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PAK KHAWATEEN PAINTING CLUB: EXPEDITION 1

Pak Painting Club on Tarbela Dam, 2019.
Diorama of Tarbela Dam, built in the 1960s, with the actual spillways at the back. The hills are fabled to be dead giants.
© Pak Khawateen Painting Club.

Diorama of Tarbela Dam, built in the 1960s, with the actual spillways at the back. The hills are fabled to be dead giants. copyright Pak Khawateen Painting Club. 

Project Profile:

Pak Khawateen Painting Club (translated from the Urdu as Pure Pakistani Women’s Painting Club) was formed by invitation to create a new commission at the Lahore Biennale 02 (2020). It is a trajectory of the Murree Museum Artist Residency, a yearly artist-run initiative that invites practitioners to examine postcolonial conditions and the decay of the British-Raj era hill-station Murree, a microcosm of muncipal, bureaucratic and ecological issues. The Painting Club investigates powerful megastructures that lead to problems at a transnational level.

The Khawateen are a group of women artists who venture to the frontier of the Indus River for plein air painting of nationalistic infrastructure projects: mega hydropower dams in the strategically sensitive north and barrages in the improverished south. Stereotyped as a benign, bourgeois group of patriotic conformists, these female painters don uniforms inspired by Pierre Cardin’s 1960s design for Pakistan International Airlines’ air hostesses. They enter sites built and imagined by powerful men to generate power and energy for the nation—only to subvert their prescribed roles.

Drawing upon the epic Urdu novel River of Fire by Qurratulain Haider and The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh, complex, cross-temporal narratives are interwoven to depict a people united around diverse sources of life. Inspiration is derived from the Indus, with deities, rituals, supernatural powers, and folklore transcending religion and time and buttressing subaltern cultures and riverine communities.

The foregrounding of these organic forces, traditions and aesthetic forms challenges the masculine rubric of colonial modernity, the epitome of which is hydrological engineering oriented towards commercial agriculture. Resulting in the displacement of indigenous populations, the unequal division of resources and the inundation of histories, hydrological engineering finds an unexpected foe in its (not so) ‘Pak’ provocateurs (members): Saulat Ajmal, Amna Hashmi, Saba Khan, and  Zohreen Murtaza. The artist collective was founded in 2020 in Lahore, where most members live and work.

Project Links:
http://sharjahart.org/sharjah-art-foundation/people/pak-khawateen-painting-club

http://www.grahamfoundation.org/grantees/6107-barrages-and-the-fragmentation-of-the-river-indus

https://sabakhan.com/section/491211-Pak-Khawateen-Painting-Club.html

 

Our Lunch at the Barseen Camp, 2019.
Lunch at the Chinese Barseen Camp with engineers from CGGC, a Chinese engineering company working on Dasu Dam, Kohistan, Pakistan.
© Pak Khawateen Painting Club.


Pak Painting Club on Petroglyphs, 2019.
Site of Diamer Bhasha Dam is part of the ancient Silk Route and is dotted with more than 30,000 petroglyphs from the Hindu Shahi and Buddhist periods. These will be submerged under the dam reservoir once it is built.
© Pak Khawateen Painting Club.

 

The Project Essay:

 

The Dream:

“’How can you find time to do all these? You have to do the office work as well? Have you not?’

‘Yes. I do not stick to the laboratory all day long. I finish my work in two hours.’

‘In two hours! How do you manage? In our land the officers, – magistrates, for instance – work seven hours daily.’

‘I have seen some of them doing their work. Do you think they work all the seven hours?’

‘Certainly they do!’

‘ No, dear Sultana, they do not. They dawdle away their time in smoking. Some smoke two or three choroots during the office time. They talk much about their work, but do little. Suppose one choroot takes half an hour to burn off, and a man smokes twelve choroots daily; then you see, he wastes six hours every day in sheer smoking.’

