'The pursuit of identity’

By Mahtab Bashir, Daily Times, Dec 22, 2010

Fauzia shares unseen colours of Pakistan in ‘Chitarkari & Banyans’

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan --  With objective to protect the rich cultural heritage of Buddhist sites and Banyan Trees in the country, especially in the surroundings of the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi and Taxila, Fauzia Aziz Minallah- a renowned artist and rights activist launched her book ‘Chitarkari & Banyans - The Pursuit of Identity’ on Tuesday here at National Art gallery (NAG).

Also art lovers of twin cities chanced to have a glance at 48 astounding photographs by the multitalented Minallah. Sungi Development Foundation arranged the event at Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) where galaxy of rights activists, diplomats, educationists, students and culture vultures of federal capital were present.

Richly illustrated with Ms Minallah’s own photographs, the book ‘Chitarkari & Banyans- The Pursuit of Identity’ is a timely reminder of those aspects of Pakistan’s past that deserves fuller recognition.

The purpose of producing this book is to look at the sources of the writer’s creative identity and explain how each has profoundly influenced her work. One is the Chitarkari (Slate Carving) of her ancestral region; Sirikot in Hazara and another is the rich folk culture of Islamabad and its environs- where she grew up.

Ms Minallah also shares memories of her precious experience of other cities and towns of the country. However, the survival of the rich folk heritage, which has inspired much of her work, is now under serious threat. Which, according to the authoress, indifference of a philistine elite and reactionary religious right are partly responsible, that seeks to destroy or distort the legacy of Sufi saints and their message of tolerance for other faiths. The outcome is that the new generation of Pakistan is deprived of its rich and varied past.

Her photographs and book reflects the cultural legacy as the work both of man and nature. Each Banyan tree is as much a part of the nation’s heritage as each artifact and building, according to the artist. The overall message is clear: In an increasingly commercialised world, the treasure of the past are there for all to enjoy but only if a determined effort is made to treat them with respect they deserve.

The 48 cache of stunning photographs and paintings on display is from different stages, from the ‘Women’s tombstone’ craved in 1992 to the series ‘Buddha Still Lives in Pakistan’ executed in 2010.

Talking to Daily Times, Ms Minallah said that collection included her series of work titled ‘Displaced’ which she did in 2005 after she watched with horror the scenes of displaced women and children after the Iraq War in 2003. “It is always women and children who have to suffer due to the lies and deceits of powerful governments,” she said. She said there were some Chitarkari pieces titled ‘Tributes to Indu Mitha’ done in 2005 to pay tribute to veteran classical dancer who kept the beautiful art form of classical music alive.

“My most recent series of carvings ‘Buddha Still Lives in Pakistan’ originates in the horror I experienced at the image of the vandalized face of the 7th century Buddhist rock carving in Jehanabad, Swat, blown up in 2007 terrorist attack,” Minallah said, adding her response was to go to the quarries of Sirikot and Topai in Hazara to do some shopping for her project. “I took out my hammer, chisel and the electrical drill and started carving images of Buddha. These carving images were an action designed to counterbalance the fact of its destruction in Pakistan, she said. She added that this reflected her South Asian identity that made her heir not only to the legacy of practicing Islam but also to the wealth of older civilizations that had made such a large contribution to our country’s history.

Earlier in 2007, Sungi Development Foundation published her book ‘Glimpses into Islamabad’s Soul’ that promoted the multi cultural heritage of Islamabad and respect for Nature. The book identifies, catalogues and preserves the historical, architectural, cultural and natural heritage that belongs to the city.

In documenting Islamabad’s inheritance of ancient trees and advocating their protection, the book emphasises the importance of conserving natural as well as cultural heritage. It promotes peace by encouraging young people to respect their city’s diverse religious heritage, which includes the material culture of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Christianity.
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