By Hira Nafees Shah
Inside a cubicle a man solemnly stands on one leg while a young woman applies mud to his body. Occasionally she stops to apply the mud to herself, in a process that continued for over an hour.
What was taking place wasn’t a mud-masque spa treatment, but an art performance piece depicting how the impressions human beings form about each other affect their perceptions.
In a nearby performance space, a middle-aged man stands on a stool with a paintbrush in hand as curious on-lookers gather around. He starts to paint an eagle on the wall before him with skill acquired through many years of practice.
This combination of traditional and unconventional forms of new media art were part of an exhibition titled “We Are All Mad Here,” which was held in Islamabad from May to June. The event was curated by Fulbright alumna Natasha Jozi and revolved around the theme of women’s empowerment. Audiences were promised an experience, which Natasha and her artists delivered.
“I decided to hold this initiative because I wanted to engage different parts of the community in an art project,” Natasha said. “As a fresh alumna, I [wanted] to stay associated with the Fulbright family, as it is my first project since coming back from America.”
The Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network funded the project through a $5,000 USD Alumni Small Grant. All alumni of various U.S sponsored exchange programs in Pakistan can apply for the grant to enable them to give back to their communities.
“I feel that this is an excellent exhibition because it depicts new ideas and presents a new approach to art and thought,” said Riffat Noureen, a housewife and a visitor to the exhibition. “For example, the two students who are coloring themselves are conveying a message through it.”
“I love this exhibition because it is something that I haven’t seen before,” said Maira Tanveer, a visitor. “I felt new media is a different way of expressing thoughts which are subject to interpretation and it is more visual and daring.”
Workshops Introduce Students to New Media
Natasha kicked off her project by holding two workshops on new media. One was held at the Fatima Jinnah Women University with about 70 student participants. The other workshop was held at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) and included about 40 students from NUST, COMSATS, NCA and Hunerkada.
During the workshops, students developed four art projects of their own which were also included in the exhibition. In addition, nine national artists from across Pakistan and a few of their international counterparts participated in the final event of the exhibition, which drew more than 500 people.
“At the opening night, there were twice as many people in the gallery than in the reception,” said Natasha. “I thought oh my God! This is what I had wanted for people to come and see the work.”
Responses to the exhibition varied, as most visitors had never seen such performances and concepts, it was a lot for many to process.
“I liked the Game of life piece because it is like catharsis,” said Maryam Syed, a doctor referring to a performance in which four people were playing chess wearing masks. “I think new media is needed to make people think outside the box.”
“I prefer Amina Rizwan’s technique because it is hard to understand how she embellishes jewelry and how she creates art from items of everyday use,” said Mohammad Irtiza, an NCA Student.
Traditional Art in a New Medium
Meanwhile, painters working in traditional Pakistani forms, such as truck artists and rickshaw makers, were given a place at the event. The Fulbright alumna wanted viewers to see these artists creating the work in front of their eyes, so that it would become performance art and the role of the artist would not be diminished in the final pieces.
After the successful culmination of her project, Jozi says she can attribute her achievement to her exchange experience.
“My Fulbright experience transformed me and opened me to work I had not experienced before,” she said. “I went as a painter and came back as a performance artist.”
She believes that giving back to Pakistan is her goal now and the Alumni Small Grant was a step in the right direction.
“The organizers of the Alumni Small Grant gave me 100 percent freedom with how I wanted to use the funds as an artist,” she said. “This encouraged me to give my 200 percent in the three months, that the project was underway.”
For her next step, Natasha plans to start an international residency project for artists in Pakistan so that they can come and live in the country and introduce new mediums of art. She also hopes to work with the BBC in the future, so that they can interview Pakistani artists and bring attention to their installations on the international stage.
But for now, the Fulbright alumna is taking it one step at a time as she completes a performance art exhibition in Switzerland.
“I really feel energized and can’t wait to come back and start my next exhibition”.
To find out more about ‘We are All Mad Here’, take a look at this link: