The Artist in Pakistan

You Will Never Be An Artist in Pakistan, So What’s The Point Of All This?

The other day I woke up at 4am to have a really proper think about what I’m going to do in life. This seems to be a very millennial thing to do, to way way overthink your position in the greater scheme of things. But a 4am panic attack isn’t something you take lightly, so after acknowledging the cliché of waking up covered in sweat, I got to work.

I thought I’d have made a film by now. Like an independent feature film. That obviously hasn’t happened except for a short film I made in college, which doesn’t count because half the shots are out of focus and there is sometimes no sound. Also I play every character, just with a different accent. My mother still thinks I should send it to film festivals. ‘What about that ‘Canz’, can’t you send it there?’, she asks. No Amma, no I cannot.

So the film hasn’t happened. I thought I’d have written a novel by now. I’m only 25 years old but the years seem to be slipping away. I’m losing the ‘young novelist’ points as we speak! Young novelists get so much forgiven in the name of youth and inexperience, but soon my shit writing might just be shit writing! Lack of grammar won’t be a ‘bright voice with joie de vivre’ but instead just like, seriously, you’re using semi colons completely wrong; how have you not got this yet?


Hey dumbo, it’s out of focus!

So what am I going to DO? What am I going to BE? What am I going to CONTRIBUTE to the WORLD? I drift off into a really uncomfortable sleep with these questions fogging up my mental windshield. When it gets really bad, there’s always the briefly soothing calamine lotion: none of this matters anyway, settle down, get married, have kids, don’t sweat it dude! You’ll be ok!

Brief digression: It’s monsoon season and I live in a basement flat in Lahore. The pipes get flooded sometimes, and so frogs find themselves hopping out of drainage holes in my bathroom. The frog will go out to explore, following the light. It hops around the living room, from one end to the other. Sometimes it feels like a pet, although I haven’t named it and am never sure if it’s the same frog or multiple different frogs that look very similar. It never looks lost (although I don’t know what a lost frog looks like) it just looks like it’s exploring, and I’ve never found a dead frog, and so I let it roam around the apartment.

Artist representation of living room frog (not to scale)

ANYWAY, the other week I came back from an interview with a Lahore indie rock band. During the interview, they tell me that they pretty much had their album locked down two years ago, and are now releasing those songs. ‘Oh OK’, I say, ‘that’s a lot of dedication!’ but inside I’m wondering; how haven’t you all bashed your own heads in by now? ‘We’re sick of these songs’, they admit a little sheepishly. Yeah no shit. But I leave the interview feeling happy that people are making things even if it takes two years to make those things, and even if you hate those things at the end of it. The process of creation is beautiful, you have made something out of nothing, turned a 0 into a 1. There is victory in that, I think, no matter how small the product or tortured the process.

Inside I’m wondering; how haven’t you all bashed your own heads in by now?

A week later the band releases the album. It’s good, I really enjoy it. Their Facebook page has a few hundred extra likes than the previous month. There are plenty of likes and shares on the singles. Perhaps this is the start of something, I think. I mean this is probably how things start, generally speaking.

But also, in the vast majority of cases in Pakistani music, this is also the finishing line. It might not get better than this. It might be the last time you see this many likes, shares, comments on your Facebook posts. Maybe only bots and fake accounts will retweet your next tweet? The album launch gig you did at that café? Only your friends showed up, along with the couple who were just trying to eat, and even asked if you could play a little quieter? You’re late for your 4am panic attack.

In my living room I’ve got a poster print of a Salvador Dali painting, the one with the elephants with really long legs. It’s on the floor, propped up against the wall right now because I haven’t had a chance to hang it up yet. Every time the frog hops through the living room, it pauses in front of the Dali print as if it’s taking a long hard look at it. I’m not joking here. Like 30 seconds at least in front of the elephants, routinely. It’s a museum frog. An art gallery amphibian.

Frog in living room (updated)
Artist representation of frog in living room (updated, still not to scale)

You will never be an artist. The chances are so ridiculously slim that they might as well be zero. Making money from your art in Pakistan on the alternative end of the spectrum is close to impossible.

But everything you make is out there. It occupies a space where there was nothing before. And there’s a value in that I think. It may not register with anyone, it might not get any love reacts on Facebook, but it exists. Perhaps it only exists in the same way a Dali poster exists to a frog: just something to look at on the journey.

But it exists, and there’s a value to that, I think.

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