I have already written about the painting at the Shanakht festival that got into trouble:
There have been questions raised as to whether it is art or even satire. Both are difficult to define and cannot be seen objectively.
There can be very dark commentary, as Iranian artist Ardeshir Mohassess portrays:
Quite a bit of Salvador Dali’s works would qualify as parody.
It is even possible to go way back into the 16th century. Artist Jacob Jordaens’ The Satyr by the Farmer is perhaps a telling commentary where the satyr is the cowering figure, while the farmers are in what may be described as a 'peasantly' expressive orgy. I am completely fascinated by how almost everyone is using their hands:
Political parody need not be obvious, but if it is then it can be analysed by those standards.
This brings us to the Shanakht painting. Almost everyone has spoken about it being objectionable because of the image of Benazir.
This is part of what I wrote in the earlier post:
It does not look like a tasteful idea but then reams have been written about how Pakistani democracy invariably plays along with the army. This happens to be historical reality. Besides, is art merely supposed to be tasteful and not comment wryly, or even with a whiplash, at prevalent norms and mishaps?
…If, say, Benazir is shown as Mother Teresa, would the moral-keepers of Pakistani society object to her non-Muslimness, her Indian connection or her canonisation, which is against Islam?
With the image now available to me, I would like to use the perceptive comment posted by mstaab (in italics here) to deconstruct it:
I haven't seen the work depicting Ms. Bhutto perched on Gen Zia's lap either; but one can well imagine. As a part of our paternity here in the west, we have such expressions as, "in the lap of luxury," which is suggestive of especial privilege. Another such expression plays off a fairly common domestic image of a child nestled comfortably on the lap of a parent or caregiver while being regaled with a story. We say "X learned it at Y's knee," which conveys the transference of cultural wisdom from an elder to a youngster. The image of Santa Claus in countless shopping malls across the US, hordes of children lined up to take their turn on his lap to make their particular request(s) for consumer goods, is still thought to illustrate the winsome innocence of children and their pressing desires.
The lap of luxury concept is rather obvious here where Benazir is dressed in finery. She is a grown woman and therefore an element of wiliness can be conjectured upon. Even coquettishness. She is also head and shoulders above Zia, which means that she knows her place. Is it the wisdom from an elder?
Zia got her father killed. So, if the artist was timing it ‘pre’ that period then the above may work. If it is ‘post’, then perhaps she was playing along or became a happy victim to get some gains and then topple him. Which she did.
Interestingly, the Islamist Zia is quite comfortable with her un-Islamic dress and posture and both are holding each other.
This would connote the rich kid who still yearns for Santa Claus goodies because of its…
To cater to greed
To follow parental indoctrination
It must also be noted that she is the only one whose skin colour is close to real and not the pantomime mask of the rest, except the figure on the far right top.
Maybe her history is still fresh and therefore not concretised.
Certainly it makes sense that the personalities involved (Ms. Bhutto and Gen Zia, in this instance) might cue the viewer as to how this arrangement is to be interpreted. After all, there are countless paintings of "Madonna and Child" that depict a naked baby Jesus holding forth from the lap of a fully clothed Virgin Mother; but I have yet to hear of any interpretation of these works that suggests the naked (perhaps even "vulnerable") Christ-child as being, say, a ventriloquist's dummy…
Besides the point about vulnerability, there is the innocence factor too. The transposed innocence of the Virgin Mother’s with the child’s. Also the comfort level with nudity seeks to confirm the purity. And immaculateness.
However, this particular image shows a stern mother and a certain distancing. The child looks mature and is apparently already his own person:
The ventriloquist’s dummy brings me back to the Shanakht painting. Ayub Khan is carrying a baby Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Military dictatorship was a new phenomenon, and there is benign distance in the armyman’s demeanour, whereas an impetuous child Bhutto is holding him, while in deep thought looking ahead. This is again a part of recorded history. The petulant child found a new Santa, who is interestingly in the foreground.
Yahya Khan is shown as almost a ridiculous dwarf physically, but his face is in repose. Probably in the classical ‘sitting for a portrait’ mould. From all accounts, the gentleman behind him is Mujib-ur-Rehman. I am sticking my neck out with this, but if it is so it is sought to be shown that there was a tacit understanding between them that later failed. He is wearing almost priest-like robes, a fact that harks to his later beatification as the creator of Bangladesh and martyr for its cause.
Certainly many western (and eastern) businessmen have some familiarity with the "lap dance." And, likewise, there yet remains in the consciousness of some the not-altogether-bygone imagery of a secretary (generally female) with notepad in hand athwart the manager's lap (generally male), "taking dictation" (it may be helpful for folks from Mumbai to exchange the secretary for starlet and the manager for film director, with the activity being "learning his/her lines," lol).
The imagery of the lap dancer also means deceit; the belief that what you are paying for is really catering to you. The dancers’ motives are clear; the obfuscation of the clients’ understanding makes it poignant.
“Taking dictation” and lines being scripted are a part of any political tamasha.
Tasteless art is probably trying to reflect that very tastelessness.