Promoting self expression across cultures through Art

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Rabi Georges is a German artist of Syrian origin whose academic training includes costume design and visual design. His interaction with Pakistan started in Dubai via Abdullah Qureshi who was exhibiting with a couple of other Pakistani artists in the institute where Rabi is working.

Last year was his first visit to the country for a conference arranged by the British Council Pakistan. The trip helped change his perception which like for the majority were previously based on what shown through the eyes of mainstream media and his interactions with the Pakistani workers in Dubai.

This time around, his second trip was the result of the sixth annual THAAP conference and his performance in the connected exhibit ‘Is Saye Kay Parcham Talay’ at Gallery 39K in Lahore.

Rabi has never shied away from controversial topics. The topics he highlights through his art are derived from the society itself, topics that most prefer to deliberately swipe under the carpet. Be it the role of women in religion, their rights or the struggles of minorities.

When asked about his experience in Pakistan, his spontaneous response was:

“I was really very surprised when I came to Pakistan.”

When applying for documentation for travelling to Pakistan, he had to sign some papers that made him conscious of the problems that he was not thinking about and that initially made him a bit uncomfortable. His personal experience, however has been completely different.

Women of the country surprised him the most. The fact that unlike what is portrayed in the mainstream media, he discovered that not all women wear a veil. For him the role of women tells a lot about a society in general and especially when it comes to a male dominated society.

“Women here are very strong, bold and educated. They are keen to change their fate and that of their country.”

From a cultural point of view Rabi liked the fact that Pakistanis are actively defending their culture. He learned the term “Arabization” and the fact that a specific set of Arabic culture’s dominance is being countered by the general public.

“Your are fighting in your country Arabization, I would use the word ‘fight’ because you are conscious of it. For example there are specific words that people here don’t like to use because they come from that culture and women prefer their own traditional dress over theirs and I really appreciate this.”

Discussing his interactions with the local artists and how he perceives contemporary art from the country, Rabi is of the opinion that even though it is quite new here and some might consider it not to be so mature but it is quite bold and actively talking about political issues through it.

“I believe that the art scene will become very strong and more and more people will get involved in it. It does not exist in a bubble, it is engaging the larger community. This will further help improve it and also help it grow.”

Talking about self-expression, something that he strongly believes in and encourages people to do, Rabi did admit that it is difficult everywhere as it requires that people leave their own comfort zone. However, when it comes to societies like Pakistan it is much more difficult as along with ones’ own comfort zone, people have to distance themselves from the view point of their parents, close friends and the macro views of the society in general as well. It is not just religious but cultural norms that put constraints. 

“Self-expression requires a strong mind and will power.”

To many it seems that when you are self-expressing, you are disrespecting others and what is considered to be the norms. The difficulty level also depends on which part of the society you belong to, its associated sub-culture and the level of room it provides for your expression and freedom.

“People need to know that by self-expression they will not just be make a personal change, they will change the society by helping in its development.

“I encourage people to go ahead and do what they want so they don’t have any regrets later. It is the inner fear that prevents you and later this fear will turn into dissatisfaction and regret.”

Education, Rabi added is essential for anyone to be able to achieve this. And access to education again depends on your socio-economic background here. Despite its problems, Pakistan has impressed this visiting artist enough that he wants to come again and hopes that his next trip would give him more time to explore other cities as well. We hope he does get to visit again and experience more of our hospitality.

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