By SHANNON VENEGAS and CHRISTINA CARAYANNOPOULOS
On March 8, Mount Mary was just one stop for eight Pakistani delegates investigating new ways to promote social justice in their communities through art.
The delegates came as part of an International Visitors Leadership Program, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ premier professional exchange program.
According to its website, the program seeks to build “mutual understanding” between the United States and other nations through short-term visits, where the delegates meet and confer with their professional counterparts, gain a greater understanding of U.S. society and experience American culture firsthand.
The Arts in Pakistan
In certain areas of Pakistan, a minority of clergy and fundamentalists try to suppress the arts in order to maintain power.
One of the reasons some Pakistanis fear the rise of art is because it does not typically carry a political or religious agenda, and it allows citizens to express themselves, which challenges authority. But for these delegates, they cannot imagine a life without art.
“Art is not something that is optional,” said Naeem Safi, creative head for The Media Now, a registered production house and media advocacy firm in Peshawar and Islamabad. “When it’s missing, you have something really important missing from life.”
According to the delegates, the arts do not have a strong history of support from fundamentalist clergy, but during Muhammad Zia ul-Haq’s rule from 1977-1988, the mindset against the arts became stronger, even to the point where there are bombings at concerts. However, this mindset is in the minority and typically exists in certain border areas.
“We all in our own ways try to make a difference in Pakistan through art,” said Madeeha Syed, sub-editor for Dawn Media Group, based in Karachi, Pakistan. “We come here and learn how [American artists] do that and go back home and apply that in a more effective manner.”
Despite the war between terrorists, the group demonstrated a real love for Pakistan. Anything from a national disaster to a cricket match, and the whole country unites.
“The people of Pakistan are so full of energy,” Safi said.
The group also brought forth an interesting concept: the best way to combat terrorism is to expand the arts and educational opportunities, specifically for women. They said educating the mothers in a country that has an abundance of homeschool situations will help change the future.
One of the ways the Pakistan artists currently use art to promote social justice is through street theater, a low-cost way to support a traditional art form. Safeer Ullah Khan, advocacy and communications manager for Bedari in Punjab, has written and directed more than 20 street plays, bringing to light issues such as gender rights and domestic violence.
Most of Khan’s street plays are “targeted at raising awareness around women’s rights, for example child marriages, domestic violence, sexual harassment etc.,” Khan said.
“The young people, through theatre, learn to express themselves in a better way,” he said. “It empowers them.”
Awais Ahmad, senior assistant director for PCTV, a Pakistan children’s television network funded by the United States Agency for International Development, uses film to portray the good and bad in society to bring about social change. He said his final conclusion is always positive; it is up to the audience to decide what to take away from it.
Hasan Danish, founder and CEO of ActOne Center for Arts and Wellness in Karachi, promotes social justice and equality through dance. One of the ideas he promotes at his studio is “when you dance, you cannot judge.”
Why Mount Mary?
The delegates visited Mount Mary in order to meet with Dr. Bruce Moon, art therapy professor, and Dr. Margaret Otwell, interim chairperson in the music department. Besides Milwaukee, the delegates also traveled to Washington D.C. and San Diego to get a taste of different areas of the United States.
Moon discussed briefly his art therapy work and explained how art therapy can help patients. He also presented a short clip of his work in music for the delegates to watch.
Two of the delegates sat in on one of Otwell’s piano classes and played along with the rest of the students. They learned about Otwell’s teaching methods and the music major.
While some of the Pakistan artists have headed home, a few are still in the States learning and investigating America’s art methods. Currently, Khan is in Denver holding meetings with board members of Girls Education International to expand the Bedari Girls’ Post-Primary Level Education Program that began in 2009 in Pakistan.
“We’re leaders in art, and our generations before us don’t believe in that,” Danish said. “[Art] can be used as a therapy. We want to use all the major points we can get to take art and show how positive it is.”