South Asia Institute
South Asia Institute

Emergent Voices: Pakistan in the 21st Century

Participant Bios and Abstracts

(For conference program click here)


Asad Ahmed is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University. He is currently working on a monograph entitled "Languages of the Law: Islam, Liberalism and Moral Community in Pakistan."

"Reflections on Religious Nationalism: The Rangila Rasul Episode"

This paper asks how we are to understand phenomena that are subsumed or explained by the term religious nationalism. Nationalism is considered to be secular and as such "religious nationalism" appears to be an oxymoron. How does Muslim nationalism and Pakistan¹s subsequent experience bear on a revisiting and rethinking of the categories of religion, secularism and nationalism? Can the Pakistan experience re-order our understanding of the relationship between religion and politics or is it reflective of the inability to re-order the modern state form. This paper attempts a preliminary exploration of these questions by (i) unpacking Jinnah¹s understanding of religion, nation and Islam and (ii) examining the relationship between subjectivity, affect and Muslim normativity as exemplified by the "Rangila Rasul" episode and by instances of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammed more generally.

Iftikhar Dadi is Associate Professor in Cornell University's Department of History of Art, and is chair of the Department of Art. Dadi is an artist and art historian broadly interested in the relation between art practice in the contexts of modernity, globalization, urbanization, mediatization, and postcolonialism. He has authored numerous scholarly works, including the recent book Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia. Curatorial activities include Unpacking Europe at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, and Tarjama/Translation at Queens Museum of Art and Cornell's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. As an artist, Dadi works collaboratively with Elizabeth Dadi. Their work investigates the salience of popular urban and media cultures in the construction of memory, borders, and identity in contemporary globalization. Their work is frequently realized in large-scale installations and has been exhibited and published internationally.

"Modernism in Pakistani Art"

This paper situates the emergence of modernism in Pakistani art by tracing one influential genealogical trajectory-artistic subjectivity characterized by nationalism, modernism, cosmopolitanism, and "tradition." While artists contributed to national life by forming new institutional frameworks for the patronage, exhibition, and reception of modern art, the addressee of their art cannot be simply equated with a Pakistani nationhood marked by aporias and impasses. By largely refusing to address the social world directly during the early decades, artists experimented with subjecthood and artistic form as metaphors and allegories of a deeper and more nuanced exploration of the quandaries of modernity. 

Will Glover is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan with appointments in both Architecture and the Department of History. He teaches courses in architectural and urban history, theory, and science and technology studies. His book, Making Lahore Modern: Constructing and Imagining a Colonial City (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) was the winner of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies 2008 Junior Book Award. Glover's research explores the imbrication of built environments, knowledge cultures, and urban processes in colonial South Asia. He is the former Director of the University of Michigan's Center for South Asian Studies (2007-09), and former Associate Director of the International Institute at the University of Michigan (2009-11).

"Village Modern"

My current research grows out of an interest in thinking through the nature of what came to be called the "rural-urban continuum" by the middle decades of the twentieth century in South Asia.  My presentation will suggest that the catalyst for imagining urban and rural domains as existing in some relation of contiguity-as opposed to being separate and more or less autonomous from one another-was a crisis in what colonial administrators saw as India's traditional agrarian structure.  Breakdown of customary forms of authority, the fragmentation of fields and the increasing prevalence of uneconomic holdings that followed on from that, and migration from farms to towns in response to unpromising conditions in the countryside are important elements of that crisis.  In response, both colonial and anti-colonial social formations translated "urban logics" to the countryside in a wide-spread program of village uplift and rural reconstruction aimed at transforming rural space and society. For the purposes of this talk, I will propose that we analyze these processes as a kind of aesthetic proposition, one in which consolidation, geometrical rationalization, interconnectivity, and an affective mode privileging participant observation, the somaticization of "felt needs," and an emphasis on self-sufficiency were the hallmark features.  My case studies will be taken primarily from colonial Punjab.

