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Kite flying, then and now

In ART, FESTIVALS on February 25, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Basant-kites-may-adorn-Lahore-skies-again

(Photo from the Times of Pakistan)

No account of Lahore’s inner city can be made complete without a mention of kite flying. Although the heyday of kite flying from crowded rooftops of the city is long over, the love of kite flying, an acknowledgement of the skill and craftsmanship required in kite-making and the joy of participating in kite wars still excites the passions of Punjab’s young and old alike. Due to safety concerns over the use of glass coated string used in kite flying, the activity was banned in the city several years ago. As a result kite makers have been forced to change professions. Many of them are in dire straits after the collapse of a once-booming industry, both in terms of economics and in terms of the volume of craft and design being produced in Lahore. These are some of the things my friend, the artist, Imran Ahmad Khan was also mulling around in his head in preparation for a recent art show, Crossing Over held in New Delhi, India.

Having grown up in the inner city, Khan’s fascination with kites began at an early age as he was attracted to the vivid colours of the flying objects and to the sense of freedom bestowed upon the kite flier and upon the onlooker. Talking of his childhood he relates, “Even when I was at school my thoughts would be tied to the fate of kites being flown outside the school gates.” Instead of buying kites, a lot of people in Khan’s neighbourhood made kites of their own to fly.

Watercolour renditions of Lahori cityscapes depict kite flying as a smattering of confetti against a pale blue sky.

kites

With the ban on kite flying and on Basant (the annual springtime festival of kites, usually held in the last week of February) what remains is nostalgia and the blue of the sky. Hinting towards the now empty sky devoid of kites, Khan creates a kite using only the blue of the sky which forms one of the pieces in the New Delhi group show. Other pieces employ kite strings and often make use of the more traditional reds and yellows popular in the Punjab.

Below is a working model of one such colourful piece, entitled one is not without the other, 2013.

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And here is a snapshot of a local reaction to the work in progress:

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This photo was taken in the Faiz Bagh area of the city. The boys were on their way home from school. It wasn’t I who stopped them, but the kite that did it (one is not without the other).

The boys were compelled to stop at the sight of the ordinary made extraordinary. With the kite in their midst their daily walk was changed from routine to magical. The kite was like the ones they’d seen flying around, yet it wasn’t simply a kite. This kite had not two but three dimensions. The boys recognised it as a colourful object, its transformational qualities akin to that of a butterfly, but unlike a butterfly this kite in metal was incapable of flight. The boys questioned how the kite was made, but not WHY it was made so. It held their attention captive immediately. Is it two kites or one? they tried to guess among themselves.

I couldn’t get their names. I didn’t attempt to coax the shyness out of them or to ask them to step inside the workshop we were working in but I did get to capture pure excitement and a shared pleasure taken in a conspiratorial viewing. Does this moment speak to the love of an object the boys recognised? The staying power of contemporary art? Or simply to an unlimited sense of curiosity?

                                                                                        

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