From War came Art

By Sonya Rehman

I realize this has been said/written about before, but the ‘war on terror’ (and what followed, till date) has made Pakistan an intriguing, exciting country for foreigners to understand and discover. Fashion shows, literature festivals, theatre festivals and cultural exchange programs are being initiated, planned, rolled out and hosted regularly. Think about it.

Art and culture is back on the scene in Pakistan. It’s strange though. From war came art. From terror and death came music. From pain and confusion came patriotism, a search for identity. It was an organic process wasn’t it? I suddenly started seeing little drones and babies in miniature paintings made by local artists, truck art inspired footwear and accessories at boutiques and fashion events, books being churned out by young journalists from my generation on love/Pakistan/war – the search for meaning, the search for identity.

A painting by Sana Arjumand (an incredible Pakistani artist)
A painting by Sana Arjumand (an incredible Pakistani artist)

Media houses who send their foreign correspondents (who are evolved, just journalists, who have half a brain) have begun reporting about the ‘other side’ of Pakistan – the human element. The people. The struggle. The decency. The grace of living in a country like Pakistan. The little things. The joys. A face for what it means to be underprivileged. A face for orthodox Islam and its human elements. A face for urban, upper middle Pakistanis and its human elements (the pseudo-ness, the privilege, the lack of direction). A face for young Pakistani girls (and sometimes their supportive parents) who defy the odds to scale mountains, become world-class athletes, educationists, etc. Our shining stars. Our heroes.

Culture. Art. And that wide, gaping hole that must be understood — identity. Kaun hay hum? Who are we? Where do we go from here? In times of strife and turmoil, culture makes a much-needed intervention. We retreat back to the collective Pakistani ‘self.’ I have begun to understand now that the reason why the privileged decide to stay on in Pakistan, rather than jumping ship, is because first world charms soon wear off. Why? Because there’s nothing left to fight for. The fight becomes an individual fight, restricted to one’s immediate circle. In the third world there exists a joint suffering, and therefore there is unity within the suffering. The pain is collective. The joys are shared. Every triumph, every heartbreak – it is shared in Pakistan. And that’s what makes it real. That’s what gives one purpose. So imperative.
Therefore we go to these very festivals, events, to re-connect with culture. We write books. We write articles. We speak our mind. We give a new painting/song a socio-political spin. Are we lingering back to the core of Pakistaniat and identity? The war brought it on. But it’s strange, that it took an outside intrigue in ‘us’ to lead to our present day intrigue with ourselves – borrowed awe, borrowed acceptance. It took an outsider to make her realize how beautiful and contradictory she really was. Could she not see, recognize it all along? She does now. She truly does.

Paperazzi, Pakistan Today



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