Matthew Hull is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.  His research focuses on the nexus of representation, technology, and institutions in urban South Asia.  His book, Government of Paper: The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan (California 2012), examines governance as a semiotic and material practice through an account of the role of writing and written artifacts in the operations of city government in Islamabad. He has also written on the deployment of American technologies of democracy in urban planning and community development projects led by the Ford Foundation in Delhi in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

"Parchis, Petitions, and Political Connections"

In the bureaucratic arena of Islamabad petitions and parchis (visiting cards and "chits"-small notes recommending the bearer) constitute political connections and political subjects. Ideally, chits and petitions are opposites in form and in the relationships they constitute and represent.  Small chits (parchis), secreted in pockets, stitch together an opaque world of private or even secret connections and call for the special treatment of their bearers. Publicly presented, petitions are an open engagement with government, invoking their citizen signatories' rights to or needs for just treatment under policies and laws.  However, in practice, both can become vehicles for the extra-procedural intervention by politicians, senior government servants, and businessmen.   The efficacy of these artifacts lies in the interplay of their sociomaterial circulation and the discourses they mediate. The widespread use of parchis leads many Pakistanis to have greatly exaggerated perceptions of the degree to which connections shape activities of the government.

Humeira Iqtidar is lecturer in politics at King's College London. Her research is concerned with exploring the contours of social and political theory particularly in the South Asian context. She is interested in the shifting demarcations of state and market, society and economy, secularism and secularization.

"Secularising Islamists? Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Urban Pakistan"

What is the relationship between secularism, the state policy; and secularisation, the social process? Most discussions tend to confuse the two, moving from one to the other; there is much conceptual confusion about the relationship between the two. Does the adoption of secularism as a policy lead to the process of secularisation in society? Or does secularisation lead to the adoption of a state policy of secularism? Is it possible that they may sometimes move in opposing directions? That groups such as the Islamists who oppose secularism may be, inadvertently perhaps, facilitating secularisation? The presentation will build upon ethnographic research carried out with two Islamist parties in Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa to think through the long term implications of Islamism in pre-dominantly Muslim contexts.

Naveeda Khan is assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University's Department of Anthropology.  She is the editor of Beyond Crisis: Reevaluating Pakistan (2010) and the author of Muslim Becoming: Aspiration and Skepticism in Contemporary Pakistan (2012).  Her articles are to be found in Cultural Anthropology, Social Text, Anthropological Theory, Theory and Event, CSSH among other journals and edited volumes.  In her new research project Naveeda moves from religious observances in urban Pakistan to the theologically inflected perception of weather on silt islands within the river system in Bangladesh.  As part of this new project she is interested to examine Ayub Khan's engineering efforts in East Pakistan in the 1950s and comparative perspectives on the climate and weather in present day Pakistan.

"Beyond Exception? Aversive Thinking within Constitutionalism in South Asia"

Constitutional historians have long protested that Giorgio Agamben's understanding of the "state of exception" as the primary mode of modern government is oblivious to actual developments within constitutional theory.  In other words, Agamben is more concerned with an ethico-political stance towards our present than with the longstanding discussion and experimentation within constitutional theory on how to ensure that the temporary resort to emergency powers does not become permanent.  If one were to retain Agamben's ethical posture of concern for our present vulnerability to exception with its accompanying void of rights and distinctions, yet also attend to developments within constitutionalism, one can do no better than to consider two recent efforts to scale back the encroachment of military government and martial law upon constitutions, notably in Pakistan and Bangladesh.  In 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared Musharaff's 2007 proclamation of emergency rule illegal on grounds that it constituted an attempt at a coup.  This declaration came over the course of a robust lawyers movement aimed at re-instating civilian authority over the military.  In 2010 the Supreme Court of Bangladesh upheld a High Court decision to nullify all amendments made to the constitution under various military governments, effectively reversing it to its 1972 version.  It is noteworthy that both of these are efforts at reverting to a previous state, whether imagined or desired.  In the Pakistan case this is the Archimedean point at which military was under civilian authority and in the Bangladesh case it is the point at which socialism and secularism held greatest promise.  I take such reverting not as wishful thinking producing a turn away from the present or an erasure of history but as an attempt to return to a previous aspiration to a collective self.  The American philosopher Stanley Cavell calls such gestures within writing "aversive thinking."  To inquire further into the potentialities of aversive thinking for each case, I read the texts of these two Supreme Court judgments within their moments with the following in mind: How are these returns effected?  What founding concepts and tensions are re-found?  How is this re-founding moment peopled by others, if indeed they are? In other words, how do these exercises in aversive thinking find a foothold within the present darkly described by Agamben?  And, do they open us to "careers of constitutionalism" beyond exception?

