Interviewing the uprooted
KARACHI Sophie Ernst, the wellknown installation artist, is in town where she is shooting at fellow artist Bani Abidi`s house. The theme is quite unique — people recalling the houses that they left behind in India when they migrated to Pakistan.
In the DVD that she has produced (it`s not a final product) of some of the people she interviewed or got them interviewed she doesn`t show people, neither the ones who ask questions nor those who answer them. All one can see are artists` fingers sketching the houses and their essential features, as the evacuees recall them. There is no tinge of self-pity in what the displaced people say, but nostalgia is quite naturally very much there.
The only one place where photographs are shown is in the case of the house and its environs which the eminent literary figure Intezar Husain left behind in Meerut. By the way, Ernst has got some Indians who moved from this side of the Great Divide interviewed too. The theme remains the same in both cases.
Paradise Lost is the apt title that she has given to the DVD. But she is not sure if the installation, when ready (she plans to place the projector somewhere on the ceiling and then project her film on the ground), will carry the same name.
Back to the DVD, Farida Batool sketches the house that she never lived in. Her mother did, and recalled many features of her home. Ironically, when the line demarcating the border was drawn by Cyril Radcliffe, the house fell on the Indian side of the border with one of its walls touching the no-man`s land. Had Radcliffe`s fingers moved slightly more on the right side, the house would have been a part of Pakistan. The old lady says that her home has since then been in the control of the Indian Border Security Force, who have erected a watch tower in the courtyard. She recalls some gripping real life stories, one of which sounds like fiction. She remembers some kind Sikhs who escorted a group of Muslims right up to the newly carved border. One woman suddenly started screaming when she realised that her pet cow was inadvertently left behind. Her poor husband assured her that he would bring the animal back and retraced his steps. But as bad luck would have it, he fell into the hands of some blood-thirsty rioters. The woman was then left with one more reason to scream.
The young Dutch artist had previously done some such projects in some European countries also. Her next destination would be Palestine, where she will interact with those who have been uprooted by the Israelis.
What brought Ernst to Pakistan? She was studying fine art and installation art at the Rijsk Academy — a post-graduate art institute — in Amsterdam, when she Sophie Ernst
struck up a friendship with one of her classmates, Ayesha Khalid, an NCA graduate and now a leading miniaturist. She invited Ernst to do workshops at the NCA and the Amsterdam-born artist was lucky enough to get a grant for a three-month stay in Lahore from the Prince Barnhard Foundation.
Salima Hashmi, always on the lookout for competent teachers, gave her an assignment at the BNU`s art school. Ernst taught the basics of computer-aided designs or to put it simply the use of computer in the fine arts for one semester.
Though she continues to live in Amsterdam, Sophie Ernst visits this country very often. So, if she is not in the Netherlands, she is bound to be in Pakistan, which is why Salima Hashmi, when setting up the Pakistan pavilion, included her in the team of Pakistani artists who displayed their works at the Art Dubai festival early this year. Sophie created an installation where she projected her documentary on people who wanted to migrate to the US. Strangely, one may or may not approve of the American policies in our region, but most of us would not stop dreaming of moving to that country.
When will you back to Karachi. “You never know, or for that matter, I don`t know.” One hopes that would be soon for one would like to see her installation in its final shape.