devote to decorating their vehicles. They have taken to easy-to-keep trucks with factory-made bodies. It’s not only cheaper and low-maintenance it also doesn’t attract too much attention. A big part of the trucker’s life is spent on the road where he’s only a number on the numberplate. He is after all a solitary creature. Although, he likes topping the road’s food-chain, he doesn’t like to make a big show of it. In fact he likes to blend in as much as possible. The fact that he is hidden from other ‘lesser’ vehicles is to him a very reassuring thought. He may be the king of the road but he doesn’t like to brag.
But the Pakistani trucker is a different kettle of fish. He is a man who loves his truck, deeply. To him it is not a ‘beast of burden’ but a piece of art that needs to be shown off. And admired.

Like any growing economy trucks are also Pakistan’s lifeline. They transport food, fuel, cattle and other essential commodities to and from different corners of the country. They are sometimes associated with illicit trade and weapons smuggling too. But it’s not just the inside that’s important in the life of a truck. Its outside too becomes a significant carrier… of ideas. Of messages that are subliminal as well as loud, messages that run on wheels from their point of origin to some other remote address somewhere. They are like art galleries carrying with them the works of many artists, telling many tales, many narratives: from the owner’s provenance to his sporting heroes to what he feels about his country’s missile programme, just about anything finds expression here.

On the long and strapping Motorway connecting Lahore and Peshawar they also provide visual relief in an otherwise minimalist horizon of asphalt, earth and sky. Watching them whiz past you, you’re zapped back to the days of the Silk Route, when caravans made up most of the traffic in these parts. Camels and some elephants in carved wood caparisons sometimes covered with sheets of beaten gold and silver, studded with beads and mirror-work and overhangs of patterned jute and cotton weaves. Others loaded with silks, jewels and spices trudged these paths leaving behind them a buzz of aromas and a Babel of sounds. The trucks of today don’t make that sort of a lingering spectacle, because they have speed on their side. But what they lose out to speed they make up with size, as they cover the length and breadth of the country dissolving differences, tying it up together as only ideas can. This image of a truck in fact connects directly to the ‘bioscope man’ who was a regular at village fairs. How with his double-drum (dumroo) he announced the highlights of the magic contained inside his painted box. The truck in Pakistan becomes an inverted analogue of the bioscope: coloured and 'imagified' (unlike the bioscope) on the outside as they travel and connect people through the use of visuals.

Where similarities abound between most things in India and Pakistan, there is strangely no equivalent of the Pakistani truck in India. Trucks in India are treated merely as carriers of goods at best and at worst, traffic-devouring monsters. Visually too they aren’t the best-looking sights you’d see driving on Indian highways. Most truck decoration in India consists of a few brush-strokes of mandatory information: National Permit/State Permit, OK Tata, Horn Please and stuff like that. Sometimes it also includes caveats against the evil eye, the most common of which is, ‘Buri nazar wale, tera mu kala!’ (Shame on you, evil eyed one!). Besides this, there is some glittery jhalar, some cloth hair (paranda) and some birds in flight indicating the nature of the truck’s long journey. Apart from this there is little that speaks of feelings of ownership and pride that trucks in Pakistan evoke.

Pakistani trucks are like brides, dressed from head to toe in the finest of silks and choicest handmade kundan. They also remain, in a sense, frozen in time… in a state of prenuptial decoration. A state that never lets the grime of the kitchen or the dust of the fields settle on itself. Never goes through the rigours of child-birth. These truck-brides never turn into housewives, mothers, widows and ageing matriarchs. This curious state of perpetual bridehood is what makes them so unique.

It speaks of a deeper infatuation with the prenuptial bride, a nubile virgin who though ready for the rites of marriage is still waiting for true love to rescue her. In her dressy allure she is very much the cynosure of all eyes yet she has her eyes set on the distant horizon, waiting for her true love to emerge from it. Love and longing have for too long enraptured the subcontinental imagination. Every age, every era has had its own doomed love story. From the complicated romance of Radha and Krishna to the Heer-Ranjha tragedy and the Devdas debacle, there has been no shortage of tales of longing and separation. The truck painters have sort of internalised this cruel fate. And so they heap upon the truck their talent, their sweat and long hours, creating a spiritual facsimile of the Taj Mahal or the ultimate expression of love.

Much of the imagery that decorates the outer body comes from a sense of virginal romance. A sense fed on the legends of Heer-Ranjha and Laila-Majnun. The imagery becomes both a celebration of and a cautionary tale against such a doomed romance. In fact the lines between the two functions are often so blurred that it becomes imperative for the painter to show this through an obsessive detailing that covers every possible space of the truck’s body with symbols of union such as flowers, eyes, birds of paradise and fruit.

