We often hear how hazardous smoking is but nobody talks about matchsticks which can put on fire an entire house and burn to death hundreds in a matter of few hours, like it happened in the tragic incident at Ahmedpur Sharqia, allegedly caused by lighting a match stick.
Therefore matchboxes are usually kept at a safe place, hidden from children. But now children as well as grown-ups can own matchboxes, even those who do not smoke. ‘My Art World’, an art organisation based in Islamabad, established by Zainab Omar and Zara Sajid, has introduced a new usage of this familiar, common and cheap product. They are celebrating four years of its existence by holding a group exhibition of some young graduates from different art schools, from July 13-15, 2017 in Islamabad. Along with this show titled Collector’s Weekend, it has produced matchboxes with the logo of My Art World on one side and art works of many artists on the other side.
When you pick this small object from a corner shop, inside a hotel lobby or at a friend’s house, you are a bit surprised on sensing something unusual with these ordinary items. Instead of seeing the usual visuals, you come across works of Scheherazade Junejo, Dua Abbas Rizvi, Maryam Baniasadi, Romessa Khnan, Saqiba Hanif, Mina Arham, Wasif Afridi and several other important artists from the young generation reproduced on these matchboxes.
Along with their constant support to encourage upcoming artists, My Art World has executed this small, yet extremely significant idea. Usually when we attend art seminars, academic conferences, official colloquiums we hear ambitious but difficult plans to promote art — through television, schools, building art museums and galleries in small towns, writing in major Urdu newspapers. These projects sound impressive but remain unrealised because of lack of funding, facilities and trained individuals. I remember being part of many such discussions with no real consequence, follow up or effect — an earnest practice in futile rhetoric.
The idea of printing art works on matchboxes suggests that art can be circulated in unusual ways. Anyone who owns a matchbox with a work of art printed would have a chance to glimpse it again and again. Unlike the horrible picture of decaying human substance that adorns every cigarette pack, the image of an art work on a matchbox urges one to live. Likewise, taking inspiration from My Art World and adding images of art works, even beautiful landscapes, flowers on these cigarette packets, one may help in communicating the idea of life, in place of death.
But we all know that it would never happen. We propagate and spread death under the guise of supporting life. As a society, we are pleased to proclaim the news of doomsday and expect people to be frightened of punishment so that they abide the codes of law, custom and religion. This approach of a narrow-minded school master who operates on the system/pleasure of penalising does not succeed in most cases since everyone knows the consequences of their conduct or misconduct. So, what’s the point of over emphasising the obvious.
On the contrary, if one presents a pleasant view of life on this earth, with a focus on human achievements and beauty, there is a chance one may succeed in spreading the message of life, even to a chain smoker or heroin addict.
In the larger social scenario, this attempt of My Art World to incorporate art on mundane product is a sign that art, life and beauty can survive amidst all issues. Someone picking a matchbox of ‘My Art World’ may not only be anticipating the pleasure of tobacco but the potential of art and how it can be an intoxication, much stronger, lasting and satiating than a processed crop. This is a way of propagating Pakistani art beyond its border because there are only two kingdoms in the world — The United States of Non-smokers and The Republic of Smokers. So, whoever likes to light his/her cigar, pipe or cigarette would keep these matchboxes and eventually become interested in the canvases created by Pakistani artists.
One can take cue from here and explore other venues and possibilities to introduce art to a generally detached public. Even though people create ‘works of art’ on the occasion of Muharram by making models of holy mausoleums, and decorating roadsides with their tiny installations to commemorate the festival of Holy Prophet’s birthday; yet there is a distance between these popular visual expressions and high art. In a way, My Art World has initiated to project ‘high art’ through a banal product. The same can be extended to other artefacts in our environment. For instance, our currency notes can have works of art on one side in place of a gate in KPK or a cliff in Karakorum. Likewise, we can have them on postal stamps, because a combination of shapes, colours and ideas would be more exciting for someone getting a packet or letter outside Pakistan than the picture of a building in bricks and stone.
One may just carry on talking about these matchboxes because in the absence of museums and state art galleries, these small objects, worth three rupees, may contribute towards training a nation into art. Since art, like water, can survive in many forms and formats — even on a matchbox.