Text | Beena Sarwar
Visuals | Beena Sarwar & Aicon Gallery
The legendary Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam, who died in October 2005 at the age of 86, powerfully symbolizes the syncretic culture of the Indo-Gangetic belt. She expressed her agony about the 1947 bloodshed and partition of the Punjab in her immortal poem, “Aaj Aakhaan Waris Shah Noo” addressed to the Sufi poet Waris Shah. Waris Shah’s 18th century epic poem Heer Ranjha, an ode to the power of love and the tragedy of star-crossed lovers, is virtually an alternative anthem for Punjabis regardless of which side of the border they live.
One of Pakistan’s premiere textile artists Shehnaz Ismail understatedly captures the symbolism of Amrita Pritam’s work, the pain as well as expression of cross-border, cross-community love, in a piece that hangs in an art exhibition in New York featuring prominent artists from India and Pakistan.
Titled Pale Sentinels: Metaphors for Dialogue, the month-long, eight-person group show was launched at a crowded opening on 28 June 2018 at Aicon Gallery in lower Manhattan. The 63 pieces on display are “a testimony to the persistence in nurturing relationships and the power of loving endurance inherent in the people of the subcontinent,” to quote the show’s curator, celebrated artist and art educator Salima Hashmi.