Not surprisingly, truck art becomes an advertisement for a semiotic paradox, rooted as it is in a deeper well of subcontinental prejudice where the wife evokes feelings of ownership and familiarity in contrast to the mystery and allure of a bride. It’s not rare for drivers to show-off their truck-brides, especially to camera-carrying foreigners. Doors are swung open, hatches unbolted and poses struck to show interested onlookers the love and pride a driver feels for his bride. ‘Please see inside… this is Pakistan tradition,’ invitations such are these are commonplace as even the busiest driver or his cleaner will put aside other business to devote himself completely to the more important task of getting clicked with his bride.

But I think the connection runs deeper. The bride in her mystery also begins to take on the nature and persona of a mother. One of his mother’s greatest allure in the mind of the Greek hero Oedipus was his sense of ownership of her. In his mind his mother belonged to no one but himself and this right his father could only challenge with the threat of mortal combat. Where in most cultures it’s considered natural for a man to refer to his favourite ride by a feminine name or pronoun, such identification in the context of the truck-bride takes on a world of textures and meanings. Especially, when ‘she’ begins to resemble a Greek tragedienne. Or she becomes, in the imagination of the driver-son, a complex creature of myth. One that is always young and beautiful and in her allure and beauty belongs to no one. Not even the driver-son, who labours daily to keep her looking like a million bucks. He spends hours of his time and loads of his earnings making sure that his truck-bride looks her pre-nuptial best. And yet in his deepest heart he isn’t sure whether he’s won her affections and for how long.

So what are his rewards for this kind of unceasing adulation and heroine-worship? In exchange of this he gets to possess her, remain eternally in utero, womb-bound, because it’s the only place where he feels safest even when crossing the most dangerous stretches of his journey. He recognises that the womb is his ultimate sanctum where no one can reach him, no one can intrude. From this place he can, give or take a few minor hitches, feel truly like god, unseen yet in total control.

The truck-bride’s ‘cockpit’ is not only the hub for various machine functions it also becomes the truck’s creative pabulum, from which emerges much colour and art. And the son-driver inside this cockpit-womb becomes the eternal foetus giving rise to a slew of outward (hormonal) changes to the person of the mother-truck. By possessing the womb the driver gets to direct a lot of the truck-bride’s affairs. Things like her outward adornment, the parts of her body that need alteration, rework and refitting. All this he directs and manages from the cocoon of the cockpit.

The womb is also a veritable shrine, a sacralised space containing all that is not of this world. It’s the seat of the powers that need to be propitiated for the relationship to grow and flourish without any hiccups. Like an invisible umbilicus, framed pictures of the Ka’aba, verses from the Quran and different names of Allah take up the space above the windscreen. It is almost as if this metaphorical bride-son relationship is claiming divine sanction.

One reason for the successful perpetuation of this paradox, where purity and incest go hand in hand, is the space that sainted motherhood occupies in the subcontinental imagination. The mother figure is the ultimate centre of everything. Everything emerges from her and finally goes back into her. Every female form, therefore, has within it a mother. This all-encompassing feminine in fact disinfects the paradox of all incestual overtones. Instead it creates, in the minds of its bearers, a mysterious transcendence that is god.

Trucks in India too have this form of sacral space devoted to the gods. But one significant difference is the absence of art on the truck’s outer body. Some feel the difference has roots in the Islamic prohibition of making images (of man). So where the Indian trucker finds no need to give colour and form to his relationship with his ride, his Pakistani counterpart finds it impossible not to. Because for him the truck becomes a vehicle of transgression, the bearer of the impossible, the carrier of art and ideas… boldly going where no man could ever go… all by himself.

© Dhiraj Singh 2009
* Published in Art&Deal magazine (Creators of New Media; vol. 6 no. 3 issue no. 29)
Urban Shaman 1 & 2 seek to reconstruct the city as a psychological map. Or a man-made jungle of uncertainties, obsessions, mysteries, illnesses, taboos, contradictions, madnesses, possessions and some moments of lucid thinking when everything begins to make sense. The artist uses X-ray plates as a narrative device; a choice that seeks to trace the roots of the urban jungle. Much like an X-ray as it is used in its original context! The Urban Shaman is like an ‘X-ray of Intent’—a totem or an idol—that takes on an expiatory role both because of its other-worldly appearance as well as its familiarity of functions. Urban Shaman aims to be a study of an organism with prosthetics, dependencies and habits. As also of an organism in denial… of the effect his things and acquisitions have on his life and being. And whose ritualised love, fear, loathing and reverence often see him groping for answers in his ‘psychological jungle’.

