Nothing Left To Do But The Selling Or Pakistan’s Tryst With The Public Relations Campaign

It is important and necessary to critique foreign coverage of Pakistan. But this video isn’t it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 18.43.48
There is a conviction amongst a certain class of Pakistanis that what Pakistan suffers from is an image problem. this is very much like a certain class of Israeli who feels the same. they are convinced that it is portrayals that are the problem, not the problems that are portrayed. for this class, what is demanded is simply a different portrayal. a desire frequently backed by the sponsoring – quite often through international corporate and development funds, cultural events of limited and specific scope and access. If we can only show the world ‘we’ – this class that seems to be most concerned about ‘portrayals’, are sophisticated, well read and urbane, perhaps we will not be so ashamed of the issues we know are real, but have no inclination, courage or imagination to face them and speak about them. 

The issue isn’t foreign press’ highlighting Pakistan’s problems. In fact, the video suggests that foreign press creates / manufactures the problems. The problem on both ends is one of extreme decontextualisation and dishonesty. The middle class dreamers and most foreign press are both involved in a project of extreme representation and for different interests. What is lost is complexity and connections that link the two extremes. What the foreign press and the middle class festival goers refuse to see are these connections which would reveal how both extremes (the bad and the CEO) are achieved: through choices, policies, interests, calculations, betrayals etc. In a nation as socially, economically and politically unjust as Pakistan. To say nothing about the rather extremely middle-class ideas of ‘what is good in Pakistan’ presented within this video – businessman’s management status, the possession of a bungalow and car etc, all markers of ‘success’ but as much markers of a certain ‘class’ and its ideas of what is wrong and right in the pursuit of life. A very narrow idea of a ‘good’ Pakistan indeed.This video is a parody. But parodies can soothe and close thought. Pakistan’s salvation or betterment isn’t a public relations problem. No amount of humour or pretty pictures will absolve its people and politics of the responsibility to the citizens – of life, health, education, security, justice, freedom, liberty, honor, and promise, that remains. In a nation where millions have been ejected from the concerns of politics and society, the foreign press and its obsessions need to be challenged, but by demanding and producing deeper intellectual complexity and connections, more actions and an honest set of choices and action for the larger citizenry. Fashion shows and book festivals will not salve our souls. All societies have issues. All societies are contested. We can’t avoid this or pretend pakistan’s realities and extremes don’t exist and that they do so to the benefit of a small minority of privileged and largely disconnected people.

The killjoy. Most often, videos such as this one, and people who complain about the ‘persistent focus on the negative’ are irritated at what they perceive to the be the killjoy. Sara Ahmed’s insights into the feminist as killjoy are very pertinent here. As Ahmed says, in her fantastic book The Promise Of Happiness

The figure of the female troublemaker… shares the same  horizon with the figure of the feminist killjoy. Both figures are intelligible if they are read through the lens of the history of happiness. Feminists might kill joy simply by not finding the objects that promise happiness to be quite so promising. The word feminism is this saturated with unhappiness. Feminists by declaring themselves as feminists are already read as destroying something that is thought of by others not only as being good but as the cause of happiness. The feminist killjoy ‘spoils’ the happiness of others; she is a spoilsport because she refuses to convene, to assemble, or to meet up over happiness. [pages 64-65]

I have never been asked by any one of the number of marginalised, violated, brutalised, exploited and dismissed communities in Pakistan – whether the landless, the displaced, the targeted for killing, the exploited for profit and gain, that I have worked with that should focus on good stories that offer Pakistan in a better light. Portrayal and public relations are not seen as the principal problem here. I have however, many times been asked by members of the upper class, and the intellectual class to do so. I have been confronted with scorn, annoyance and irritation, by any number of professors, professionals and journalists, when attempting to speak about interconnections and inter-relationship.

This video is simply a video version of the same complaint – though coloured by a misunderstanding of the very point it wants to make, and a bias of ideas of ‘good Pakistan’ that reveal its class bias.It’s these places in between where we must demand that we focus. these are the places both these ‘protagonists’ – the journalist, and the cheerleader, prefer to avoid.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

Details »

Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.


Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

Details »

Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

Details »

Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

Details »

Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

Details »

Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

Details »

10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

Details »

%d bloggers like this: