Pakistani Women of Arts and Culture

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan

The role of women in shaping the arts and culture of Pakistan

SOCIO-POLITICAL ACTIVISM

Since its inception, Pakistani women have been extremely active in the socio-political sphere of the country. From Fatima Jinnah, who campaigned along with Quaid-e-Azam to provide women better opportunities in the public sphere, to Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, who worked to make elite women role models for the rest of the country, the women of this country have been working for the betterment of all.

The All Pakistan Women’s Association, founded by Fatima Jinnah, the Women’s National Guard, founded by Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, and the Women’s Action Forum, founded during the military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq, are only three examples of organisations that have worked to improve the status of women both socially and politically.

Zeenat Haroon Rasheed (1929 - 2017) was a captain of the All India Muslim League's Women’s National Guard.

Zeenat Haroon Rashid talks about the Muslim League's Women's National Guard.

Born in 1936, Hilda Saeed is a microbiologist turned women’s right activist. She began her career as a medical researcher and a forensic serologist before switching to journalism. During this period, she became a women’s rights activist, joining the Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre. She is also a founding member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF).

Hilda has been an outspoken critic of discrimination against women and minorities.

Hilda Saeed talks about the Women's Action Forum and its work through the first 30 years.

Azra Haq was born in 1924 in Ludhiana. She was an avid member of the Pakistani Women’s National Guard and contributed significantly towards improving the lives of women who were abandoned during the Partition.

Azra Haq talks about the early years of the Pakistan Women's National Guard

Mehnaz Rafi was one of the first members of the Women's Action Forum (WAF) from Lahore who worked tirelessly to mobilise women to fight for their rights.

Mehnaz Rafi talks about the creation of the Women's Action Forum as a reaction to the oppressive military dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq.

Lalarukh (1948 - 2017) was one of the founding members of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF). Apart from being a fighter for justice, she was an educationist, having taught in both Punjab University and the National College of Arts. She was also a prolific painter who held exhibitions all over the country.

Lalarukh emphasized the potency of words and their importance as a tool for justice. She helped the WAF give birth to the emergence of a new culture, where female activists started writing poetry and singing their own songs.

VISUAL ARTS

Pakistani women have made significant impact in the visual arts and earned worldwide recognition through their work in various mediums such as metals, clay, acrylic, and many others.

Sheherezade Alam was born in 1948 in Lahore. She is an internationally renowned Pakistani ceramist. The central theme of her work is earth, from which she believes all living forms-human, plant and animal-emerge. She is also a founder of LAAL, an artist's collective movement that aims to preserve and promote Pakistani art and culture on an international scale.

Regarding some of her most well-known projects, Sheherezade Alam has said, "The Zahoor Project was part of the LAAL initiative; the latter’s aim is to preserve and take the treasures of Pakistan to a wider audience - not just Pakistanis but everywhere so that it has more impact. In 2009, I decided to open Jahan-e-Jahanara; a traditional arts center for children between 8 and 12, where they would learn what our heritage and culture is - through artistic expression."

Musarrat Nahid Imam was born in 1957 in Rawalpindi. She received her education in Lahore from Punjab University and after a short stint as the Interior Decorator for Pearl Continental Hotel in Rawalpindi, she joined the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) in Islamabad and pursued her passion as an artist and curator.

Musarrat Naheed Imam discusses the environment surrounding the arts during the regime of Zia-ul-Haq.

PERFORMING ARTS

The first two decades of Pakistan have been essential in establishing the foundation of performing arts in the country. A fundamental requirement for development of the performing arts is a society tolerant and open to questioning every conceivable aspect of life. For several female artists in Pakistan, dance, music and theatre have played a crucial role in expressing this liberation of thought.

Doyenne of classical dance, Indu Mitha, was born in 1929 to a Bengali Christian family in Lahore. She completed her undergraduate degree at Kinnaird College, Lahore, and later completed a Masters of Arts in Philosophy. She learned bharatnatyam from Vijay Raghava Rao and Shrimati Lalita in Delhi and the Uday Shankar creative dance style under Zohra Sehgal. Indu Mitha has been teaching dance for 50 years and continues to inspire fans and dance lovers with her performances, to this day.