We talked on various subjects, and I learned that they were not subject to any kind of epidemic disease, nor did they suffer from mosquito bites as we do. I was very much astonished to hear that in Ladyland no one died in youth except by rare accident.”[1] – Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Hussain

 

In Sultana’s Dream, the author walks us through a world, Ladyland, where gender roles have been switched, women have taken over to rule the world while men are banished behind the pardhah. Written in 1905 under colonial India the feminist essay describes a self-sustaining life run on solar power by women.

 

Like the imaginary Ladyland, our imaginary club, the Pak Khawateen Painting Club re-imagines alternate realities where women infiltrate gendered official spaces. Dressed in uniforms, medals and badges, they exert authority while mimicking its tropes and enter architectural spaces designed to generate hydropower to run the nation. The Club traversed the Upper Indus going from dam to dam, being received by officials on site and toured control rooms, adits, tunnels, Chinese camps and some sites with just markings of reservoir water levels and a platform to meet officials.

 

Modernist ambitions

The all-male crew buzz around the concrete rotunda courtyard accented with the brass details with art deco hints. It is the department of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), run by a retired military general. The colonial period Mall Road was laid out by the British Raj to make Lahore look more like a civil city[2]. At its head the seven-story spacecraft like building of WAPDA diminishes the size of the parliament next door and is in complete contrast with Saracenic and Hindu architectural elements of the official buildings further down the road. Edward Durrell Stone was brought as an official architect to Pakistani government’s new projects, introduced by Abdus Salam to the then dictator Ayub Khan, who designed this International Style spacecraft from the modernist period.

 

“The first is the aspira­tion to the administrative ordering of nature and society, an aspiration that we have already seen at work in scientific forestry, but one raised to a far more comprehensive and ambitious level. “High modernism” seems an appropriate term for this aspiration. As a faith, it was shared by many across a wide spectrum of political ideologies. Its main car­riers and exponents were the avant-garde among engineers, planners, technocrats, high-level administrators, architects, scientists, and vi­sionaries. If one were to imagine a pantheon or Hall of Fame of high- modernist figures, it would almost certainly include such names as Henri Comte de Saint-Simon, Le Corbusier, Walther Rathenau, Robert McNamara, Robert Moses, Jean Monnet, the Shah of Iran, David Lilienthal, Vladimir I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Julius Nyerere.”[3] — James C. Scott

 

Pakistan too became an experiment for high modernism beginning in 1880. Colonial desire to harness the free-flowing Indus snaking through the Sapta Sindhu (land of seven rivers) crushing towns under its torrential current, was slowly maimed by the colonizer’s will to turn nature into a resource and water into a machine[4]. All in pursuance of fertile lands for agriculture to generate revenue for the master.

 

The annexation of Punjab in 1880 was the start of an ambitious project of the British administration where Punjab was seen as the ‘The New Agrarian Frontier.[5] It laid out a complex irrigation system of canals and colonies, relocated populations and socially engineered Punjab and Sindh.[6] The most complex irrigation system in the world to date, it supplies water to the Punjab breadbasket making it the most populous province in Pakistan.

 

David Lilienthal to modernist architects and engineers shaped the arid lands with canals, leading to monumental projects like Tarbela dam. These projects changed the landscape and annihilated traditional farming methods, becoming the root of salinity and sea intrusion in the Arabian sea delta. Tarbela dam was the aftermath of a compromised Indus Water Treaty in 1960, mediated by the World Bank with David Lilienthal, as compensation for the loss of three rivers.[7]

 

Archives show rows of detached homes in a utopian Italian officer’s town posted there for the Tarbela dams’ construction in the 1960s. The colony mimics a European lifestyle with a public pool, school, library and a church. Old films show dance parties of white employees with Italian pop music.[8] A friend recounts how they would go to the ‘Italian side to have gelato’. The dams’ structure itself, a Bauhaus style building designed by an American and Italian consortium. Completed in 1970s the design is utilitarian with terrazzo floors and concrete walls.

