02 March 2016

My response to a Wall Street Journal review of a Pakistani exhibit

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Mr. Kaylan states: “The overriding question you will likely take into the Asia Society’s show of Pakistani artists is, What do they think of what’s happening to their country? How do artists address the Islamist violence in their midst—and if they don’t address it, why not? A show that so obliquely approaches these questions, as this one does, may score all manner of postmodern points by “subverting” your preconceptions, but it may not give you what you want.”

First of all, it seems to me this exhibition is seeking to make a statement about individuals from Pakistan rather than over stating the social and political problems of that country. I don’t think the “overriding” question is “What do they think of what’s happening to their country?” It’s obvious what’s happening in Pakistan. For anyone to expect every artist to overtly magnify these issues, through a form that is guided by intuition, imagination and escapism, seems lofty. If an artist seeks to make a direct statement about current events, so be it but it can’t be a criterion.

Would one expect American artists who tour the world to always postulate their feelings about the blunders we’ve incurred for 8 years with Bush? Being a Pakistani American jazz musician myself, I have in fact performed all over the world and can’t recall one time someone came to me and asked me to address political or ethical concerns about American or Pakistani issues. Most people recognize that art or music is not only meant to reflect our surroundings but take us away from them. The best art provokes and evokes thoughts and feelings that audiences may not have been aware of before viewing or hearing the art. It’s art, not journalism!

The message from the curators of Hanging Fire is to “evoke the idea of delaying judgment, particularly based on assumptions or preconceived notions.” This makes perfect sense from the standpoint of any group of people who are racially segregated and profiled. Yet Mr. Kaylan states the show was “a monumental act of denial.” He misses the idea altogether and seems to think these artist’s should take this opportunity to somehow convince a deep-rooted, art hating, religiously intolerant group, the “terrorists”, Taliban etc., to make a paradigm shift. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than artists pointing fingers.

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