Blast From the Past

March 23, 2016

This was a show for everyone. Curated by Niilofer Farrukh and Amin Gulgee, The 70s: Pakistan’s Radioactive Decade was held at the Amin Gulgee Gallery recently. Featuring the works of 40 artists, some from that era and some younger, the show aimed to encapsulate the tumultuous decade which began as a free-spirited era, overseeing the burgeoning of art and culture but which ended with General Zia-ul-Haq’s stranglehold and stamping out of all freedoms. Opening day of the show also included performance pieces and models used to dramatic effect.

For those who were born in the seventies or earlier, the show served up a tidal wave of nostalgia. For those who were born later, it was a crash course in the political and cultural history of that decade.  As one older visitor to the show remarked, “I felt like my life was played out before me.” For another teenager, the exhibition brought to life the history lessons she was busy cramming for exams.

From PTV’s ubiquitous “Intizar Farmaye” playing on loop, to an axe-wielding Sultan Rahi  and a disco-inspired chandelier to newspaper ads for cabaret nights, the show had enough colour and variety to capture the imagination. It veered from the kitsch and commercial to the profound and poignant. One of the most effective exhibits was a roughly hewn brick cubicle laid out with letters written after the fall of Dhaka. The result was earthy and evocative.

But perhaps the piece de resistance of the experience was the video film playing in an upstairs room which offered up the choicest picks from the era, whether from politics or culture. .  From Zulfikar Ali Bhuttos rousing speeches to Alamgir and Waheed Murad, the sounds and images of the seventies continued to reverberate in the imagination long after the video ended. In a particularly striking clip, Naheed Siddiqui’s performance was overlaid with the soundtrack of General Zia’s speech. In fact, one viewer was seen visibly wincing at General Ziaul Haq’s televised announcement of martial law.

Sadly, the show was on for an all too brief four days. With the lack of museums in the city, exhibitions of this kind are a revelation and need to be made available to a much wider audience.