Saba Ahmed talks to Nagin Hayat, a fiery crusader for the arts
Itâ€™s true that it takes an artist to make one. The founder of Nomad Art and Cultural Centre in Islamabad, Nagin Hayat, is an artist first and then an ardent crusader for the arts and crafts. And Naginâ€™s outlook is visionary. Nomad has become a major hub of creative and cultural cross-pollination in Islamabad and boasts creative partners from all four provinces. Fearfully articulate and enterprising, talking to Nagin is a thoroughly engaging experience. She was a founding member of the Islamabad chapter of the Womenâ€™s Action Forum, as well as the brains behind the small art and design consultancy called Nagin Hayat and Associates. She worked on integration with villages and their communities years ago, in 1984, when social entrepreneurship was relatively unknown.
â€œWhen people walk into Nomad, everybody gets treated as a visitor or a guest. We donâ€™t have what we call buyers, because we look at Nomad as a larger cultural space,â€ says Nagin. Half the work done by the small team at Nomad is voluntary and community based. The times I have visited Nomad, itâ€™s always bustling with people and creative activity of some kind or the other. The cafÃ© is laid back, the type of place where you can converse and discuss art (the food too is light, similar to the fare of a tea house). Vocational training is provided through Nomadâ€™s program called Art for Social Change, Peace and Activism. The subjects range from organic paper-making to graphics and media. â€œThe outreach,â€ Nagin tells me, â€œis great because we do a lot of work through other organizations.â€
The good news: all of this comes back to us as colorful and delightful indigenous craft pieces
The training programs at Nomad have a domino effect on teaching and outreach. Working with different profiles of workers and communities, Nagin creates specific outreach programs for women and the villages they come from. Such programs bring back up on their feet those home-based workers who have been through trauma, abuse or are barred from leaving the home. The good news: all of this comes back to us as colorful and delightful indigenous craft pieces.
â€œItâ€™s very difficult to choose a favorite amongst the crafts,â€ she replies when asked which her favourite is. Not only is Nagin an avid painter and photographer herself, she also guides and critiques many artists who have been coming to her over the years. â€œTo me, an artist is any person who has a creative side,â€ says Nagin. A lot of contemporary art spaces have sprung up in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad, and they automatically provide the kind of creative and nurturing environment that she thinks can only be positive. â€œWith an artist, irrespective of art education, I think itâ€™s the end result that matters,â€ says Nagin. â€œAs long as they get a good critique and guidance, and places where they can exhibit their work, they can get a response and a reward. Thatâ€™s what matters.â€
Nagin acknowledges the presence of commercial art and commends the skill of those who create and market such artworks. At Nomad, youâ€™ll see more abstract, expressionist, symbolic work. â€œI find that more excitingâ€ says Nagin. â€œAnd itâ€™s got to excite me to be here.â€ Nagin and I both agree that art snobs need to realize that art is not always for artâ€™s sake, especially in a country like Pakistan. â€œYou and I may like that idea, itâ€™s very romantic,â€ says Nagin, â€œbut everybody would like to get a little paycheck if theyâ€™ve invested something.â€ Itâ€™s true. Successful Pakistani artists like Shazia Sikander and Rashid Rana have made a name for themselves, and helped expand the horizons for Pakistani artists. Christieâ€™s and Sothebyâ€™s too have now picked up Pakistani art along with the Dubai, Miami and Basel art fairs.
Nomad has been running film festivals with Amnesty International and has only recently held the first Nomad Media Film Fair for young Pakistani filmmakers
In Pakistan, the media â€” TV, especially â€” is a very important tool with there being more than a hundred channels. â€Forget the public sector,â€ says Nagin, â€œJust look at what the scripts and drama serials say about women or how they reflect our society. Sometimes itâ€™s as bad as the texts and the curriculums and the history which has been distorted.â€ The media industry desperately needs a dose of progressive education. Nomad has been running film festivals with Amnesty International, Vancouver and has only recently held the first Nomad Media Film Fair for young Pakistani filmmakers.
Up at Nomad these days is a major show by Nahid Raza and Sumera Jawed called Counter Narrative, Redefining feminism. In a country like ours, exploding the stereotypes associated with feminism becomes crucial. â€œEven most women donâ€™t understand it,â€ says Nagin. â€œThey believe youâ€™ve got to be a bra-burning feminist lesbian to get accepted as a feminist. This is not true.â€Â As with most of us, Nagin feels pain and sadness at the diminishing pluralism in Pakistani society. But everyday she persists in her work and the fight to make this country a more tolerant, diverse place. â€œYou must be empathetic and go out there and treat others with kindness,â€ she says. â€œI donâ€™t see too much of that around and this is sad, because we lose so much.â€
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