When a collective of artists from North-West Pakistan decided to create a poster about war, they made sure it could be seen from high in the sky. Measuring 90×60 ft, the vinyl poster placed at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region in 2014 showed a little girl looking straight up. The idea was for the poster to be photographed by US drones, rebuking them for the death of the girl’s family in drone strikes in 2010. Called Not a Bug Splat (a term used for victims of drone strikes by the US military), this is one of the many poignant photographs that are a part of the latest edition of photography quarterly PIX. Called “Surge: The Pakistan Issue”, the edition explores the evolving relationship between art practice and documentary through the works of 14 photographers. Here are five of the most interesting works:
Having lived in Pakistan for more than 20 years, Scottish photographer Hutcheson brings a personal touch to his work, especially when he is shooting less-discussed subjects, such as sewage workers and other marginalised communities. His other concern is the issue of clean water in Pakistan. In the “Ganda Nalla” series, he introduces us to Erfan, an 18-year-old wrestler and city worker who is standing in a pool of waste water and sewage dressed only in a loincloth. “I see most of the violence in Pakistan to be a product of inequality and injustice. That is not to say there are no ideological problems, but the frustration with the status quo has led many to desperate ideologies that seek to undermine the power of the state,” says Hutcheson, a practitioner of Ruh Khitch style of photography that uses a slow traditional handmade wooden camera where each exposure takes several seconds.
Based out of London and Quetta, Asef Ali Mohammad’s The Plight of the Hazara People surveys the discrimination against the Hazara community in Pakistan. “The community is singled out because of their facial features. With my lens, I have tried to capture this story of the faces that have been disappearing since 2001. Routine activities such as shopping for fruits and vegetables or even children’s school uniforms can turn into a tragedy. Policemen doing their jobs, mourners attending funerals, people commuting across town on buses, nobody is immune from this violence which has claimed the lives of over 1556 Hazaras to date, with at least double as many injured,” says Mohammad.
Cakes and Posies
A digital photograph from the series “Stringing Together the Rose Crumbs,” is of an elderly Christian woman in sunny yellow knee-length dress watering plastic flowers in her home in Lahore, an act which the photographer, Mariam Ibraaz, equates with clinging to and nurturing false hopes. In another work titled “Marzipan Conversation”, the same woman is seen at a table laden with pastries and cakes. “At some level, at various points in life we have felt the same. The characters and metaphors in my work represent each one of us, living our lives, sharing our thoughts or just comfortable inside our own shells. They are symbolic of us all, hence they are meant to incite and provoke a subtle, quiet ‘performance’ of being,” says Lahore-based Ibraaz, as she showcases images from a region rife with bombings and attacks on churches.
In one of his pictures from the “Paradise: Swat Valley” series, Singapore-based Edwin Koo shows games such as guli-danda, instead of “Army versus Taliban”. In another image, he shows an aged autorickshaw driver who once squeezed 10 people in his three-wheeler to take them away from the conflict. “I saw, in Swat, a people trying to regain the paradise they once knew. As fate would have it, this paradise was first ravaged by man’s conflict and then by nature’s wrath. Perhaps Marcel Proust was right about the human notion of paradise — that ‘the only paradise is paradise lost’,” says Koo.
The works of Lahore’s Amber Hammad comment on her socio-cultural environment. In the series called “Glocal,” Hammad uses popular artworks and literature as an inspiration. For instance, in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Hammad presents a modern version of the American artist Grant Wood’s work, which shows a farmhouse in the background while a farmer and his spinster daughter stare at the viewer. In Hammad’s work, the pitchfork that the farmer holds in the original has been replaced by the Qur’an. The pitchfork and the holy scripture, feels the photographer, can be used both as a productive tool or a weapon. “I appropriate images from art history and add to it elements of an urban Pakistan; it is a very personal view of the world. Identity is in a perpetual formation as a result of the socio-cultural transformations around it, and this has always fascinated me. My works contextually explore identity, society and culture, as they exist and transform around me,” she says.
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