 

The control room resembles the inside of a spaceship painted green-screen green with knobs, dials and buttons. The era of futurology, sci-fi films, space age fashion design, ‘disciplined approach to the study of the future, based on systematic research using quantitative and qualitive methods’, forecasting and projections of how much wheat, cotton and sugar cane a country would need.[9] The era of modernism was also a race with India to accelerate in dam construction and atomic technology.[10]

 

 

Dam euphoria:

In 2018, we came full circle with an agenda to build ‘a dam a decade’.[11] This euphoria was drummed by the Chief Justice and was reminded on every advertisement to mobilize the citizens to crowdfund an $14 billion dam.[12]

 

We arrive next at a Chinese labor camp. Rows of containers parked on the banks of River Indus have been turned into make-shift housing. Dasu dam is not part of the ‘Belt and Road’ projects but has been under the Chinese contractors. Like us they are also all in uniform. They wear red jumpsuits with CGGC printed on the back. They whiz us through each site in their 4×4 wheelers and take us inside a diversion tunnel. ‘The first women to enter the tunnel in Asia,’ because it was considered bad luck.[13] The larger container rows were the cafeterias where we sit at a rotating table which offered half Pakistani food and half Chinese as a gesture of their immaculate hospitality. We are photographed throughout, and our every move is documented for their Facebook page.

 

We ask the consultants what they do for entertainment in the brutal and unsafe terrain of Kohistan. They tell us there is too much work and no time to think of entertainment.

The hot tin containers inside a treeless, highly guarded and caged compound are a far cry from the Italian officer’s town built at the Tarbela dam site in the 1960s.

 

Two years later in 2021 there is a bomb blast in one of their buses, it is tossed in the rough torrents of the Indus, construction is stopped for a short while.[14]

 

Deer and the dam:

We meet Malik Falqoos the jirga leader of the Kaighah valley. He is in disbelief that women visitors have arrived this far in the secluded valley in Kohistan.

 

We had asked WAPDA for security and we are escorted by the jirga members and two men from the Frontier Corps from Chitral. They are all armed with guns. Each valley is now accessible by car because of the Chinese Karakorum Highway built in the 1960s. Previously they were cut off for millennia and the vacuum was a catalyst for developing unique cultures and dialects, but now the original tongue is diluted with words of Urdu.[15] Kohistan is notorious for tribal rivalries. A no-go zone and an ungovernable territory. Over the years it has made news for honor-killings and highwaymen.[16]

 

Malik Falqoos in his remote valley has initiated a Markhor game reserve and with the help of his sons he manages to keep poachers out. The only inhabitants are his own family living at the entrance of the valley and two nomadic families living in the middle. We see them moving up the mountain with infants and toddlers tied with a rope to the belly of a mule for transport. The only route to the hunter’s hut is an eight-hour trek through the bed of a dried-up seasonal river. We jump over boulders and walk on the edges of cliffs.

Each year one hunt is auctioned off, usually to an Australian/ American/South African hunter to hunt one male Markhor for a hundred thousand dollars. [17]

 

With no electricity or mobile service for miles the skies light up at night revealing glittering constellations spread all across the sky stretching till the horizon. ‘Bolash’ are bursting cluster of stars like firecrackers in the sky. Another shaped like a charpoy travels across the sky from east to west. A Chinese space junk is spotted floating through the sky.

 

Malik Falqoos has adapted to the idea of a dam which will inundate a part of his land and his entire home. He has made inroads into WAPDA and negotiated for a road through his rough terrain. He feels the need to shift into tourism, which is unusual for the highly guarded and closed communities of Kohistan.