Rochona Majumdar is Associate Professor in the departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. She is a historian of modern India. Her interests span histories of Indian cinema, gender and marriage in colonial India, and Indian intellectual thought in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Majumdar is the author of Writing Postcolonial History (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010); Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal (Durham: Duke University Press / New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009); From the Colonial to the Postcolonial: India and Pakistan in Transition (Editors, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rochona Majumdar & Andrew Sartori, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Farina Mir is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab (Berkeley: University of California, 2010); and co-editor, with Anshu Malhotra, of, Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture, and Practice (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012).

"The Time of Literary History: Reconsidering Modernity in an Indian Vernacular"

This presentation will consider the relationship between genre and modernity in Indian vernacular traditions, on the one hand, while giving consideration to the broader question on temporality in the writing of Indian vernacular literary history, on the other. It will focus on Punjabi literature, in particular, examining crucial shifts in Punjabi literary production and authors'/poets' self-fashioning which, it will be argued, took place in the nineteenth century. The foundation for the presentation is an analysis of nineteenth-century printed (lithographed) Punjabi texts, in both the Gurmukhi and Indo-Persian scripts.

Aamir Mufti is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at UCLA. His work reconsiders the secularization thesis in a comparative perspective, with a special interest in Islam and modernity in India and the cultural politics of Jewish identity in Western Europe. His areas of specialization include: colonial and postcolonial literatures, with a primary focus on India and Britain, and nineteenth- and twentieth-century Urdu literature in particular; Marxism and aesthetics; Frankfurt School critical theory; minority cultures; exile and displacement; refugees and the right to asylum; modernism and fascism; language conflicts; global English and the vernaculars; and the history of Anthropology. His most recent contribution to the study of secularism is a book, Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture (Princeton University Press). Current work includes two book projects-one concerning exile and criticism and the other, the colonial reinvention of Islamic traditions.

"Revolution's Late Style: Dialectics of Multitude in Faiz Ahmed Faiz."

In a number of his late poems, Faiz turned to the question of the nature of the historical present, a “moment” characterized by the "lateness" of its emergence. These works revisit the entire arc of the twentieth century and raise fundamental questions about the vocabulary of the revolutionary imagination, the terms in which the revolutionary subject has been historically imagined and conceived. They rearticulate the hope for human emancipation, find a new language for its articulation, precisely in the aftermath of the collapse or containment of revolutionary politics worldwide.

Tahir Naqvi is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Trinity University. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, his research addresses questions of state power, urban space, and the production of political identities in South Asia and the Muslim world. He is currently working on a manuscript entitled Movement through Difference: Nationalism, Migration and Urban Politics in Pakistan.

"Nation, Space, Exception: Pakistan's Basic Democracies Experiment"

Pakistan's first military dictatorship launched the Basic Democracies Scheme in 1960, after a bloodless coup that dissolved political parties and legislative institutions. This paper considers how the architects of the "BD system" reconceived the Pakistani nation-form in response to the ends of martial rule, namely, the permanent empowerment of the postcolonial executive. I theorize the "BD Scheme" as an extraconstitutional system of governmentality that produced the Pakistani citizen ambivalently - as an authentic yet non-transcendent subject of the nation. I show how the Basic Democracies Scheme rationalized the state's negation of wider channels of democratic participation by nationalizing the parochial as an expression of the true "genius" of the Pakistani people. Such attempts to fragment and reassign the experience of national solidarity, I contend, drew inspiration from the racial assumptions of the colonial state in a postcolonial context marked by uncertainty about the form of Muslim national solidarity. Moving between programmatic literature on Basic Democracies and nineteenth century colonial debates on the reform of local "self-government" this paper traces the genealogical and comparative significance of the following question: can a nation in which democratic participation is confined exclusively to the local level continue to feel and act as a nation?