At the India Art Summit 2009

My works: 'Urban Shaman 1' and 'Space Urbanarium' that are part of the Connaught Place: The Whynotplace show at Religare Arts.i Gallery

132 cm X 173 cm
acrylic on canvas

103 cm X 76 cm
acrylic on canvas

86 cm X 170 cm
acrylic on canvas

91 cm X 104 cm
acrylic on canvas

115 cm X 82 cm
acrylic on canvas

86 cm X 170 cm
acrylic on canvas

This show opened on July 1st and will go on till July 10 at Art Junction, The Lalit (hotel), New Delhi.
Manisha Koirala of Dil Se fame was there too...

81 cm X 112 cm
acrylic on canvas
The sky is black,
the stars shine silver,
the birds are sleeping in their nests.
The moon casts shadows,
wild beasts go hunting;
but people lie asleep and unaware
of the peace, the stillness,
and the beauty of the night!

I wrote this poem called 'NIGHT' for my school mag when I was in 'Class III-B'... about 7 years old... :)

The inspiration for this work lies in the rather rare 'dragon' imagery in Sufism. The dragon like the lion beccomes a fierce creature that points towards a wilful and radical change in perception and self-awareness. This fact is beautifully illustrated by practising Dervish and writer Payam Nabarz in a passage in his book, The Mysteries of Mithras. Says Nabarz: "In Sufism the dragon relates two astronomical nodes, two diametrically opposed points of intersection between the moon and the sun. Its head is the ascending node, its tail the descending node. An eclipse can only occur when both sun and moon stand at the nodes. To the (Sufi) mystic, the dragon symbolises the place of encounter between the moon and the sun within. The dragon can either devour the moon, seen symbolically as the mystic's spiritual heart, or it can serve as the place or container of conception. By entering the dragon when the sun is in the nodes, the moon or the heart conceives. Thus, in full consciousness of the perils, one must enter the dragon to await the eclipse in its cosmic womb.”

This one is inspired by the famous Sufi fable where a lion walking through the desert found a little lion cub playing with some sheep. It happened that the little lion had been reared with the sheep, and so it had never had a chance or an occasion to realize what it was. The lion was greatly surprised to see a lion cub running away and being just as afraid of a lion as sheep are. The lion jumped in among the flock of sheep and said, 'Halt, halt!' But the sheep ran away and the little lion ran, too. The lion only pursued the lion cub, not the sheep; and when it caught up with it, the lion said, 'I wish to speak to you.' The cub said, 'I tremble, I am afraid, I cannot stand before you.' The lion said, 'Why are you running about with the sheep? You, yourself, are a little lion!' 'No,' said the little one. 'I am a sheep. Let me go, let me go with the sheep.' 'Come along,' said the lion,' come with me and I will show you what you are before I let you go.' Trembling, yet helpless, the cub followed the lion to a pool of water. Pointing at their reflections in the pool, the lion said, 'Look at me and look at yourself. Do we not resemble each other closely? You are not like the sheep, you are like me!'

Our interview at Dawn News in Pakistan...

65 cm X 65 cm
acrylic, aluminium foil and enamel paint on paper

It was a good day to get lost, thought Hero, so he tugged at his leash and the leash tugged at the hand holding it. The hand dropped the leash. Hero was now free to roam the world, chasing those bright smells of freedom.

Four of my works (So Long America, Saturn Moons & Rings, Cozmos 1 and Sol Invictus) from last year (2008) are up at The Hidden Gallery (A6 Asola Homes, Behind Shanni Dham Temple, Fatehpur Beri, Delhi) till May first week.
Do try and make some time!

65 cm X 65 cm
dry pastel and acrylic on canvas

acrylic and enamel on paper
65 cm X 65 cm
an idea is obviously not matter... because it has no substance
yet it continues to occupy space and grow and expand.
an idea is like the vacuum of outer space that though brimming with activity is usually defined by negation... as an 'absence of matter'.

‘Islamabad is an hour’s drive from Pakistan.’

This local koan begins to make sense as you prepare to enter the ICT or the Islamabad Capital Territory. It is a bit like entering the First World from a Third World country by road. The check-posts, the armed guards, the four-lane highway that fits into the triangular city like a shaft in an arrowhead, everything fills you with a sense of anticipation, the kind poor immigrants might feel for a land of opportunity.

