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Ahmed Ali Manganhar.
I still recall watching a scene from a Pakistani film — a woman running and dancing with a man on the beach — on a bus ride from Lahore to Islamabad during the mid-1980s. There was something uncanny about it: the lyrics weren’t about a usual exchange between two lovers; instead, it was a song about a brother’s love for his sister. Not incestuous by any chance, that particular sequence in the film refers to an important phase in the cultural and political history of Pakistan.
This was the era of Zia ul Haq, a dictatorial regime deeply concerned with the morality of the nation. Today, these may appear segments from the magic-realistic fiction of Latin America but some of the censor rules issued by the government then were painfully funny.
Surviving in a country that obsessed with the female body, and attempted to conceal it, filmmakers were faced with an existential crisis. Some solved it by labelling romantic episodes as innocent relationship between siblings. Other took refuge in violent themes. In short, art was forced to find a different, unusual and unconventional way to avoid the puritanical tyranny of the state.
Actually, cinema has always been a record of its time, not matter what subject a filmmaker chooses. Its impact on the public due to its scale, scope and inclusion of various art forms (fiction, poetry, music, dance, photography) is undeniable. Hence, the film directors discovered new ways to convey their content, often in conflict with the state’s directives.
At a time when women were subjugated in the name of ethics and honour, female actors with voluptuous bodies were dancing in Pushto films. These movies —too uncouth for the elite — illustrate the triumph of art over official narrative. Despite all objections and oppression, the makers of these moving images were able to connect with those who spent their valuable, hard-earned but meagre income to watch sexy women jumping all over the screen.
Artists are also a part of that film-watching public. For many, films provide an early exposure to female anatomy, lessons in love and sexual relationship, and belief in the power, possibility and potential of image. Heavily influenced by cinema, in their works, it’s usually Urdu or Hindi films that appear as a motif — to delineate the desires, dreams and defeats of our milieu.
Adnan Madani collected a segment of those mergers between moving and static (but not silent) images in the exhibition Art Sabka?: Pakistani Cinema Revisited. Held from Oct 14-16, 2016 at the FOMMA, DHA Art Centre Karachi, the show brought along works of individuals who are now recognised ‘stars’ in the international art world.
For many artists, films provide an early exposure to female anatomy, lessons in love and sexual relationship, and belief in the power, possibility and potential of image.
It included Rashid Rana’s ‘All Eyes Skywards During the Annual Parade’, in which he combines two kinds of spectators: those who throng occasions to boast patriotic pride and those who like Indian cinema. The crowd gathered for national day parade is comprised of tiny snapshots of Bollywood movies which are recognised as common currency in our society. The influence of cinema in every aspect of our existence is witnessed most emphatically during the flag lowering ceremony at the border between India and Pakistan in which national sentiments are expressed like choreographed steps from a movie — all accentuated by the presence of spectators who react as if sitting inside a local cinema theatre.
Iftikhar Dadi reflects upon the impact of film in shaping society at various levels in his work. Scenes from movies, which clearly concern the subtlety of interaction between two human beings, are presented not as something odd or alien but as essential part of our homes. Hence, photographing these film segments as frames from a TV set adds to their domestic significance.
Mohammad Ali Talpur comments on the connection between reality and imagined existence. In his mixed media works on paper, he creates characters from the film world interacting with ghost images: individuals represented through their silhouette or outline. Adding that what we see on celluloid is also a ghost image made real by the makers and by our desires and desperations.
The blend of desire and desperation was visible in the work of Ahmed Ali Manganhar where characters from different movies are made in hasty marks, replicating the way a still image keeps shifting on a cinema screen, as well as our link with these visuals: of sin, lust, love, longing and admiration. In his canvases, the tactile quality of paint somehow repeats the sensuous aura of the moving image.
Films in more ways than one are larger than life. These extend our perception of life and on matters of death and despair (an element that was invoked in the work of Bani Abidi dealing with the destruction of Nishat Cinema in Karachi).
This connection between life and its replication in art (cinema) is illustrated by the Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany. In the preface of his collections of short stories, Friendly Fire Aswany narrates the reaction of Egyptian viewers watching a movie for the first time. Spotting the train coming towards them in great speed, they rushed out of the hall in a panic till the owner of the cinema told them what they saw was not the train but its picture projected on a screen.
Aswany elaborates that art functions as the screen on which life is reflected, yet is so convincing, strong and persuasive that audience are often deceived by its reality.
This thin line between life and art became invisible at the exhibition in which artists did not refer to life but its reflection — to make works that are stills (or videos) which move a viewer, his world, or at least his world view.
This article was originally published on http://tns.thenews.com.pk/matter-moving-image/