Sameera Raja was trained as an architect from the National college of Arts, Lahore in 1990. After some years of architectural practice, she founded Canvas Gallery in Karachi, the premier Art Gallery of Pakistan dealing in modern , miniature and contemporary art. In the short span of ten years, Ms. Raja expanded her space, influence and areas of interest / business, hence Canvas Gallery has become the leading private gallery, representing important artists of the country. Ms. Raja has also collaborated with a number of galleries in USA, UK and Middle East in order to promote contemporary art of Pakistan, and is planning to publish a series of books / monographs on Pakistani art and artists.

"Rites of Passage, from the Modern to the Contemporary"

Nada Raza is an independent curator and writer from Karachi. Recent projects she has worked on include Lines of Control (2008-2012), most recently exhibited at the Herbert F Johnson Museum at Cornell University;  and Social Fabric (2012) at Iniva. She has worked with Green Cardamom and Iniva (the Institution of International Visual Arts). Nada has an MA in Critical Writing and Curatorial Practice from the Chelsea College of Art and Design. She currently lives and works in London.

"Exhibition Evidence"

I will present fragments from visual research conducted in Pakistan in 2010. Working through exhibition catalogues and poor images gleaned from magazine articles and ephemera, an unstable history of exhibition making in and from Pakistan emerges. While the project itself remains incomplete, viewing this material through the lens of present conditions of artistic and curatorial practice in Pakistan - dominated by the traveling survey exhibition dealing with post-9/11 anxieties - points to the urgent need for making archival material accessible to researchers and art historians, perhaps enabling more complex and nuanced approaches. I will conclude with more recent exhibitions of work by artists from Pakistan, locally and abroad, where the relatively recent emergence of independent curatorial practices has begun to shift the field of the exhibition from a democratic form of display to a pedagogical space produced by the authorial role of the curator.

Cabeiri Robinson is Assistant Professor of International Studies and South Asia Studies at the University of Washington (Seattle).  She received her PhD in Anthropology from Cornell University.  Her book, Body of the Victim, Body of the Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists, will be published by the University of California Press in January 2013; it  examines the social and political history of Muslim Kashmiri refugee involvement in a trans-national organization of nationalist and jihadist militancy.  Her current on-going research in Pakistan examines the roles of the Pakistan army and security services, international humanitarian organizations, and Islamist charities in providing relief and formulating a rehabilitation policy in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunwa after the South Asian earthquake of October 2005.

"From Protective Migration to Armed Struggle: Rights and Sovereignty in the New Jihads"

Hijarat and jihād provide moral frameworks through which Muslim refugees interpret the relationships between personal and collective suffering, social responsibility, and political action. Kashmiri refugees resettled in Pakistan employed the terms to evaluate the conditions under which they are obliged to endure political violence or permitted to perpetrate violent struggle in the name of political and social ideals, such as the sovereignty of the polity or the duty to protect the community. Yet, neither hijarat nor jihād present a simple mytho-historical model for how to respond to and live with political violence. As social and political practices, hijarat and jihād are imbedded in present-oriented domains of power, both local and global. In Kashmiri refugee communities, ideas about the ‘Kashmir Jihād' were not primarily defined by Islamic doctrine or by fundamentalist or Islamist ideology. The term jihād accommodated multiple political aspirations within an Islamicate terminology, including nationalist ideals like self-determination (khudirādiyat) and independence (āzādī). Even within families, individuals come to very different conclusions about what it means to be a Muslim refugee or to be a defender of Muslim peoples, and people's assessments of how to balance religions obligations with social responsibilities change over time.  As formulated by Kashmiri refugee communities in Pakistan, the legitimization, organization, and practice of jihād as ‘armed struggle' was characterized by the connection between duty (farz) and rights, specifically human rights (insānī haqūq)-not between duty (farz) and sovereign territory (dār) (as in both classical and modernist juridical and doctrinal traditions), or between duty and the Islamic order (nizām-e-Islamī) or the state (dawla) (as formulated by Islamist ideologues).  Jihadist organizations accommodated the image of the mujāhid as the defender of victimized Kashmiri women, but self-proclaimed mujāhids joined multiple organizations and frequently left one for another.  They needed the infrastructural support that jihadist organizations offered, but were not constrained by the ideological and bodily disciplining of religious institutions. In evaluating the extent and limits of their duties, Kashmiri mujāhids emphasized the importance of their personal experiences, their understanding of those experiences in the broader political context, and their conscious evaluations of their obligations to their families and their society.  Their concept of rights was a hybrid of Islamicate and late modern global political ideas, and it shifted the terrain of struggle from sovereign territory to the sovereign body.