From the check-post you can see the humungous petal-like arches of the National Monument. Shining like a giant flower or a three-headed obelisk announcing your arrival. Telling you that you’ve arrived somewhere foreign… somewhere not quite Pakistan. The ICT is nothing like any other city in the country. In fact many of its proud residents compare it to ‘DC’ minus the Potomac. About an hour’s drive away, on the other end of the arrow is Rawalpindi or Pindi as it is commonly known. Pindi is what Islamabad isn’t. The real McCoy.

The capital of Pakistan is a built-from-scratch metropolis. It’s also a state of mind especially among the rich and the powerful. Almost like as a nagging feeling that they have on their hands a state that is at best a mosaic of differences and at worst, not a state at all. And the fear is not unfounded. It’s like a test-tube of oil and water where one settles on top of the other no matter how much they are shaken or stirred. Islamabad is the oil on top the water.

Power cuts in the country range anywhere between 8 hours to half a day. Near Gujranwala we’re faced with a chakka-jam or road demonstration, people burning their electricity bills. Bills that sought to overcharge them for power not delivered. Essential commodity prices are so high that even flour for the daily bread is sold in the black market. Many farmers even in the ultra-fertile Punjab province have not seen a good crop in years. The journey from Wagah to Lahore on the Samjhauta Express shows the striking contrast between the condition of farmers in the two Punjabs. Where the Indian Punjab has swank car showrooms spread across it like confetti, the other side has its enclaves of squalor.

One thing that Islamabad doesn’t lack is space. It has a green cover far exceeding its built-up area. It has landscaped gardens, awesomely laid out residential blocks, fancy markaz’s or shopping plazas, lavish bungalows many of whose owners live outside the ICT or even outside Pakistan. These are just-in-case residences and they have an ambassadorial function being as they are inside the nucleus of the nation. You need a presence in the Capital, especially if you have business interests to take care of.

“That is the government employees’ colony,” a friend points out a set of run-down high rises. These are probably the worst kept of Islamabad’s buildings. They look comfortable if not architecturally superior, like the rest of the city. The city even has digital speed monitors. So if your speedometer is non-functional you can look up to see if you’re over-speeding and subsequently get a ticket from a cop who catches up with you like lightening.

There are road signs in Urdu and English. There is also freedom to spray them with paint. One says: ‘Bye Bye Israel’, another with a pair of breasts, a less cryptic, ‘Fuck you’. For those who can read Urdu the writing on the wall is more disturbing because there are places where you can find invitations to the Taliban to take over the Federal Capital.

It is as if the members of the republic don’t any more have confidence in their government. As if there’s been a serious conspiracy to unmake Pakistan. They may routinely blame India’s RAW or the CIA but there’s enough evidence that the Pakistani elite have not held back their own contributions in screwing up their country. I think L.K. Advani must have felt it too when he spoke about Jinnah’s vision for a different sort of Pakistan than what stands today in its names. Wasn’t the country meant to be a refuge for the pure? A new and pure Holy Land extracted from the contaminated ore of Hindustan. A new Holy Land whose brave new Capital would have the singular distinction of being called Islamabad or the City of Islam.

A lot of Islam’s high ideals are based on issues of social justice and equity that outlaw anything that compromises a Muslim’s claim to a good life. That’s why canonical Islam had outlawed usury, gambling and wasteful expenditure on wine, women and song. This codification has been very essential to the Islamic worldview… ensuring that the larger congregation or ummah is safeguarded against injustice both within and without. But the problem with Pakistan doesn’t lie there. It lies rather in the way the Islamic worldview has been translated here. For a country that was formed on the assumption that the ummah couldn’t find safety and security among non-Muslims, the problem now has become a race to find ‘non-Muslims’ within the ummah, or in the Orwellian sense a race to find those ‘less equal’.

In conversations over chai cups one often comes across references to the ‘air-conditioned Begums of Islamabad’. It is not supposed to be a flattering description but alludes to all that is privileged, all that is insular. Outside, a harsh race is on. To prove whose blood boils more at the atrocities committed on the ummah by the non-Muslims, in India, in Afghanistan or in Iraq. For those who don’t have access to YouTube it’s easy to get a CD on this sort of propaganda. It’s funny how the new connectivity is being used to fight old wars.

Though generally speaking Islam’s empowerment of the individual makes every Muslim duty-bound to fulfill the five cardinal pillars of Islam, it also implies that every Muslim stand up, physically if need be, against injustice. This in itself is not a bad thing… until it begins to overwhelm the individual. Giving him the right to play judge, jury and hangman whenever he perceives a threat. And perceptions by themselves, as our long and tired history of prejudices has proved, are often not the best judge of things.