Tina Sani was born in Dhaka, before the partition of East and West Pakistan. She entered the world of singing in 1980 through a TV youth programme and has since developed a unique style of singing. She is best known for her renditions of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry.

Tina Sani talks about the influence of Faiz Ahmad Faiz's poetry on her musical career.

Award-winning ghazal and folk singer Tahira Syed was born in Lahore in 1955. Tahira Syed rose to prominence from a very early age; her first appearance on television came about when she was only 14.

Tahira Syed has received various musical awards in recognition of her achievements as a singer - including the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) Lifetime Achievement Award, Pride of Performance Award and Nigar Award for Best Female Playback Singer.

Sheema Kirmani is a classical dance exponent and an activist who views dance as an art form that is not confined to the realm of entertainment; rather, it serves as a powerful medium for social activism.

Sheema Kirmani talks about the influences on her dancing career.

Madeeha Gauhar was born on 8th February 1956 in Karachi, Pakistan. She is an actress, playwright and director of social theatre. In 1984, she founded Ajoka Theater which stages social themes in theatres, on the street, and in various other public spaces.

'The little skits that I had done during my time in school and university, my interaction with the Women’s Action Forum, my sort of not being able to express myself creatively anymore on television or on the college stage due to Zia’s regime, and the fact that we had done these plays promoting certain ideas, was what established the basis for Ajoka Theatre in Pakistan in 1984.” - Madeeha Gauhar

Roshan Ara Bokhari was born in 1934 in Aligarh. A renowned and accomplished dancer and choreographer, her career spanned forty seven years from 1965 - 2012.

CINEMA

Pakistani cinema, affectionately known as Lollywood, traces its roots back to the first production house in Lahore, established in 1929 on Ravi Road. Since then, the industry has seen its Golden Age in the 1960s, a decline caused by extreme censorship during the Islamization by General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, and revival since 2007.

Throughout its life, the Pakistani film industry has retained its distinctive identity, attracting more audiences than ever before by taking risks and experimenting with various genres including comedy, action, horror and, more recently, animation.

Bahar Begum, born Kishwar Begum in 1944, is a Pakistani film actress who started her career in Lollywood in 1956 with director Anwar Kamal Pasha's box office hit film Chann Mahi.

Bahar Begum discusses her rise to fame in the early years of Pakistani cinema.

Samina Peerzada was born in 1954 in Lahore. She made her debut as an actor in the film Nazdeekian in 1982. Over the next few years, she continued to act, appearing in several movies and receiving multiple national awards.

Her directorial debut, Inteha, was a critically acclaimed movie addressing the very pertinent issue of marital rape. She has ever since directed movies ranging from drama to comedy.

'Film contains all aspects of art; it has dance, music, painting, poetry, narrative. It is complete and unfortunately people have never realized that it’s a higher art.'

TV AND RADIO

Pakistan’s television and radio stations have withstood the test of time, passing through a myriad of trials and tribulations under various governments throughout the nation’s history.

The Pakistan Broadcasting Company was a descendent of All India Radio and was founded on the day of Partition. The Pakistan Television Corporation, more commonly known as PTV, has an equally rich history, if slightly shorter since its inception in 1964.

Farooq Jehan Taimuri, born in 1930 in Delhi, was the first full-time female employee of Radio Pakistan. She joined Radio Pakistan in 1958 and remained associated with it till 1990.

Farooq Jehan Taimuri talks about her experience as the first female government servant at Radio Pakistan.

Kanwal Naseer, the first female telecaster of Pakistan, was born in 1948 in Lahore. She featured as a radio show host when she was only seven years old and is considered the first face of Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) as it was she who made the first announcement of the inception of television in Pakistan in 1964.

Kanwal Naseer talks about her career as a broadcaster for Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV).

Yasmin Tahir was born in 1937 in Lahore. She is one of Radio Pakistan's most well-known personalities and is considered an early pioneer of radio broadcasting.

Yasmin Tahir talks about her career at Radio Pakistan, where she was famous for her work ethic.

