The white walls of the gallery where the pieces were supposed to be displayed.—White Star
The white walls of the gallery where the pieces were supposed to be displayed.—White Star

In Fre­n­ch playwright Yas­m­ina Reza’s brilliant comedy Art, a man named Serge buys a white painting with hardly visible diagonal lines on it. It irks his friend Marc no end, and from then on begins the conflict of the play.

But on the evening of Aug 20, nothing of this sort was at work at the Canvas Art Gallery, which was supposed to hold an exhibition, Space in Time, because the guests got to see the blank white walls of the gallery for a different reason. As described by Sameera Raja, who runs Canvas, the artworks are “stuck at Lahore Customs”.

Let’s talk about the exhibition first. On Feb 21 this year, the Museum Rietberg in Switzerland organised a show Space in Time. It was a result of a meeting between Dr Jonathan Beltz of the museum and Prof Quddus Mirza of the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore.

According to a write-up provided by the gallery, “Twenty-three historic miniatures were selected — which deal with representation of space — and then 23 Pakistani artists were invited to make one work each in response.” The second part of the project, a display of the same artworks, was to be arranged at the Canvas Gallery on Aug 20.

“The works sent by the museum in Zurich on June 17 are still stuck at Lahore Customs … despite the many efforts of the shipper who produced all required documents, (and) reconfirmed that the works were not for sale and reminded those concerned that all the works which had left Lahore had been sent back,” the handout added.

If that’s the case, then it has to be said that it is a sorry state of affairs. In these troubled times, when Pakistan is faced with a number of challenges on geopolitical and economic fronts, our artist community is one that can project our side (read: true side) of the picture with a great deal of efficacy.

Our governments or those at the helm have always treated art and culture with non-seriousness. It’s time that attitude saw a shift. It will only hold us in good stead.

The participating artists whose works could not be put on view are: Adnan Ali Man­ganhar, Ahmed Javed, Donia Qaiser, Esha Sohail, Faryal Ahsan, Nizakat Ali Dipar, Maryam Baniasadi, Shamsu­ddin, Jahanzaib Ahmed, Rehman Zada, Hoor Ahmed, Onaiz Taji, Maheen Khan, Noormah Jamal, Shakila Haider, Sehrish Mustafa, Irfan Mahmood, Shahid Malik, Muzammil Khan, Wasif Afridi, Mahzeb Baloch and Nouroz Ali.


Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2019

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