Manifestations of Social Realism Across Diverse Forms of Pakistani Art

Munazzah Akhtar, Sarah Javed Shah, Rabia Ahmed Qureshi


Social Realism, an artistic movement introduced in the second quarter of the twentieth century, influenced an entire generation of artists all over the world. It explores the themes ranging from poverty to anti-state demonstrations, and from depictions against imperialism to class inequality, gender oppression and social injustice. Elements of social realism are not surprising to encounter in the Pakistani art world, considering the ideals of the style and the turbulent history of the country since its independence in 1947. Pakistani artists have always been sensitive to the social and political issues of the country, which have somewhat become fragments of its identity, especially as ascertained by the western gaze. Women’s persecution and social exclusion is one such subject that has become an identifier for Pakistan, although a human development report of the United Nations recognizes the country having better gender equality than neighboring India. Nevertheless, women oppression is also a theme that has often been explored by the profound Pakistani artists, using diverse approaches and media. The aim of this paper is to show how artistic works produced by different Pakistani artists are sometimes metaphorically, formalistically and symbolically connected in their concepts, drawing on the social realistic subject of gender oppression.

The paper begins with briefly introducing the contemporary art of Pakistan and its diverse focuses. Subsequently, it juxtaposes two artistic works, produced decades apart and apparently using disparate forms: poetry and visual art. The poem titled “Mere dard ko jo zuban miley” (1972) by modern revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (d. 1984), and the digital art series titled “The Veil” (2004) by contemporary artist Rashid Rana (b. 1968), are compared for this purpose. The objective is to demonstrate that although both these works appear distinct, in time and nature, yet they are covertly united by their theme, that is, of personifying subjugated women, and their conceptual frameworks. The paper formally analyzes both works; deconstruct their structures, meanings and connotations, and ultimately establishes an ekphrastic relationship between the two.

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