Friday, October 22, 2004

figure: the popular and the political in pakistan

Figure: the popular and the political in Pakistan
by Farida Batool

Published by
ASR: Lahore, 2004

Figure: the popular and the political in Pakistan deconstructs the common belief that figurative representation is forbidden in Islam. The book posits that this belief, tinged as it is with religious emotions, was part of a systematic process of theocratic indoctrination which helped the military establish its legitimacy in Pakistan. The book argues that the blasphemous implications associated with the representation of the figure are a contemporary socio-political phenomenon. The puritanical orthodox movement in the subcontinent resisted imperialism with an attempt to establish difference from the Other i.e. the British as the imperialists and the Hindus as the religious Others. This puritanical belief system, complicates the cultural identity of Pakistan when analyzed against the continuation of the presence of figurative forms in the shrines and religious posters within popular cultural practices of Lahore.
This book further explores the trajectory of the figure in relation to folk-urban male cinema-board painters and trained artists (male and female). The representation of the figure, especially the female as a sensual object of desire in a puritanical society where no significant reaction has been recorded by zealots, indicates the low status given to cinema board imagery. In contrast to the popular cinema hoardings, the artists were targeted and patronized to conform to the prescribed Islamic cultural identity of Pakistan. While the cinema artists painted the figure to cater to Pakistani male fantasies, the trained artists employed the figure to subvert the authority of the State.
The book, then, moves on to analyze the traditional dance form, giddha, in which women express their body and sexuality. By mimicking male sexuality through the use of the duppatta, the giddha dancers unconsciously subvert male authority. An informed critique of the nationalist discourse is employed here to understand the position of women and its representation in the cultural formation of Pakistan. In its concluding chapter, the book links together all these case studies and extends the question of cultural identity and its construction in Pakistani society.
The dance, with images of the shrines, streets, and cinema-board paintings in Lahore, Pakistan, make up the primary data for analysis. By looking at Islamic injunctions, the Quran, colonial history and postcolonial theory, gender discourse and binaries of high/low, public/private, the book analyzes the dichotomy present in this society and critiques the ideology that prohibits figurative representation while it is being celebrated by the people.

farida batool

Farida Batool, a graduate of the National College of Art, is a painter, sculptor and photographer. As a Senior Asian Artist Scholar, Batool conducted research on the representations of the figure in contemporary Pakistani culture which has earned her a Masters from the University of New South Wales, Australia. At present, she is an Assistant Professor at the School of Visual Arts, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore.