Lahore (Qasim Ali) Pakistan’s distinguished scholars joined eminent artists to celebrate cultural resistance and resilience at a special event held at Alhamra on Friday 12 August. Organised by Ajoka Theatre, in collaboration with the Lahore Arts Council and Samosa Media UK, the event included scholarly presentations on the resilience of writers, poets, musicians, dancers, theatre activists and visual artists as well spectacular performances by dance guru Sheema Kermani and the radical Laal Band.
Ajoka Executive Director Shahid Nadeem, and Ajoka Chair spoke about the purpose of the event and said that Pakistani artists have shown remarkable resilience in the face of challenges such as military rule and religious extremism. 75th anniversary of Independence provides an occasion to pay tribute to the heroes of cultural resistance and celebrate their achievements. Anwar Akhtar of Samosa Media UK, talked about keen interest among British Pakistanis in the 75th anniversary of independence and 1947 Partition. He said South Asian culture is now significant part of British society, reflected by recently concluded Commonwealth Games ceremony revolving around Bhangra performances. Mariya Afzal of British Council spoke about Council’s plans for the 75th anniversary and congratulated Ajoka for organising such a meaningful event. After introductory remarks, a video compilation “Ushaq Ke Qaflay” was screened which paid tribute to artists and writers who continued freely creating despite imprisonment and bans. They included Faiz, Faraz, Jalib, Daman, Sadeqain, Ajmal Khattak, Shaikh Ayaz, Gul Khan Naseer, Fehmida Riaz , Yousaf Lodhi, Kishwar Naheed, Sheema Kermani and Madeeha Gauhar.
In the next session, scholars made presentations. Asghar Nadeem Syed and Nasir Abbas Nayyar discussed resistance and socio-political criticism in Urdu literature. Academic-musician Taimur Rahman spoke about the role politically aware musicians have played in struggle for freedom and social justice. Dancer and social activist Sheema Kermani shared her experiences as a dancer and dance teacher in carrying on with her work in defiance of pressures from authoritarian rulers and extremists. She also recited revolutionary Latin American Pablo Neruda’s poem about resistance to oppressive forces. Playwright Shahid Nadeem, in his presentation on theatre of resistance, said though theatre suffered an irreparable loss at the time of Partition, groups like Ajoka and Tehrik i Niswan picked up the pieces and developed a potent theatre for social change movement. He said though Ajoka is now permitted to perform at arts councils, challenges of censorship and thought control have not gone away. The last presentation of the session was by visual artist and former Principal of National College of Arts, Naazish Ata-Ullah, who discussed the political and social critique by Pakistani artists, showing their work on slides.
The last session of the evening consisted of performances. Noted Punjabi Poet Afzal Sahir and poet-activist Khalid Javed Jan of “Main Baghi Hoon” recited inspiring poems, followed by songs from Ajoka plays. A very well- performed dramatic reading of the English translation of Shahid Nadeem’s play “River of Sorrow” was the next item of the programme. The play was translated by Amena Chima and recently published by Sahitya Akademy in an anthology titled “ Plays from a Fractured Land. Editor of the anthology Playwright Atamjit Singh spoke from US and praised the play as a major contribution to Punjabi drama, Popular TV and theatre actor Samiya Mumtaz read the lead role and was ably assisted by Fizza Jamal, Yusra Irfan, Naseem Abbas. Qaiser Khan, Sameer Afzal, Qurrat Taj, Fizza Tirmizi, Faizan Sukhera, Saira Salman and Rizwan Riaz. The highlight of the session was a spectacular dance performance by Sheema Kermani, based on a Fehmida Riaz poem. The event ended at a high note with an energizing performance by Laal Band, led by Taimur Rahman.
Ajoka Director at the end, thanked the artists and scholars for their valuable participation and Lahore Arts Council, Punjab Council of Arts and British Council for their support. The event was attended by a large number of young people and artists from various disciplines.