The road to the Islamabad Marriott has been cordoned off after a truck loaded with explosives killed at least 54 people and injured another 260 on September 20 last year. The truck had over 600 kg of RDX. I am there exactly a month later and of course I don’t get to see the Marriott. A former federal minister who was visiting his daughter in Islamabad remembers hearing the windows of his daughter’s house opposite the hotel explode with the impact. “I could have died if I was outside… hit by shrapnel or something,” he says.

Geographically Islamabad lies inside a horse-shoe of hills. From here Murree and Nathiagali, the country’s best known hill stations, are only a few hours drive. A lot of Pakistan’s rich have their summer houses in these hill resorts. A ship-shaped restaurant at the top of the nearby Margalla Hill provides the best view of Islamabad. From the main deck of the restaurant the ICT twinkles below like a facsimile of the night sky. It could be Rome with Faisal Mosque as its Piazza Venezia. The best thing about the journey from Islamabad to the top of Margalla Hill is the road. It looks as if it was just laid yesterday. Margalla Hill also has a national park, which perhaps has as many animals as it has Pakistan Rangers on guard duty.

“The problem with Pakistan”, as everyone from a chaiwalla to a high-serving bureaucrat will tell you “is not that we are not smart enough, or rich enough… the problem (in a low voice) is the Army”. The problem with Pakistan is at the moment a silent one. There is growing anger against a section of Pakistan that is considered inauthentic by the majority. This is the foreign-returned, English-speaking Pakistan, a minority that has in a way made a Faustian bargain with the West.

Mohammed Zeeshan grew up in rural Sindh. Growing up he was fascinated by the colour and speed of moving pictures. Born poor but full of prodigious talent Zeeshan had little choice but to become a sign painter while still in school. He was later recruited by an ustad who painted movie posters. The apprenticeship involved censoring foreign skin-flick posters with black paint. This is where Zeeshan learnt the art of subterfuge or hiding that which is unpalatable. Today his graphic nude miniatures sell abroad for lakhs of rupees. His art for the local market is more ‘covered’. But the early days taught him what no art school could. “It was an intense time of study for me… I was not yet old enough to be watching these films that played in the morning shows… I didn’t even understand the pornography in it… for me it was just an image on to which I was expected to carefully add layers of my own interpretation,” says he. Much of those early days imagery survive in Zeeshan’s art today.

But Zeeshan’s an exception. Most others like him buy into the extremist propaganda. It is easy to demonise the rich and blame them for every thing that’s not right with Pakistan. Not every kid gets to make art, use his imagination and make money. For most growing up outside the big cities art and music and poetry take on the shape of a beast. A beast that is fascinating as it is terrible. That’s also why the country is a hotbed for many underground groups and subcultures.

Karachi’s Rainbow Centre or the not-so-underground bazaar where pirated CDs of foreign films are sold is often the bull’s eye of fundamentalist fury. Shop-owners here receive regular threats from extremist groups. Ultimatums, that they burn their Bollywood and porn CDs in public. The shop-owners for their part routinely call in the media and make bonfires of CDs. CDs that aren’t necessarily the ‘evil ones’. That way everyone goes home happy.

On the other side there is anger too. Anger of the rich whose art and culture stands imperiled by the designs of ‘the mullah element’. At one fashionable soiree in Lahore, someone even provides a solution to the ‘fundoo’ problem. “Nuke the fuckers,” he says between sips of boot-legged Bordeaux. Another friend while driving me around the old city almost runs over a bearded man, “I hate these bloody mullahs,” he says.

But the problem in Pakistan isn’t just its fundoos. But a missing middleclass, a clover-leaf bridge that brings the poor on to the same highway as the rich. The tragedy however is that now it’s just too late to start building that bridge.

© Dhiraj Singh 2009

acrylic on paper
65 cm X 65 cm
The colours of the brain!

100 cm X 90 cm
acrylic on canvas

acrylic on paper
65 cm X 65 cm

acrylic on paper
65 cm X 65 cm

“It was shortly after that (26/11-Mumbai) on December 19, a motley group of artists met at Aakriti Art Gallery in Kolkata to discuss a new movement, a movement which would bring the artist community together and voice its protest against mindless terrorism. And thus was born the Art Against Terrorism concept which has now crystallized into a huge exhibition of paintings, sculpture and woodwork across eight top galleries of the city which will be held simultaneously beginning March 23 with the first show kicking off (at Aakriti) and ending April 9.”
--India Today

If you happen to be in Kolkata you can go and see this show...
it has my work.



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About Me

As an art practitioner I work in a variety of mediums, what you see here are glimpses of my many creative projects. If you like or feel strongly something here please don't forget to comment



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