 

The Disappearance of a Princely State

Jahandad Khan and his ancestors had a different fate. In an era without social media activism and little knowledge about one’s rights, his family got barely compensated for land. Their princely state of Ambh mentioned in ancient texts as a resting abode for Alexander and his army, where he recruited a mercenary army, is now buried deep in the sedimentation of the 100km long reservoir. The wife of the nawab recounts how the elders of the family, not being able to withstand the loss, died before the completion of the dam. The villagers were relocated so far from the village that they are perpetually in a state of liminality with a change in language, climate and terrain. [18]

 

Jahandad, who was not born at the time of the completion of Tarbela dam, is collecting an archive to make sense of the loss and to document its memory. He recounts that in protest the villagers did not leave their homes when the spillways were first opened and had to be evacuated by the army by force under the guise of a flood rescue operation.

 

Shape Shifting Giants

All along the Indus there are stories of giants. Raja Rasalu the king of Attock killing cruel giants which have now transformed into hills along the Tarbela reservoir.[19] The Diamer Bhasha dam site is full of petroglyphs carved with doodles of giants.[20] Perhaps the tectonic shifts in the area and frequent earthquakes were justified using allegories of these creatures.

 

The land is shredded, excavated and punctured, making it into a dust bowl for the greater common good and for development. The initial dams were situated in populated areas and resulted in large displacements of people. However, presently the new dams are concentrated in isolated terrains where untenable land is useless for local populations, and the fair land compensation is an incentive to welcome dams. Although 27% of energy is produced by hydropower, by 2027 the cost of dam-building will accumulate to USD 200 billion and will be borne by taxpayers of Pakistan.[21] Are these new concrete giants a viable solution and will we be able to withstand their tremors?

 

 

[1] Rokeya S. Hossain, Sultana’s Dream, https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/sultana/dream/dream.html

[2] William J Glover, Making Lahore Modern : Constructing and Imagining a Colonial City. Karachi Division (Pakistan), Oxford University Press, 2011.

[3] James C. Scott, Seeing like a State How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, Conn. [U.A.] Yale Univ. Press [Ca, 2008.]

[4] Abdul Aijaz, and Majed Akhter. “From Building Dams to Fetching Water: Scales of Politicization in the Indus Basin.” Water, vol. 12, no. 5, 10 May 2020, p. 1351, 10.3390/w12051351. Accessed 5 June 2020.

[5] Imran Ali. The Punjab Under Imperialism, 1885-1947. Princeton University Press, 1988.
Conversations with the librarian and the women in the PR department at Water And Development Authority

[6] David Gilmartin. Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2015.

[7] Daniel Haines. Indus Divided, India, Pakistan And The River Basin Dispute, Penguin, 2018

[8] Tarbela Dam documentary, WAPDA Library Archives.

[9] Ziauddin Sardar. Future. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2013.

[10] Ashis Nandy. Science, Hegemony, and Violence : A Requiem for Modernity. Tokyo United Nations University, 1999.

[11] Mansoor Ahmed, One dam a decade: The only way to water, power independenc, Sept 7, 2017.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/228172-One-dam-a-decade-The-only-way-to-water-power-independence

[12] Mehar Ahmed, Pakistan Tries a New Way to Pay for a Dam: Crowdsourcing, New York Time, Oct 25, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/world/asia/pakistan-dam-fund.html

[13] Comments of a senior consultant from Japan

[14] Umar Bacha. Sirajuddin. 9 Chinese Engineers Among 12 Killed in ‘Attack’ Near Dasu Hydropower Plant, Dawn Newspaper, July 14, 2021

https://www.dawn.com/news/1635023/6-chinese-engineers-among-10-killed-in-attack-near-dasu-hydropower-plant

[15] Dr. Dani Ahmad Hasan, History of Northern Areas of Pakistan, Sang-e-meel, 2000

[16] Saeed Khan, Rina, Murder in Paradise, Dawn Newspaper, Jan 8, 2013

https://www.dawn.com/news/777246

[17] Abdul Ghafoor, Sustainability of Markhor Trophy Hunting Programme in District Kohistan Pakistan District Kohistan Pakistan, University Sains Malaysia, 2014

[18] Jahandad Khan, When water at Tarbela recedes, Bharukot Fort emerges to reveal an eventful history spanning centuries, Dawn News, 2019

[19] Rev. C Swynnerton, The Adventures of the Punjab Hero, Raja Rasalu, W. Newman and Co., 1884

[20] Dr. Dani Ahmad Hasan, Human Records on the Karakorum Highway, Sang-e-meel, 1995

[21] Usman Farooqui. “The Cost of Pakistan’s Dam Obsession.” Thediplomat.com, 4 Mar. 2021, thediplomat.com/2021/03/the-cost-of-pakistans-dam-obsession/.