Sadia Shirazi is an architect, curator, and educator based in New York City. She is engaged in a transdisciplinary practice investigating the relationship of art, architecture and urbanism to socio-political issues, cultural memory, and exhibition practices. Her recent curatorial projects include 136 MB / Exhibition Without Objects at The Drawing Room in Lahore (2012) and Foreclosed. Between Crisis and Possibility at The Kitchen in New York City (2011). She has worked in architectural practices in Cambridge, Cairo, and Chicago and as a researcher and designer for the artists Kyrzstof Wodizcko and Andrea Geyer. Shirazi holds a MArch degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a BA from the University of Chicago and is a former fellow of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.

"Lahore's Architecture of In/Security"

I will talk about Lahore's securitized zones and the way power inscribes itself in urban space through architecture and planning measures. Lahore, today, is dominated by the presence of objects (security barriers, gates, checkpoints, walls) and processes that are effectively shrinking civic spaces and encroaching further and further upon the rights of citizens, which is being legitimized through a discourse of in/security. Considering the city as both a physical site and imaginary construct, I will also look at the relationship between visual representation and our image of the city. I will consider how mapping can be used as a tool to visualize the way in which the securitization of Lahore manifests itself spatially. New means of representation can create new images of the city and my hope is that these new representations provoke and challenge us to reconsider and ultimately transform the relationship that this city's inhabitants have to space and power.

"Exhibition Without Objects"

136 MB / Exhibition Without Objects shifts attention away from the singular art object and focuses instead on artistic practice and discourse. The daily presence of Pakistan in International news headlines, as a site of conflict, has resulted in a commensurate focus on its art and culture. This offers artists an opportunity, on the one hand, of visibility as well as a challenge, to resist reductivism and exotification. Within Pakistan a productive critical discourse has emerged on artwork that serves to represent the region abroad. This exhibition creates an alternative platform for these artists to reflect upon the relationship between their artistic practices and issues of representation, production, and display at both a local and global level. As it travels to different cities it also considers the way in which specific issues connect the region and create possible bridges for exchange and resistance.

The exhibition is an unfolding of an initial conversation that began with a letter of invite from the curator to the artist. In lieu of showcasing art objects, the artists were asked to create digital narratives that played with the ubiquitous format of the PowerPoint that is often used to show an artist's work to critics, curators, and colleagues alike. In addition, each artist has paired their power point with an "event" that further interrogates or explicates the themes introduced by their respective slide show. These events ranged from performance and sound installation to casual conversation, and function as catalysts- transforming the gallery from a more passive space of display into an activated space of display and discourse. The events also include a collectively curated film program and a public program. The exhibition began in Lahore and will have its second iteration in New Delhi, which will further links these two cities through this artistic gesture.

Karin Zitzewitz is Assistant Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at Michigan State University. Her book manuscript, The Art of Secularism: The Cultural Politics of Modernist Art in Contemporary India, was awarded the pre-publication Edward C. Dimock Prize for the Humanities by the American Institute of Indian Studies in 2011.  She is curating concurrent solo exhibitions by Naiza H. Khan and Mithu Sen for the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum at Michigan State University, to open in March 2013.  In addition to academic publications in Third Text and Visual Anthropology Review, she collaborated with Mumbai gallerist Kekoo Gandhy on a memoir, The Perfect Frame: Presenting Modern Indian Art.