Prof. Salima Hashmi, Chairperson,SAF-Pakistan,Explores Pedagogical Networks for Educational Empowerment in South Asia

News Take on Art, Art Dubai - 5th March 2024

South Asia Cover Post

PEDAGOGICALNETWORKS IN SOUTH ASIASalima Hashmi is an artist, curator and contemporary art historian. She was founding Dean at the Mariam Dawood School of Visual Arts and Design at Beaconhouse National University, Lahore in 2003 where is now Professor Emeritus. She taught at the National College of Arts, Lahore, for 30 years. She was also the Principal of the College for 4 years, and held the post of Professor of Fine Arts. She has written extensively on Pakistani contemporary art. She is Council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the chairperson of Faiz Foundation Trust.


About: SVAD, South Asia Foundation, and its founder UNESCO Goodwill AMbassador Madanjeet Singh

It is 1947. A young student from the renowned Government College in Lahore is on the run, trying to escape communal riots. He is easily identifiable as a Sikh; his turban marks him from afar. He is waiting for the sun to set, allowing him to make his way towards the refugee camp, not far from the border. Suddenly, a tonga stops by him. The kindly tongawallah, noticing the panic, offers him a lift to the camp at Walton. Grateful, the young man jumps into the carriage and covers himself until he reaches safety.

The above incident is the backstory of the South Asia Foundation, set up by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh in 2000. Its stated aim was to bring young people from all eight South Asian countries together to study in institutions across the region in fields as diverse as journalism, art and design, water management, forestry, development studies, and green energy technology. The dream was to create networks of peace makers.

The newly set up School of Visual Arts and Design [SVAD] at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, was one of the beneficiaries of the Foundation.

The University opened its doors in September 2003 and the student body included 14 students—two from each of the SAARC countries, from Afghanistan to the Maldives—who studied together for four years, setting the tone for what became a unique art and design student community in South Asia. As Dean, this was an exciting and absorbing opportunity for me to experiment and help create fresh pedagogical paradigms with a highly motivated and adept faculty.

In the twenty years since the programme started, the number of young artists from across South Asia attending undergraduate and MA programmes has grown and now spreads across the globe. The program in visual arts and design has been a radical one, incorporating new technologies alongside research into historical sources of artmaking in South Asia. SVAD recognised the need to locate its curriculum firmly in the 21st century, without sacrificing the richness of the cultural tapestry that South Asia is heir to. The unusual infusion of students from Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Maldives reinforced the tradition of Lahore being a melting pot. Many histories, peoples, civilisations, faiths and cultures have contributed to the local saying, ‘You haven’t lived if you haven’t seen Lahore’.

The coming together of these aspiring artists and designers, with their own subcontinental beliefs and practices, made it a stimulating mix for the faculty, drawn from an equally eclectic pool of art educators and practitioners. Rashid Rana, Sophie Ernst, Huma Mulji, Julia Ahmed, David Alesworth, Risham Syed, Malcolm Hutchison, Gwen Kulick, Kiran Khan and others came together to teach in the first decade. It was a heady mix with many visiting artists and scholars including Naazish Ata Ullah, Quddus Mirza, Imran Qureshi, Farida Batool. There were visitors from across the region like Bharti Kher, Shabnum Virmani, Amar Kanwar, Saiful Haq Omi—the list stretches on and on, over two decades.


There has been a constant re-assessment and recalibration of the curriculum. New programmes and courses are added every year. The conversations and hands-on engagements in the studios and lecture rooms became veritable seminars on practices, theory, and historical overlapping. Not entirely unexpectedly, the alumni became infused with the pedagogical energy being generated. As they went back out into the world after their time in Lahore, their artistic practices had to contend with the fresh context of ‘home’ to be experienced anew and thought about. The last decade and a half has witnessed a blossoming of younger voices across South Asia, who have fearlessly begun to blur the boundaries between the silos which once labelled artistic practices. While rooting their work in the socio-political realities of the region, these artists are interrogating complex artistic vocabularies.

Ayesha Sultana was the first of our graduates to initiate investigations into space, across a range of materials and mediums, winning the emerging artist award at the Dhaka Art Summit in 2014. Other young artists were working in video, digital formats, performance, fibre arts, and jewellery, along with painting and threedimensional works. The alumni networks expanded as they found common ground with one another.

Names like Basir Mahmood, Ghulam Muhammad, Kubra Khademi, Aziz Hazara, Moonis Shah, Hema Sheroni, Pradeep Thalawatta, Vidhya Saumaya, Koshal Hamal, Sajana Joshi, Unum Babar, Mainul Islam, Tharmalingam Vinoja, Danushka, and multiple others started finding residencies, spots in biennales and triennials, not only in South Asia but across the globe. Ghulam Muhammad, for one, was awarded the Jameel Art Prize.

Performance was the metier of Kubra Khademi from Afghanistan and she was passionate about it; her final thesis performance is still remembered for its chilling implications. She struggled with a hostile working environment on her return to Kabul. Her street performance [Armor] in 2015 created a furore which was lifethreatening, and she had to go into hiding. UNESCO came to her rescue and arranged for her to be granted asylum in France. She was recently created a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Ministry of Culture in France.

The first nominees from troubled Jaffna in Sri Lanka were welcomed in 2017. Their life stories were harrowing beyond description, like those of others from Jaffna who became part of the BNU family. The number of alumni from Jaffna has grown, as has their subsequent presence in the Sri Lankan and Asian art world. To quote the veteran Sri Lankan artist Jagath Weerasinghe, ‘the experience of being together in Lahore has transformed contemporary art in Sri Lanka.’

The sense of being ‘South Asian’ has seeped into the consciousness of artists and designers trained in Lahore. They find common linkages long after they have left, like when they find themselves co-exhibiting in art fairs, galleries, and museums. There is a flash of recognition and ownership of a regional identity reinforced through work and recall. The most vivid instance was the evacuation of artists from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in 2022. Kubra Khademi, then living in Paris, was able to garner support from artist groups in Europe to ensure safe flights for other Afghani artists to France, Switzerland and Germany. Sher Ali and his wife, also a student of SVAD, were able to relocate to Melbourne. He is already gaining art commissions and exhibition opportunities. The support and solace offered by the South Asian artist community has been heartwarming. These alliances and shared concerns reinforce regional South Asian identities and are the harbingers of artistic voices which speak in unison.

Source:- Take on Art