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September 12, 2017

The artist


September 12, 2017

Actor Iftikhar Qaiser, renowned for his performances in Pashto, Hindko and Urdu plays, was hospitalized after falling seriously ill a few days ago. Reportedly, he had to wait out in the open for nine hours in a Peshawar hospital before eventually being admitted (the hospital denies these reports). Needless to say, in a country that has always made it difficult for artists to earn a living, Qaiser is in need of help. Yet the government was nowhere to be found and it was only after repeated pleas from his family and the artists’ community that the information minister said help would be provided help. Qaiser is a recipient of the President’s Pride of Performance but still finds it difficult to get the medical help he needs. Politicians who love handing out such awards to artists to bask in their reflected glory disappear when they are asked to make a sustained commitment to the arts. Qaiser’s case is hardly an isolated example. Artist Alamgir had to launch public appeals before the government gave him the money for a kidney transplant. Famous actors like Romana were reduced to begging on the streets just to make ends meet. Classical music is dying out as artists leave the profession and few are willing to take their place knowing they will likely end their lives in penury.

Help from the government only comes after months of pleading and even then is little more than a meagre allowance or payment of some medical bills. What is needed is a national arts policy which would give arts councils the authority to provide resources to those who need it. That this has not happened – or even been considered – says a lot about how the state views art. We as a state and society have no appreciation of the role art plays, of how it holds a mirror to our society and reflects our problems. If anything, the power of art scares us, which is why censorship has been so common throughout our history. Our artists have frequently been denounced and even targeted by extremist elements. Sponsorship is rare and only goes to a select few who may appeal to the elite audience to which corporations want to hawk their wares. Meanwhile, so many of our artists are dying in poverty and with them our artistic tradition is dying too. The giant corporations that sponsor arts in so many countries do not appear to have played their role. As a result, an enormous part of our culture is dying. There are no signs of revival even as we pour money – millions of rupees – into just one sport, the celebrity culture around which is sustained, promoted and funded most generously. If we truly wish to take Pakistan forward, we cannot afford to do so by abandoning our artists to miserable lives.

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