After the resounding success of Dreamscape in 2014 that featured 50 artists at the Amin Gulgee Gallery, the group show titled The 70s: Pakistan’s Radioactive Decade was highly anticipated. The show, curated by Amin Gulgee and Niilofur Farrukh, brought together over 40 artists and a plethora of multimedia artworks to present a nostalgic look at the culture of the 1970s in Pakistan: from the political turmoil of the Indo-Pak war, the lingering sentiments after the separation of East Pakistan, elections, an infusion of hippie culture – with bell bottoms and peace signs galore - and the booming cinema industry churning out some of the country’s biggest hits such as Aina.
“Roti, kapra, makaan” – one of the most politically charged slogans of the 1970s – emblazoned on the facade of the Amin Gulgee Gallery, is a prelude to what one would expect inside.
Entering the premises, Adeel Uz Zafar’s installation greeted visitors to the gallery: a 1962 Morris Minor standing in mint condition, but stripped of its interior. The extracted car parts are instead mounted on a wall. The artist views the Morris Minor as a symbol of the “loss of historical consciousnesses”. With the car’s transformation from once being a status symbol to junkyard scraps, Zafar took the viewer on an interactive and metaphorical journey, sparking debate and discussion in order to reexamine existing historic records.
A few steps away from the main entrance stood Adeela Suleman’s installation of a large chandelier, etched with the words Dance in Your Blood. As the evening wore on, the muted shade of pinkish hues ‘dripping’ from the chandelier turned an alarming red.
Once inside, viewers were captivated by the sheer amount of energy that seemed to be resonating off the walls — from the 2D art work to the 3D sculpture, media installations and the ongoing performance pieces. A large tank made of wire and covered in daisies sat inconspicuously in the centre. Mohammad Ali’s work Wake Me When It's Over is a juxtaposition of the severity of an object and the delicacy with which the artist chose to present it in. “The reality of war is constructed as something of a glorified ghost in everyone's life when it comes to examining history,” he says.
The most intriguing aspect of the show were the various performance pieces that took place on the opening day. For example, Ali stood stitching a sherwani that had been ripped to shreds. The coat represented Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the shreds the state of our country. The artist sees himself as a healer trying to stitch the country back together, but is also aware that with every stitch, something new is created in the process. The act of knitting, crochet, embroidery and stitching have been used traditionally to deal with stress and mourning. The title of the performance – 700 Stitches – was a reference to the number of days Jinnah lived, post-Partition.
Talal Faisal lay writhing on the floor, seemingly oblivious to the crowd surrounding him; stamping his body with the word “invalid” repeatedly.
Sara Pagganwala sat high up on a pedestal mounted 11 feet above the ground. Dressed in heavy make up, jewellery and ornate clothing, Pagganwala remained seated, smiling at the people below for an astounding duration of four hours. Her piece, titled Limbo, was about endurance. Pagganwala said that while she did not have a direct link to the era, the influence from her parents’ generation played a pivotal role in her art. Additionally, “the undercurrents and the aftermath of the ‘70s – politically and socially – is still evident in all facades. From then till now, a certain feeling of being suspended within this vortex came about. Thereupon, the idea of levitation came into being,” she explained.
The show shed a spotlight on the 1970s and how it marked a decade that helped cement the foundation for Pakistan’s cultural identity, right before the onslaught of censorship that took place after stripping the creative community of its artistic freedom.
All photographs are by Jamal Ashiqain