We speak to MS Karamat about her international project ‘Fear and Memory’, where the central theme of the project is based around fear from perceptions on terrorism.
The 6 artists selected from Pakistan are Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy: Double Academy Award Winner, Mehreen Jabbar: Film &TV Director, Sabahat Arsalan: Contemporary Artist & Art Teacher, Iram Parveen Bilal: Film Director, Heraa Khan: Fine Artist and Muniba Mazari: Contemporary Multimedia Artist and UN Women Ambassador for Pakistan.
She tells us more about the project in this illuminating interview on how it started and has since developed.
How did you come up with the idea for Fear & Memory? Was the project one that you planned and pitched or was it commissioned?
MS Karamat: The initial idea for the project came to me almost 10 years ago after one particular day of being frustrated with the ongoing news cycles talking about the latest terrorist threat and the fact that we all ought to be on the look out for anyone or anything looking suspicious. So I started to think about what the antidote could be to easing all of this fear. It was perfectly natural for me to think about it in terms of creativity and the arts - the arts have always provided me with a sense of ease and understanding of the world. I've spent most of my life within the arts, I grew up with a real appreciation of it via my mother who had experimented with making ceramic pieces and would read to me her father's poetry, and of course my father has an epic music collection that includes U.K/U.S Pop & Pakistani music which gripped me as an 11 year old.
“I began to think about how to address this issue, by bringing together artists from across the world to discuss the meaning of fearlessness in their own lives and to celebrate the vast power the arts have in creating unity and understanding amongst differing groups of people and for all of us as part of humanity.”
Initially the project began as a documentary film but that became more complex to do as I started to travel to different countries for the research (the Middle East/Europe/USA) and so it took time to work out exactly which medium to use. It’s become a two part book - Fear & Memory Part 1: the collection of 50 interviews and photographs and Fear & Memory Part 2 : my collection of raw black & white naturalistic photographs that I'm shooting of the artists featuring and the contrasting landscapes I visit. The project is now an incredible collection of 40 cultural figures (so far) that have all come together to talk about the nature of fearlessness; and another crucial component to the project is the theme of memory, I have wanted the artists to pause and reflect on their lives and to think further about how they will want to reflect on their life once they reach an old age, will they think of the things they were once fearful of? And to consider what the current memory is that they'll always want to remember. These are questions that I have been asking myself over the last few years since my mother passed away in 2013. The ideas of fearlessness and memory have been at the forefront of my mind and using creativity to harness them has been incredibly positive and powerful, and now I'm represented, by a literary agency.
How has your Pakistani heritage informed the project?
MS: This project is being made with an international perspective, right from its inception I've been interested in talking with artists from all across the world, therefore it's provided a deeper understanding whilst selecting artists from Pakistan, but it doesn't inform the whole project .
“This is a project of selecting artists from all across the world therefore it's been more important to have a wider understanding of arts & culture across the world as opposed to one specific area.”
Tell me about your frustrations with discourse around fear and terrorism.
MS: There are multiple layers and perspectives around the discourse of fear and terrorism, which ought to be researched understood by readers everywhere, primarily because they drive the differing political/international relations discussions of not just the U.K, but Europe and across the world too. However that isn't what I'm focusing on with this project, what does cause frustration, is the focus, as always, on how women present themselves. This is a global problem that is clear across all cultures, the fact that now Muslim women are being targeted for how they veil themselves is unacceptable.
Why was it so important for you to spotlight female artists?
MS: The project isn't just focusing on female cultural figures it is a wide group of contrasting figures both female & male from a across the world, it is from Pakistan that I am selecting only female artists, primarily because the focus seems to be stuck on highlighting particular male narratives. The country has a rich and diversely eclectic visual arts culture that is currently being driven by incredible women and that is the aspect of the country I believe is vital to highlight globally. For example people such as the international fine artist Heraa Khan who has been exhibiting her work in London and the U.S, the Film & TV Director Mehreen Jabbar, the contemporary artist & art teacher Sabahat Arsalan, contemporay artist & Pakistan's UN Women's Ambassador Muniba Mazari and double Oscar & Emmy award winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. These women are all featuring within the Fear & Memory Project, but there are many more. Another person that I'd actually love to feature is the singer QB (Quratulain Balouch) - she is just incredible, I love her no nonsense personality and her voice is stunning.
How did you select which cultural figures to include? Did you leave any out that you considered including?
MS: When I first started this project I was primarily interested in the artists that I've always been a fan of and loved, because at the start of this, I was just curious about how the artists that I've always loved feel about being fearless and feel about the sense of fear we are facing amidst this terrorism and how the arts have always been used to create unity, it was all about just asking my favourite bands to tell me what makes them, fearless and unapologetic in their own lives. And as the artists started to join, the response was incredibly positive, I knew I had to widen my list of artists and look outside of the U.K - at artists and cultural figures via academia that are not afraid to provide alternative narratives. So I asked Dr. Nina Ansary (the American-Iranian Historian/UN Women Ambassador & Author of the best selling book Jewels of Allah: The Untold Story of Women In Iran) and Peter Frankopan Historian/Professor of Global History at Oxford University/Author of the best selling The Silk Roads : A New History of The World), to join the project too.
What is it that you fear? What helps combat your fears?
MS: If I find that I'm nervous about something, I tend to remember my late my mother's words: There isn't such a thing as I can't.
What do you hope readers take away from Fear & Memory?
MS: I simply hope that readers are opened up further to the joys of creativity and the power of the arts in uniting us all.
You can find out more about her here.