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Sehwan Sharif

Women dance outside the ‘golden gate’ at the central shrine of the Sehwan Sharif festival. Around 1 million people attend the three day event that combines partying and prayer to mark the death of the Sufi mystic Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, who died 755 years ago. Photograph: Declan Walsh

Audio Slideshow here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/slideshow/page/0,,2176124,00.html

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Hanging Fire – Contemporary Art from Pakistan
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Faiza Butt
Get out of my dreams II, 2008
Ink on polyester film
H. 22 x W. 28 1/2 in. (55.9 x 72.4 cm)
Private collection, London

[T]he provocative artworks created by fifteen of the most compelling Pakistani artists in the past twenty years in Asia Society Museum’s current exhibition, Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan. Often portrayed in the west as a country continuing to struggle with political and social instability, Pakistan has a vibrant yet little-known contemporary art scene that has flourished over the past two decades. The Asia Society exhibition Hanging Fire explores this seeming contradiction.

The first major U.S. museum survey exhibition devoted to contemporary art from Pakistan, Hanging Fire examines the complex combination of influences informing contemporary artists in the country’s urban centers of Karachi and Lahore. To spotlight the current energy, vitality and range of expression in Pakistan’s contemporary art scene, Asia Society Museum is presenting a fascinating range of works, comprising installation art, video, photography, painting and sculpture. A number of the works have never been exhibited, including a large-scale site-specific painting by artist Imran Qureshi. Hanging Fire is curated by Salima Hashmi, one of the most influential and well-respected writers and curators in Pakistan.

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The Women’s Crusade

women_pakistan

Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.

One place to observe this alchemy of gender is in the muddy back alleys of Pakistan. In a slum outside the grand old city of Lahore, a woman named Saima Muhammad used to dissolve into tears every evening. A round-faced woman with thick black hair tucked into a head scarf, Saima had barely a rupee, and her deadbeat husband was unemployed and not particularly employable. He was frustrated and angry, and he coped by beating Saima each afternoon. Their house was falling apart, and Saima had to send her young daughter to live with an aunt, because there wasn’t enough food to go around.

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(Hat tip: D.P. =)

The Real News From Pakistan

Ten years ago Pakistan had one television channel. Today it has over 100. Together they have begun to open up a country long shrouded by political, moral and religious censorship—taking on the government, breaking social taboos and, most recently, pushing a new national consensus against the Taliban. One channel in particular, Geo TV, has won a reputation for controversy more akin to America’s Fox News than CNN or Sky News. Some Pakistanis see it and its competitors as a force for progress; others as a creator of anarchy and disorder. Certainly, the channels now wield huge political influence in a country where half the population is illiterate. But their effect is now felt beyond Pakistan’s borders too—revealing an underappreciated face of globalisation, in which access to television news means that immigrant communities, and in particular Britain’s 0.7m Pakistanis, often follow events in their country of origin more closely than those of the country where they actually live.

I went to Islamabad this April to learn about what many Pakistanis call their “media revolution.” The previous month, during a spate of anti-government protests, Geo TV had again demonstrated its influence by using its popular news programmes to support a “long-march” by opposition groups on the capital Islamabad, and even hosting a celebratory rock concert on the city’s streets when the government caved in to demands to reinstate the country’s most prominent judge.

I had chosen a tense time to visit. On my first day a man loyal to the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud walked into an army camp two blocks from where I was staying and blew himself up, killing eight soldiers. That same day news channels first aired a grainy video of a Taliban punishment beating in the Swat valley on the northwest frontier. A girl had been accused of infidelity and in the clip she was pinned face down by two men in a dusty village square while a third beat her with a stick. It topped the news for days, causing controversy for its brutality and for exposing the reality behind a “peace deal” to hand Swat over to the Taliban.

