As opposed to what we may have been led to believe, art isn’t just another season of Coke Studio or some overhyped and clichéd Pakistani movies which we only watch because we have set out to revive the film industry of the country, regardless of how bad the movies might be.
We have always subdued expression and limited freedom to what we consider is socially acceptable in our culture, and what a ludicrous notion! To impose restriction on the one thing keeping us sane, the one thing that stays with us in our dreams, that defines hope and emotion keeps us from progress.
In Pakistan, the development of art and artists has always been stunted by matters the state considers more important; politics, money-laundering, religious discrimination, the armed forces etc. Moreover, the Pakistani government and to a large extent the people themselves have focused on suppressing the flow of art through the country’s polluted system.
The Punjab government placed a ban on dancing in schools disregarding any events or festivities. Dancing was regarded as an immoral act, especially when the music is Indian and led to sexualizing children. It is unfair that Indian music is thought to be an evil in Pakistan because Art is meant to surpass boundaries, and considering music from one so-called rivaling country problematic does not help the tense relations between the two nations. Music and dance could easily be used to bridge the gap between Pakistan and India so relations could gain headway and ideas could be exchanged peacefully among the people.
In Iran, Maedeh Hojabri was arrested for gaining a followership on Instagram where she showcased her enchanting dancing skills. In any other country – perhaps, not the middle east – Hojabri would have been commended for her talented moves and beauty, but the 18 year-old found herself on TV, confessing to her “crime,” as many others have done so. Rather than focus on all the major issues that have plagued Iran, the government chose to focus on this one teenage girl, who only wished for freedom to dance. This goes far beyond state-sponsored misogyny; it is stamping out femininity and sensuality, two integral parts of any female artists as is often the case in Middle Eastern and South Asian countries. Like boundaries, art is not meant to be kept from a specific gender when its availability will do much good than harm.
There is no lack of artistic talent in Pakistan: talent that is usually cracked down on because of the famous logo we practice when we have no reasonable justification, “What will people say?” People will always have something to say because it is not our responsibility to either please everyone we come across or change the mind of every individual that disagrees with us. Our duty is to sanction talent and remove whatever oppresses the raising up of the talented youth. There are countless musicians, composers, painters, sculptors, dancers, choreographers etc. that have stomped down on their abilities because those abilities were not considered of any use to the economy or building a better future.
This materialistic tendency to choose degrees and careers over talent and ambition is why no one dares to dream, because that dream will eventually be taken away and there isn’t much that motivates anyone to keep living on, as a human rather than a zombie broken down by the exhausting ideals of society. The reality of free expression is a healthier community, where ideas are exchanged without fear of retribution, where dancers can perform in the streets without fear of assault, where children’s bodies can twist and turn without someone sexualizing them.
If we can allow summer school for remedial classes and hold students back after school so they can work on their mathematical or scientific skills, surely we can dedicate time to promote artistic skill and value artists. Some budget must be allocated by educational institutes to promote a variety of skills.
Art can heal us, if we let it.