As nations speak of wars, a small group of creatives focus on Indo-Pak’s common narratives through the eyes of young artists

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The Pind Collective was co-founded by Avani and Ansh. It’s an online platform on which young aritsts from India and Pakistan to collaborate and create works based on their intrepretation of common themes. The Collective’s first virtual exhibition took place in August this year, and the next one launches early 2017. The founders were kind enough to talk to me about their project and the meaning it has taken on in the current climate of political unease between India and Pakistan.

How did you form Pind Collective?

Avani

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It all began with a trip I took to Lahore in 2013. Growing up, Pakistan is a vague, but constant presence for most of us – you read about it in class, you hear about it on the news. It’s around but it’s little more than a patchwork of images – the beating retreat, a stern faced Jinnah, partition violence. When I actually visited, it was different and but also very familiar. At the same time there were little quirks that served as reminders of difference. For instance we would be talking in what I would presume was hindi, but a phrase would slip in here or there and when I paused to think about it, I realised that for them, what they were speaking was urdu! I couldn’t read it, nor they Hindi. So, we would be completely unable to read the other’s script, but we were speaking what was essentially the same language

Ansh

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As a starting point for the Collective, I think we were more focused on dealing with artists at individual levels, get them to collaborate, and see where it goes. It was our way of having an alternative conversation to the narrative that’s presented in mainstream media. But, we weren’t looking to make a political statement. I think that’s unintentional. Our work is unadulterated by political motivations, or TRP numbers, and it’s outside the popular narrative. We’re dealing with artists as people not Indians or Pakistanis to present is closer to reality than some presented in popular media.

What’s your process when you pick out artists? 

Avani

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I started reaching out to artists that I knew and respected. On the Pakistani side, it was a lot of people introducing me to friends and friends of friends. I reached out a journalist who works in the region and it started there and evolved over the months. It was very challenging at first but people were incredibly helpful and with a project like this, I knew it would be a struggle at the beginning.

Ansh

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Yea, mostly word-of-mouth and seeing if they were into the idea. Our first collection had four Pakistani artists and six Indians, as one of the Pakistani artist had a personal emergency and we had to find another person quick stop. It’s ironic but now artists are reaching out to us and wanting to participate much more now with the political climate as it is than when we started out.

So, you never meant for the Collective’s art to be politically charged? 

Avani

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Really, one of the primary motivations behind this project, to get as many people acquainted with talented artists as possible. We’d love it if artists came to see this as a place for well curated, interesting work and conversation. We want people to hear young Pakistani voices and vice versa on the other side of the border.

Ansh:

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To be honest, I never anticipated the Collective becoming as important to me as it has. We just thought we’ll have a conversation between artists and see where it goes. It was an alternative conversation to the narrative that’s more in popular media. I also think that the collective has come into a lot more attention because of the Indo-Pak situation. We’ve been working on this for a couple of months now, so we didn’t even realise it would take on this kind of importance or place in this kind of debate.

Speaking of the current political climate, does it lead you to worry for your artists?

Avani

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So far, none of our artists have opted to pull out from the collective. We’ve initiated a conversation on the next project already.

So, no reactions to the disavowing of Pakistani artists?

Ansh

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I think this is a step backwards for us, we’re falling back on old fears and images that we relied on in the past. It’s almost like we’re taking cardboard cut outs of Pakistan with vengeance written on it. And I’m sure that’s the representation of India in Pakistan also.

Do you see your work as now playing a part in the larger Indo-Pak narrative in light of the recent attacks? 

Avani

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I think art helps people understand one another on a more individual level. Your impressions of another country shouldn’t be devoid of any real contact with its people and if this project can become the sort of community that helps correct that, we’d be really happy.

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The Old Pereira House by Pakhi Sen

Ansh

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Often, in tense situations like these, we begin to look at a country as one, homogenous entity. In part because of the media shoving over-simplified conclusions down our throats and in part because of our own impassioned response to violence of any kind, we tend to forget that our governments, or the organisations responsible for the violence are not the sole representatives of a country that is home to millions.

That’s where art comes into the picture, I think. It helps correct that misrepresentation and restore the heterogeneity a population of over 1.5 billion people and voices deserves. A room full of people cannot be allowed to act as the mouthpiece to over 20% of the world’s population.

Art, as a medium, lends greater importance to individuality. It humanises people. It celebrates diversity as much as it celebrates similarity. It cuts across rigid, political definitions of what a country and its people are like or should be and creates a space for people to create their own, based on a genuine exchange of thoughts, conversations and art. I think The Pind Collective’s helped us, and our audiences do that.

Everything and Nothing by Sneha Dasgupta

Everything and Nothing by Sneha Dasgupta

And is the Collective intent of remaining a virtual platform, or are you thinking of having IRL exhibitions, as well? 

Avani

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There’s a certain charm to the fact that it’s all virtual. We’re living at a time when you don’t need to meet a person to have a meaningful interaction and this project takes that idea and blows it up.  We want people to be reading these poems in Karachi, watching these films in Delhi and sharing their stories regardless of where they are. If the Pind Collective can help them do that, we would be thrilled.

Ansh

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I think we are a little worried that there’ll be trouble if we try and have an on-ground exhibition in either country. I think this reason is also why we’ve stayed away from an offline presence. I don’t think we plan on having one for a while. We feel like the Internet is as democratic a platform as it can get. Like Avani said, I don’t think we’d be able to reach out to the number of people we have if we weren’t online.

So, what’s next for the Collective? 

Avani

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We’re working on the second phase of edition one but we’re definitely looking ahead to a second edition with a fresh line-up of artists. For now, though, it’s one step at a time.

Ansh

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We’re planning to do something in December with our first set of artists that I mentioned earlier. And simultaneously we plan to tart recruiting a new set of artists for an exhibition for which we’ll work on new themes. That collection should be out in early 2017.

Avantika Mehta
Written by

Editor, Pyjama People

Avantika Mehta used to be a lawyer, resident Blue Frog party freak and proud wearer of harem pants curated from Kasol. Then she became a writer and it all went downhill. Famous Scottish journalists have been known to call her ‘a volatile woman.’

Twitter @bitingfriends / Instagram: @bitingfriends

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