The video marked the start of an important new phase in Pakistan’s internal battles, with the army launching a bloody offensive to retake Swat in May, and a further push against the Taliban’s mountainous strongholds during July. Pakistanis have often felt sympathy for the Taliban, seeing their struggle as an understandable reaction to America’s military presence. This view began to change as militants launched more frequent bombings in major cities. But media coverage of Taliban brutality—beheadings, murders and most gruesomely the exhumation of a corpse to be hung in a public square—swayed opinion further. At the beginning of June one story in particular captured the country’s attention: a young army captain, killed on his birthday in a battle with Taliban fighters in Swat. The night before he had written to his father, worrying that he might die, but asking his family to be proud of him and his country. Pictures of his distraught mother ran for days, further pushing anti-Taliban opinion with far-reaching implications in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. And behind this shift lies a new power in Pakistan’s normally rigid hierarchy, which now rivals the ability of politicians, generals, spies and mullahs to shape events: the media itself.

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Geo TV is hard to place on the political spectrum and it has many exotic allies. There is, for example, a popular political rock band in Pakistan called Laal (meaning red in Urdu) which has been given plenty of airtime by the channel. The band’s lead guitarist, Taimur Rahman, is a young Marxist-Leninist academic who is finishing a PhD in London. I met him recently at a greasy spoon café close to his academic home at London’s SOAS. He wore a peaked Che Guevara-style cap with a red hammer and sickle badge over his dark, floppy fringe. In conversation, he enthused about music and politics, cracking more jokes than one might expect from a central committee member of his country’s Communist Workers and Peasants party. Rahman told me how Laal’s singer Shahram Azhar (also finishing a PhD at Oxford) was once his student in Pakistan, where both worked as community organisers. The band was a hobby, he said, although the rallies they organised also helped to build a repertoire of songs. Rahman says audiences were especially enthusiastic when they first began borrowing words from a previous generation of leftist Urdu poets, notably Habib Jalib. Both eventually moved to Britain to study, becoming involved in British protests against Musharraf. The band helped to organise protests outside Downing Street, and celebrated when the dictator finally resigned in November 2008. This might well have been the limit of their political involvement were it not for a chance meeting with Pakistani film director, Taimur Khan. At a party in London he heard the band play a song based on Habib Jalib’s poem Main Nay Kaha (“I said”). Originally a swipe at postwar Pakistani authoritarianism, its lyrics resonated with many Pakistanis’ despair at their country’s intractable divisions. Khan says he “knew immediately it was a hit. The lyrics were so timely, they represented the state of the country so simply in one song.”

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Habib Jalib – Mainay Uss Say Yeh Kaha – Laal

Michael Jackson is in all of us

Huma Yusuf in Dawn, Blog (Pakistan):

One of my best friends and I first started talking because of Michael Jackson. It was 1991, and satellite dishes were creeping into Pakistan. Weeks after my family splurged on a dish, the iconic music video of ‘Black or White’ hit the airwaves – one viewing of that, and we knew the cash doled out for the dish had been worth it. Our worlds – and minds – had been blown open, and nothing was ever going to be the same.

My father stationed himself in front of the television for nights on end, glued to Channel V, eagerly anticipating another screening of the world-turning, people-morphing, dance-inspiring video. For months, I was summoned out of bed, out of the shower, away from the dinner table, and even off the toilet to watch the last 30 seconds of a video that used special effects to defy bodies, space and race. It got to a point where I started wondering that my family was a bit weird, a tad too obsessed with the cinematic draw of Jackson and his video. And then my classmate, let’s call her Z, admitted to staying up nights in the hope of catching another screening of the video.

For weeks, Z and I analysed each and every frame of that video, the lyrics of the song, the poignant casting of Macaulay Culkin in the rap sequence (hey, it was 1991!), and more. We’re still firm friends. But even better, I realised that my understanding of the World Out There, friendship, family, music, dance, desire and film has forever been shaped by Michael Jackson.

Of course, Jackson had permeated my world years before the satellite dish came to rest on my roof. His music was everywhere in the 1980s, and after finding a pirated copy of the complete version of the ‘Thriller’ video on VHS, my elder brother ensured that my nightmares were populated with yellow eyes, animated corpses and jerky arm movements for many months. No doubt, the King of Pop as artist and celebrity was a familiar figure. But it took me a little longer to figure out that Michael Jackson as cultural phenomenon has always been a part of my everyday life.

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Pakistan Jackson World Reax

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Photo source: All Things Pakistan