 

 

[1] Rokeya S. Hossain, Sultana’s Dream, https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/sultana/dream/dream.html

[1] William J Glover, Making Lahore Modern : Constructing and Imagining a Colonial City. Karachi Division (Pakistan), Oxford University Press, 2011.

[1] James C. Scott, Seeing like a State How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, Conn. [U.A.] Yale Univ. Press [Ca, 2008.]
[1] Abdul Aijaz, and Majed Akhter. “From Building Dams to Fetching Water: Scales of Politicization in the Indus Basin.” Water, vol. 12, no. 5, 10 May 2020, p. 1351, 10.3390/w12051351. Accessed 5 June 2020.

[1] Imran Ali. The Punjab Under Imperialism, 1885-1947. Princeton University Press, 1988.
Conversations with the librarian and the women in the PR department at Water And Development Authority

[1] David Gilmartin. Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2015.

[1] Daniel Haines. Indus Divided, India, Pakistan And The River Basin Dispute, Penguin, 2018

[1] Tarbela Dam documentary, WAPDA Library Archives.

[1] Ziauddin Sardar. Future. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2013.

[1] Ashis Nandy. Science, Hegemony, and Violence : A Requiem for Modernity. Tokyo United Nations University, 1999.

[1] Mansoor Ahmed, One dam a decade: The only way to water, power independenc, Sept 7, 2017.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/228172-One-dam-a-decade-The-only-way-to-water-power-independence

[1] Mehar Ahmed, Pakistan Tries a New Way to Pay for a Dam: Crowdsourcing, New York Time, Oct 25, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/world/asia/pakistan-dam-fund.html

[1] Comments of a senior consultant from Japan

[1] Umar Bacha. Sirajuddin. 9 Chinese Engineers Among 12 Killed in ‘Attack’ Near Dasu Hydropower Plant, Dawn Newspaper, July 14, 2021

https://www.dawn.com/news/1635023/6-chinese-engineers-among-10-killed-in-attack-near-dasu-hydropower-plant

[1] Dr. Dani Ahmad Hasan, History of Northern Areas of Pakistan, Sang-e-meel, 2000

[1] Saeed Khan, Rina, Murder in Paradise, Dawn Newspaper, Jan 8, 2013

https://www.dawn.com/news/777246

[1] Abdul Ghafoor, Sustainability of Markhor Trophy Hunting Programme in District Kohistan Pakistan District Kohistan Pakistan, University Sains Malaysia, 2014

[1] Jahandad Khan, When water at Tarbela recedes, Bharukot Fort emerges to reveal an eventful history spanning centuries, Dawn News, 2019

[1] Rev. C Swynnerton, The Adventures of the Punjab Hero, Raja Rasalu, W. Newman and Co., 1884

[1] Dr. Dani Ahmad Hasan, Human Records on the Karakorum Highway, Sang-e-meel, 1995

[1] Usman Farooqui. “The Cost of Pakistan’s Dam Obsession.” Thediplomat.com, 4 Mar. 2021, thediplomat.com/2021/03/the-cost-of-pakistans-dam-obsession/.

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FOUNDING CONCEPT & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR:
Dr. Sean Lowry
projectanywhere@gmail.com

About Project Anywhere

Project Anywhere is proudly supported as part of a partnership between the Centre of Visual Art (University of Melbourne) and Parsons School of Art, Media and Technology (Parsons School of Design, The New School).