LITERATURE

Pakistani literature, emerging from the many South Asian literary traditions, developed its own unique identity soon after Partition. Many early female writers drew their inspiration from the events surrounding the Partition. The nature of their work was such that it developed a spirit of its own - distinct from other types of work being produced at the time. The stories they weaved often provide a female lens of addressing and analyzing the socio-political dilemmas of the society.

Today, literature in Pakistan exists in many languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi and even English.

Bapsi Sidhwa was born in 1938 in Karachi. She is a world renowned author, essayist and playwright. She is most well-known for her novels, which reflect her personal experiences of Partition and her life in Lahore. Her heartbreaking diasporic stories deal with issues of identity, migrant Pakistanis and the Parsi community in Pakistan, but above all her stories deal with women's rights issues.

Besides the many laurels her writings have won internationally, Bapsi Sidhwa has been awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, the highest national honour for arts. She has also served on the advisory committee to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on women’s development.

Fatima Surayya Bajia (1930 - 2016) was born in Hyderabad Deccan. Her family moved to Pakistan after independence in 1947 and settled in Karachi. She was a teacher, Urdu novelist, playwright and drama writer. She wrote about 300 plays for television, radio and stage. As a writer, she reigned over the golden period of Pakistan Television Corporation. Most of her literary work revolves around the theme of family and features strong female characters. Her work played a major role in shaping the literary landscape of the country.

'Bajia', as she is known, won numerous awards in Pakistan and abroad. The Japanese government awarded her the 'Order of the Sacred Treasure, 4th class, Gold Rays with Rosette' in 1999, for her contribution in strengthening Pakistani-Japanese cultural relations.

Bano Qudsia (1928 - 2017) was a celebrated writer and playwright both in Urdu and Punjabi. She was best known for her novel Raja Gidh (The King of Vultures), a novel that explored and critiqued the moral values and ethics of the Pakistani society.

She was a notable for both theatre and television and her play Adhi Baat is considered a classic. A trail-blazer in her own right, Bano Qudsia was awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 1983 and the Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2010 for her service to literature.

Salima Hashmi was born in 1942 in Delhi. Besides being an accomplished painter, she is a writer, teacher and socio-political activist. Salima Hashmi has taught at the renowned National College of Arts (NCA) for about thirty years and served as its dean for four years. She is a venerated patron of arts and runs her own art gallery which features the works of young artists.

Salima Hashmi discusses her career writing screenplays for Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV).

Zakiya Arshad Hameed was born on 16 December 1933 in Rawalpindi. She received her teacher’s training in 1955 after completing her bachelors privately in Rawalpindi. She has held various teaching positions throughout her career, teaching junior as well as senior classes.

She has also been an active social worker, starting a school for factory workers’ families in Daudkhel and setting up a library with the Daughters of Islam foundation.

Zakiya Arshad Hameed talks about her school teachers and their influence in making her a writer.

Women in Pakistan have made significant contributions in shaping the arts and culture of Pakistan. From acting to writing, and even social activism, Pakistani women have been at the forefront of it all. This online exhibition features such women who were interviewed as part of the Oral History Project of the Citizens Archive of Pakistan.

We hope that the significance and contributions of female-led forums and establishments like the Women's Action Forum are recognised and remembered through this exhibit.

Credits: Story

Primary and Secondary Data collection:

- Aaliyah Tayyebi
- Amna Arif
- Arhum Sameed Malik
- Hafsa Shah
- Hiba Ali
- Javeria Vaqar
- Mustafa Kamal
- Meher Mehtab
- Rahma Sohail
- Rumman Islam
- Sanayah Malik
- Sultan Ali
- Zain Shaikhzadeh
- Zehra Shah

General Editing, Technical Support and Final Design:
- Aaliyah Tayyebi
- Faizan Saeed
- Hiba Ali
- Sultan Ali

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to cultural and historic preservation, operating in Karachi and Lahore. We seek to educate the community, foster an awareness of our nation’s history and instil pride in Pakistani citizens about their heritage.

Copyright © 2018 by Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP).

All rights reserved. No part of this Exhibit may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including copying, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP).

All the images shown here are part of the Oral History Project at CAP.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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