Where Onions can cross Borders, but not Art

It’s Wagah that is being referred to here by Salima Hashmi, who is “as non conformist as her father”.

Her father being a certain poet by the name of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

That’s why she can spot silver lining in the cloud of intimidation that threatens Indo-Pak peace: “This is a moment of triumph for our nations, a moment when those who have the vision must stay poised and be magnanimous. We must scrap visas. I would also love art to travel cross border as freely as music, poetry and literature. It’s sad that onions can cross over from Wagah, but not art. Art is no missile, after all.”

But art can be very caustic, admits Hashmi, whose paintings have often left governments red in their face. Her works were pulled out of the national exhibition when Zia-ul-Haq’s men saw political content in it. “They saw right. I paint political themes. These might assume different forms in my works, but ultimately these are about speaking aloud — something the establishments have been very uncomfortable with,” says Hashmi, in Patiala today to attend a seminar at Punjabi University.

Back in Pakistan, Hashmi has fought many a battle for academic freedom. Former principal of National College of Art, Lahore, she still remembers how tough it was. “But we managed to secure our independence. Our college was like an island in Pakistan’s academic map. We did away with the British form of pedagogy and trained our students not to be painters but to be thinkers,” said the livewire, making references to her father’s poetry.

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