In some schools of Islam, the artistic portrayal of people and animals is often perceived as idolatrous, or at the very least offensive or sacrilegious. Following the 2001 destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban and the 2005 Danish Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon controversy, Pakistan is experiencing a new wave of restrictions on the production of visual arts. This trend is part of a broader agenda by intolerant and extremist elements in Pakistan to limit freedom of expression and curtail cultural activities, including dance, music, and theater, that they believe offend Islam. Moreover, recent attacks on journalists by extremists not only serve to silence moderate voices but reinforce and propel a conservative ideology. The challenge now is to reclaim the power of images and to assert cartoons as a medium through which artists can convey messages across cultural and linguistic divides.
In his presentation, Sabir Nazar will use his widely-acclaimed political cartoons to discuss challenges faced by the media, the struggle for democracy, and the resistance to the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan. He will further expand on ways that visual artists can contribute through different media to reclaim the cultural space that is being lost to religious extremists. His presentation will be followed by comments by Brian Joseph.
Sabir Nazar is an editorial cartoonist with the Express Tribune, Pakistan's first internationally affiliated newspaper, and has partnered with the International New York Times and the Friday Times, Pakistan's first independent weekly paper. He is also a regular contributor to popular magazines such as Newsweek Pakistan and the Herald. Over the course of his career, he has produced over 5,000 illustrations, depicting a broad spectrum of political events and social issues, including human rights violations, women's rights, madrassa reforms, sectarian strife, and extremism. In addition, he illustrates cartoons, posters, and publications for a number of human rights and development organizations, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Center for Civic Education, UNDP, Action Aid, the Alliance against Sexual Harassment, OXFAM, the Democratic Commission for Human Development, and the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation. In 2009, Mr. Nazar received an "Editor's Pick" award from Himal Southasian, a Kathmandu-based magazine that covers political and economic trends in South Asia.
Brian Joseph is the senior director for Asia and Global programs at the National Endowment for Democracy.