Art as a form of resilience: The Sketch Club (Quetta, Pakistan) by PhD candidate Fatima Hashmi
When it comes to how populations face adverse circumstances, they have different capacities. Some resist better than others. This ability to face adversity and emerge strengthened is what we call resilience today, which is underpinned by human agency, focusing on the actions of individuals and communities.
In turbulent environments like that of my hometown Quetta, part of my PhD research aim was to investigate how the Hazara community responds to the different forms of stigmatisation, residing in two areas of Hazara Town and Marriabad. These two areas are in fact cordoned off by security check posts, walls and boundaries, a measure introduced by the Government for the ‘safety’ of the Hazara community.
Picture: A View of Marribad
During my fieldwork, most of the young participants mentioned how the ‘Sketch Club’ had been their saviour when the conditions in Quetta were turbulent to such an extent that the targeted killings of the Hazara community were either one or two in a day or in a week or in a month. The impact was so severe that one participant describes the moment of peace as:
‘We would be waiting and wondering how come this week there was no one killed. We used to wait. If you were to ask any Hazara what is the moment of peace in our lives, they would say that the period between the two incidents of target killings is a moment of peace for us’.
I was intrigued to find out more about the Sketch Club, which I quickly discovered is run by my primary and secondary school art teacher, Sir Fazil.
Background of the Sketch Club
Syed Fazil Hussain, most commonly known in Quetta as Fazil Mousavi or Sir Fazil amongst his current and former students, founded the informal setup of the Sketch Club in 2009. The purpose of the club was to give back to the society by transferring his skills and knowledge to the youth of the Hazara community, which he most beautifully expressed through the verse of Sahir Ludhianvi:
‘duniyā ne tajrabāt o havādis kī shakl meñ
jo kuchh mujhe diyā hai vo lauTā rahā huuñ main’
[What the world, in the form of experiences and accidents bestowed upon me, I am returning]
Picture: Sir Fazil on a typical Friday session
However, the vision of such an institution did not come without hurdles. It took many years to find the perfect space where students are inspired by the stunning views of the mountains on the roof top of a building. This is where they paint in broad daylight.
Currently, there are around 20 students enrolled and the classes run from Monday to Friday between the hours of 14:00 and 16:30. Fridays are dedicated to theory sessions through which the students learn how to critique different paintings, build their confidence and also indulge in literature such as Krishan Chander (dubbed as the storyteller of the oppressed), Ghulam Abbas (a famous writer in classical literature of the sub-continent), Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi (known as Pakistan's Renaissance Man). Moving away from fiction, the students also read essays of Ashfaq Ahmed (award winning writer from Pakistan in the field of literature and broadcasting). However, Fazil Mousavi is very mindful of the students’ background, cultural values and social norms. Keeping in mind all the elements, he only chooses the fictions that the students are able to comprehend. Through such teaching techniques, Fazil Mousavi notes that ‘the students are also members of the society and in my class, they get the opportunity to speak and they speak openly, with freedom’.
Almost all of the professional colleges in Pakistan are aware of this informal setup in Quetta because the former students of the Sketch Club who end up in the professional colleges across Pakistan have an edge compared to the other students because of their confidence and the ability to critique.
Currently, there are 14 artists (painters, designers, architects) working professionally, who have studied at the Sketch Club and 40 students are under education in professional colleges. This year alone, 16 students of the Sketch Club entered professional colleges, a figure more than from all over Balochistan Province. A few of the former students of the Sketch Club are internationally renowned artists.
The Sketch Club has received a lot of attention through their international exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles. The reason behind gaining this attention was in fact when the staff and students were preparing for an exhibition at Musa College in Quetta and a few days before the event there was a targeted killing where four Hazara community members were forced out of a bus and brutally killed (the most recent attack was on April 12, 2019). What the Sketch Club did in response highlights the resilience of the community towards the atrocities and persecutions. They did not let fear stop them from showcasing the exhibition. Instead, the reaction was such that it helped raise the diminished morale of the community and the turnout was spectacular. The Sketch Club’s pen has indeed proven to be mightier than a sword, as Sir Fazil notes that:
My students have the power and the ability to convert their feelings and emotions onto the canvas. The best option we have is to begin the process of catharsis within ourselves and the best way for catharsis is to paint, to do poetry, write essays, fictions and novels. This allows for the process of catharsis to continue, the work we do also becomes part of our history and we get to release the pain and suffering we are feeling. This is the best form of resilience
This formed the basis for inviting Sir Fazil to participate in the upcoming Oxford Human Rights Festival 2020, celebrating its 18th successive year with a focus on RESILIENCE.
The AIM is to raise awareness of human rights issues through the arts, including informative films, performances, talks, workshops, and exhibitions.
FOUNDED in 2003 the Festival, was initiated by Brookes University postgraduate students on the MA in Development and Emergency Practice (DEP), which is supported by the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP) within the School of Architecture.
The 2020 Glass Tank exhibition
The Festival’s exhibition will be in The Glass Tank at Brookes University, Headington Campus from 14t March to 3 April and will have art and craft representing resilience from across the globe. One of the exhibits will include the work of Sir Fazil and his students from the Sketch Club.
Some of the past exhibitions and media coverage of the Sketch Club can be found here: Between the Lines, Confronting Rising Religious Intolerance in Pakistan, Hazara children: Still life, Herald Exclusive: A dash of colour
On behalf of OxHRF, I am fundraising for Sir Fazil’s travel, accommodation and other necessary requirements for the exhibition. We also welcome sponsorships and collaborations. You can make a donation here: http://gf.me/u/w453rj
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Throughout the semester members of the student committee will take turns to write a blog. It might be about organising the Festival, it might be about something else they are doing in or away from Brookes, it might be thoughts on our theme of home. Check in regularly to find out!