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): Malika Abbas, Saulat Ajmal, Amna Hashmi, Saba Khan, Natasha Malik, Zohreen Murtaza and Emaan Shaikh.

The artist collective was founded in 2020 in Lahore, where the members live and work.

SAF participation:
Production Programme 2020

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