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LETTER FROM PAKISTAN

Mansoora Hassan. Washington Monument. Digital print. 2002.

Go Away Closer

Pakistani Diaspora artists are better placed to receive applause for their miniature-inspired work than those who never left home, says Quddus Mirza.

"Voluntary exile is an extraordinary self-protective thing."1
- GRAHAM SWIFT

AS FAR AS THE DISCOURSE ON ART, culture and politics today is concerned, there is probably no word as exciting as 'exile'. Exile, though, means different things in different contexts. For example, Latin American countries had the commendable custom of sending their eminent writers and poets as envoys to the capitals of the world, especially to Paris and Madrid. Chilean Pablo Neruda, Mexicans Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes as well as Cuban Alejo Carpentier all served as ambassadors for their countries. However, a number of writers from Latin America, for example, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, G. Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas and Ariel Dorfman were forced to leave their homelands in order to avoid persecution or imprisonment under various military dictatorships.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan shares certain similarities with South American nations with regard to the issue of exile. Many of our writers and intellectuals have been forced to flee Pakistan - some of them have taken asylum in the U.K., U.S.A and India to avoid being investigated, tortured or eliminated. Poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmad Faraz and Fehmida Riaz had to spend several years in other countries, since they were declared personae non gratae in their own. Even while their verses were being smuggled 'back home' and distributed and printed in magazines and anthologies, their contributions remained unacknowledged in official institutional forums.

Visual artists have been somewhat differently placed in Pakistan because visual art does not have a history of dissent here in the same way as literature does. Possibly, the only Pakistani artist to forsake his homeland for political reasons was Rashid Arshed, who left Karachi in 1975 after riots against the Ahmadiya Muslim community. The Ahmadiyas were declared 'non-Muslim' by the state and since Arshed belonged to their 'forbidden' ranks, he felt pressurised to migrate to the U.S. He returned in 2006 to Karachi to resume his role as artist and educator.

Apart from Arshed, however, there have been a few artists who left because of their religious or political beliefs. Yet, throughout its 62-year existence, many Pakistani artists have opted to live in other countries. Some have stayed for short periods of time; others have moved out for good. The formation of the Pakistani Diaspora owes much to economic factors and academic preferences. For example, a substantial number of Pakistani artists have lived in the U.K. after they completed their education. The U.S., Australia, and some parts of Europe have also become favourite destination points for our artists, many of whom desire the freedom of expression and interaction found in these places.

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