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Statement on behalf of Concerned Citizens of Pakistan | Shanaakht Festival

Sign the petition condemning the violence at the against the violence at the Shanaakht Festival

shanaakht festivalThis great city of Karachi was the venue of the 2nd Shanaakht Festival held at the Arts Council, Karachi. Over 1000 exhibits of Art were received and featured at this Festival and it was open to the general public. On the first day [i.e. 8-4-2009] of the 2nd Shanaakht Festival, a small group of individuals entered the Arts Council, Karachi, disrupted the Festival and vandalized the exhibition at the Festival. The disruption and vandalism of the Exhibition was done on the ground that one of the exhibits was objectionable and disrespectful of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. It is important to note that these people never approached the organizers to launch a complaint or for the removal of the exhibit that they found objectionable. It is also been reported in the ‘The News’ on 10-4-2009 that a F.I.R. has also been initiated against the organizer of the Festival and artist of the objectionable exhibit.

Without defending the said exhibit of art and without deliberating on the issue as to whether the exhibit of art was objectionable and disrespectful or not, we respect the point of view of all persons who found the exhibit objectionable and disrespectable and we sympathize with them for their emotional distress. We also respect the right of all persons to peacefully protest and criticize any exhibit or piece of art which they deem objectionable. What we are concerned and disturbed about are the actions of some people, whatsoever the grounds maybe, who disrupted and vandalized the exhibition and endangered the life and security of the citizens present. What we are further perturbed about is the use of the criminal law against persons who have a different point of view.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan People’s Party have waged a historic struggle for tolerance and freedom of expression, which includes the freedom of artistic expression, in this country. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto gave her life for these principles. Surely, it is our expectation from a democratic government of the PPP that the freedom of artistic expression will be upheld and protected by this government and any act of vandalism or suppression of this freedom will not be condoned by this government.

We, as concerned citizens, will resist any attempt to suppress our freedom of expression by acts of vandalism and violence and by malafide initiation of criminal cases to suppress the voices of dissent.

We demand that the government should hold an inquiry into the acts of vandalism and violence on April 8th, 2009, at the arts council, Karachi, and we urge the government to protect the life and liberty of the persons against whom a malafide criminal case has been initiated.


10 Comments

  • blog |

    Isn't the word shaheed over used in this post ? like it would be some kind of blasphemy if it is missed once ?

  • Rashid Rupani |

    Who will be punished PPP Workers. Dream Big! but don't forget this is Pakistan.

  • Sohail |

    Hey , Dr. Awab do u eat PPP/mosquito repellent for breakfast , dineer and lunch . Be sensible. I am not a supporter of PPP and (read brainless Jiyala). But , the photo in question crossed the boundary of appropriateness . Come on who wants to see a photo of a grown respected woman sitting in some ones lap.

    If it had been nawaz sharif sitting in his lap or shujaat sitting in mushies lap I wouldn't have a problem or even if benazir was waving with zia holding a ppp flag , I wouldn't have a problem with it but this photo is inappropriate and should have been removed.

    • Aiesh |

      Inappropriateness of photo doesn't mean one should start vandalizing the place. One can file a complaint or just show objection.

  • amra ali |

    these are open questions, that might be very relevant as a result of this incident: Can we disregard the cultural context when we speak of the freedom of expression

    ? We are afterall living in an atmosphere of intolerance, intimidation and feudal lords (meaning our leaders). Knowing that, what were the artist's and the organizers' intentions and expectations? Is there such a thing as curatorial responsiblity and what are the limits in our society?Are there alternate ways of approaching the subject, keeping in mind the natural response to something like this? Can you communicate through art if you are speaking a different langauge? Is this about a disconnect of 'art' to the public. Perhaps the same work shown in an art gallery would have gone unnoticed?

  • Fayyaz Mahmood |

    While I strongly condemn violent behavior by PPP Jiyalas, which is something that is becoming a national trait, I also think that Art is not a license to, ridicule or malign respectable people. In this case, the artist also manifested violence in his mind.

  • amra ali |

    That Art cannot redicule is part of a larger question: what is the role of art in our society. How come words can express the same but not pictures??There are two sides of this debate as I see it. What is disturbing, though, is that if the organizers beleived in freedom of expression, why didnt they have courage to stand up against the vandalism. Apologies do not strengthen a cause abd it takes guts, cmmittment and courage to stand for a cause. Journalists have done it, so why not artists? Another thing which is the most ironic and pathetic part of it is that the artist Nilofer Akmut went quiet. She was in Pakistan when this happened, though not in Karachi, but apparently sent a message to be left out of this! Here's to the disconnect between art and society. How can art play a significant role in society if it does not connect to society? This is a tyoical example of an expat or 'diasporic' artist (she lives in London), bashing Pakistan, and getting mileage out of it outside Pakistan. I would have had some respect for her if she had come out in the open and defended her art. Also, since I do condemn the vandalism, I was dissapointed to see just 15 people from the entire art community showed up at the press conference to protest. Artists, galleryists and educators were divided on this and most of them did condemn the art piece, and therefore did not come to support it. This sets a dangerous precident and next time any artist raises their voice in a public space, they know they will be alone to defend it. If the artist community was enraged by the Art, why didnt they call for an open explanation by the artist??In either case, it is a spineless group of individuals who would rather not connect to whats happening within their own environment, becasue there is no ownership involved here. What does that say about the role of art in Pakistan?

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