Faiza Butt works at the crossroads of Islam, feminism, and post-colonialism; big words, these, and loaded to some extent. Butt grew up in a family of six sisters during the Zia years of cold-War era Pakistan, before moving to the UK where she married a British national. At her first solo show in India, ‘Aalmi’, each exhibit is an expression of the artist’s engagement with contemporary discourse, be it the war on terror, Muslim stereotypes, expectations of domesticity, or drawing on her roots through the use of Urdu calligraphy, with references to Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry.
Though the works are autobiographical to a large extent, they can hardly be termed as navel gazing, as Butt is able to translate effectively the feminist slogan – the personal is political. Speaking to Guardian20, Butt explained that her works explore the tension between freedom of expression, creativity, and the regime of censorship and militant Islam of the Zia years. “I grew up in the 80s under the radicalization of Pakistan by a dictator. I witnessed the ‘Islamisation’ of a Moderate society and the rise of the fascist Wahhabi sect. While, at a grass root level my colonial catholic church school had to undergo major ‘reforms’ with the dress-code, curriculum, and ideological culture, on a bigger scale, collectively Pakistan was under the firm clutch of censorship. In this socio-political climate, the arts suffered the most. Theatre, film, Television, visual and performing arts were targeted and censored. The dancers were asked to leave and Human body was declared a taboo in the arts”, she says.
In this socio-political climate, the arts suffered the most. Theatre, film, Television, visual and performing arts were targeted and censored. The dancers were asked to leave and Human body was declared a taboo in the arts.
‘Aalmi’ meaning universal, effectively contrasts the mundane and the domestic, with elevated grand themes of ‘larger’ historical narratives like the commodification of religion, representation of the feminine in Islam, as seen in ‘One’, where the sensuous image of a woman’s open mouth is seen biting into a pendant shaped to read the word Allah. For Butt, it is also a comment on Islamic fashion, though a lay viewer is at once struck by the subversive undertones – the open mouth emblematic of all-consuming female desire, one that all religions can be faulted for shaming and suppressing. She also highlights that the picture of a woman consuming an image of God is symbolic of the Sufi concept of feeling ‘one with god’.
Bold enough in experimenting with unconventional forms of media, one of her most interesting exhibits features work on light boxes, with images of rubbish and Nizami era jewellery adorning a translation of Faiz’s famous Aaj Bazaar Mein. Layered, nuanced and sophisticated, Butt’s works will satiate not merely the aesthete, but also the non-conformist, the dissenting intellectual.
Venue: Vadehra Art gallery
Date: Until 16 January