Charlotte Mui looks at Salima Hashmi's writing on women artists in Pakistan
The Salima Hashmi Archive contains a selection of her manuscripts, notes, and articles—including her thoughts on advocating for female artists and their work. As a first-generation modern artist in Pakistan, as well as a curator and a scholar, Hashmi's first-hand accounts offer a unique look at the feminist art movement in Pakistan. Her manuscript “Country Paper — Pakistan,” as but one example from the archive, guides the reader through some major ideological changes.
Hashmi writes about the emergence of modern art practices that deploy a traditional flair to accommodate the “tourist’s taste” for indigenous “Pakistani” art; the women-led shift away from conventions of male Eurocentric art; and also the younger generation’s engagement with issues of transnationalism. Though the essay is short, Hashmi’s overview of post-Partition changes provides a historical context for the Women Artists of Pakistan Manifesto. Written by sixteen women artists at the home of Salima Hashmi in 1983, the manifesto was an outcry against pervasive misogyny.1 A similar political consciousness is apparent in “Country Paper — Pakistan,” which pushes for the inclusion of female artists.
As one of the manifesto signatories, Hashmi’s writing highlights the role of women by re-inserting them into history through various strategies. While her notes are explicit in her championing of women’s prominence in art (e.g., “Packaging Women” comments on the narrow representation of women in advertisements), her essays deploy a more detached tone. Mindful of Pakistan’s political climate, Hashmi’s writing gives equal weighting to the feminist agenda, aesthetic issues, and the inheritance of transnationalism. There is less of a spotlighting focus on women artists, and yet her insistence on acknowledging them is apparent. This deliberate way of writing not only weaves her ideas into the larger context of Pakistani art history, but also allows future generations to read her work and the work of other women artists as a natural part of that history.
“Country Paper — Pakistan” is only one of the many pieces written by Salima Hashmi tucked away in her archive. The other pieces explore the events and gradual changes in art after the 1947 Partition, including catalogues, ephemera, and interviews about Hashmi’s life. The archive is available on AAA's website.
Images of the original manifesto can now be found in the appendix of Unveiling the Visible: Lives and Works of Women Artists of Pakistan.2 The text has also been published in Jessica Lack’s anthology Why Are We ‘Artists’? 100 World Art Manifestos.3
Charlotte Mui is AAA Collection Assistant.
1. The document was not published in the wake of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s overthrow of Bhutto in 1977.
2. Salima Hashmi, Unveiling the Visible: Lives and Works of Women Artists of Pakistan (Lahore: Sang-e-
3. Jessica Lack, Why are we ‘Artists’? 100 World Art Manifestos (London: Penguin Random House, 2017), 356–58. (REF.LAJ2)