Joining the dots

Faiza Butt fuses ancient art and and modern mores

Text by Faiza Butt

Tank _vol 7issue 23

Faiza Butt, Justice League (2007). courtesy the artist

Faiza Butt came of age during Pakistan’s most barbarous period of military dictatorship, when General Zia-ul-Haq’s hyper-fundamentalist junta deemed women, minorities and artists to be threats to the nation. But rather than bow to his newly imposed norms of “decency”, the Lahore National College of Arts and Slade-trained artist decided to make her living fighting back, through what dictators would consider decidedly indecent images. Butt trains her critical eye on subjects as diverse as the global capitalist economy, Afghan jihadis, Eminem, ex-mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, homoerotically oiled-to-the-gills pehlwan wrestlers, despots, Guantánamo Bay innocents and John Travolta, to create intricate portraits full of depths and shadows using the purdukht style – the infinitesimal dots of Indian miniatures of centuries past. Now based in Britain, a place she sees as not so dissimilar to Saudi Arabia – “They’re both kingdoms” – Butt draws much of her inspiration and ire from the country of her birth. When, not long ago, it was reported that the new, indigenous branch of the Taliban was targeting Pakistani barbershops to scare men away from shaving off holy-looking facial hair, Butt connected the dots to create a portrait of two turbanned Talib, face to face and lip to lip. It was an attack on the cloned image of the self they were promoting, she explained. Was it a Talib kissing his reflection in the mirror, then, or two bearded men locked in a passionate snog? “It’s strange how Freud associated homosexuality with narcissism,” Butt reflects. “It’s questionable, I suppose.” Another pair of Talib, effeminately handsome with their kohl-lined eyes and burly physiques, hold hands in the middle of a framework of pistols, flags, hairdryers and the cosmos. Faiza Butt makes me proud to be Pakistani. There, I said it. §