A Glance at Lahore: Artistic Expressions By Misha Khan and Ameena Naweed

By Misha Khan and Ameena Naweed
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The first thing that comes to mind when referring to a city’s artistic expressions is architecture. As described in last month’s article, Lahore has had the aeons of the Mughals, Sikhs and British leave poignant marks on the city’s architecture. Nobody is able to deny the intricate designs on every wall of Lahore Fort, or the exotic beauty of Darwaazay or 12 Walls. As a rapidly expanding city, Lahore sees new buildings erected daily. Today, Lahore’s architecture is a fusion of Islamic, Hindu, Sikh, Tirumid and British or Indo-Gothic influences. As last month’s article touched heavily on architecture, this month’s feature will cover some of the manifestations of Lahore’s artistic side.

As the cultural capital of Pakistan, Lahore hosts numerous festivals, events and gatherings. The city is a whirlwind of cross-cultural interactions. No conversation about Lahore’s multicultural scene can leave out The World Performing Arts Festival, an amazing ten-day event held every Autumn at the Al-Hamra Arts Council. The festival showcases the best of the performing arts, both local and foreign; entertainers from around the world perform their dances, mimes, theatre performances, musicals and puppet shows. The festival is managed by the Peerzada group, which is also the largest puppetry theatre company in Pakistan. The Peerzada group also promotes many other significant youth, film and folk festivals, as well as the Mystic Music Sufi Festival, the Saanj Amritsar Festival for Peace and the Oslo Mela. Each of these events is an effort to promote the arts both within Pakistan, and to the global community. Every year, the attendance and patronage of these events gets bigger and better, testimony to the growing arts culture of the city.

Lahoris are always engrossed in reading, and this means they get excited yearly about the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF). This festival covers a wide range of topics ranging from sports to politics to art and music. We both attended this year’s LLF together and had the opportunity to hear great economists like Aitzaz Ahsan talk about Khushwant Singh, and Kamran Lashari praise Androon Shehar. Book launches hosted by personalities such as Naseerudin Shah left us in awe. It is also common to have large book fairs take place in Lahore. In February this year, the five-day International Book Fair was held at the Lahore Expo Centre, and was attended by scores of families.

In recent years, there has been a phenomena in Pakistan’s music scene in the form of Coke Studio, Nescafe Basements and Pakistan Idol, all of which have gained global acclaim. Lahore’s undeniable passion for music, ranging from the qawwalis of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, to the classic serenading of Noor Jehan and Farida Khanum, the Punjab ditties of Abrar ul Haq and finally the new-generation rockstars, Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam. To think, even our very own actor Fawad Khan has stepped into singing. Lahore sees many homegrown bands emerge and grow into full-fledged professional entities, with famous examples being Junoon and Noori.

Supporting all this music are several FM radio stations that have seen a remarkable rise in popularity. (After all, who drives a car without the radio on these days?) Alongside these radio stations are numerous television channels that air a wide variety of programmes in Urdu, Punjabi and English. And of course, in the midst of all this, are the undeniably high-quality drama serials that keep the entire nation hooked to their screens week after week. These serials deal with the usual themes of love and romance, but more importantly, these days, they have started addressing and showcasing social and societal issues. Infact, the other day while watching television, I saw our famous drama Humsafar dubbed in Arabic on a UAE channel! A quick word here for the film industry in Pakistan, which has seen its ups and downs over the years. In recent years, however, Lahore has seen the production of several films that have gained national and international acclaim. In addition, Lahore hosts some of Pakistan’s oldest film studios, and is a cinema-lover’s paradise as IMAX theatres take the city by storm.

Further boasting Lahore’s artistic expressions are the many art galleries scattered around the city. The Reviver’s Gallery is a delightful combination of traditional paintings with a touch of novelty. Other notable galleries of Lahore are the Al-Khattat Islamic Gallery, Art Scene Gallery and the Chen-one Art Gallery, which display beautiful paintings of Lahore’s heritage and beauty.

A somewhat unique expression of art has emerged recently in Lahore in the form of graffiti. Many Lahori school students are taking to the streets to paint the brick walls and enhance the beauty of the roads. These painting have a wide range of subjects, from the roaring flag of Pakistan, symbols of peace and love, prevention of air and water pollution to random pieces of art. Graffiti in Lahore is meant to display the work of young artists while making social statements. Not to mention, it serves to cheer up any annoyed and frustrated driver at his wit’s end over the state of traffic in the city.

So, where is it that all this talent in Lahore is coming from? This is where schools like the National College of Arts (NCA) can claim some credit. NCA is regarded as one of the best art universities in South Asia. NCA provides courses in architecture, fine arts, communication design, ceramics, textile, film and television, multimedia arts etc. This arts institution also holds a rather symbolic geographical position; that is, in the heart of old Lahore. This location allows students a great opportunity to use their historical surroundings as inspiration. Every year, NCA produces talent that has the potential to carry forward Lahore’s rich artistic culture.

Last but not at all the least, Lahore is significant in the fast-developing fashion industry of Pakistan, supported by the country’s most prestigious fashion school, the Pakistan School of Fashion Design (PSFD). PSFD boasts some of the nation’s best photography studios and photographers.

There is so much more to Lahore’s artistic expression which cannot be included in the constraints of this article. What we have attempted to do is give you some idea of what makes Lahore the cultural and artistic capital of Pakistan. If you are liking these glances at Lahore so far, do tune in to next month’s feature, which is going to be all about Lahore’s most favourite pastime … yes, you guessed it. Food!

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