Pakistan may have been left behind by the rest of the world as far as art is concerned, but there is still plenty of time to tap into the immense potential the country holds so we can initiate an artistic revolution.
The failings of Pakistani art, more often than not, have less to do with the artists themselves and more to do with everybody around them. Young boys and girls who express interest in the arts are quickly pushed away from the realm and instead encouraged to focus on the sciences, thereby often erasing any potential for future world-changing art.
This is, however, rooted in an unfortunate practicality – the undeniable reality that an artist has poor financial prospects in Pakistan. While many artists pursue art for art’s sake, it simply becomes monetarily unfeasible if they have families at home counting on a monthly paycheck. If good art is to be made in the country, this hurdle needs to be tackled.
The first step lies at an individual level. Local artists should be supported and encouraged, yes, but equally important is financial encouragement. Prioritize the consumption of local art legally. There’s no need to wait for it to become validated, for instance, until it wins an international award. If one’s friend or acquaintance writes a book, instead of asking them for free copies, they can buy them and encourage their own circle to purchase them as well. What is a small amount for the consumer is priceless to the artist; it is what they need to continue being able to do what they love.
The second – equally if not more important – step lies at the larger societal level. A month ago, actor and comedian Natalia Gul accused the CEO of a company she had worked at of not paying the entire crew of a sitcom their salaries – a full year after the sitcom had ended. Gul emphasized that this was not an isolated incident, and rightly argued that this corruption at the corporate level is what disincentivizes artists from actually working and producing quality art. The public needs to hold such corrupt officials accountable. They need to keep an ear out for the voices of oppressed artists and speak up on their behalf against the rich and powerful oppressors whenever there is injustice.
Another important but slightly controversial step is the need to relax censorship. While perhaps there are certain cases in which art censorship can arguably be justified, the state unfortunately takes these steps to an absurdly high level. At the Karachi Biennale in October last year, Adeela Suleman’s exhibit ‘The Killing Fields of Karachi’ sparked controversy when it was censored by the state because it spoke up on extrajudicial killings. Supporters of the censorship told artists to stay out of politics, but forgot that art is not created in a vacuum; it always reflects the society it was built in.
Both corruption as well as harsh and unnecessary censorship must be opposed and it is only if enough people speak up against it that the state will have to compromise. If such steps are taken, perhaps we will someday get to see a Pakistani film win Best Picture at the Oscars or a local book win the Nobel Prize in Literature.