Paintings From Pakistan Red Light Area
PART II: PORTRAITS PAINTED IN PAKISTAN'S RED LIGHT AREA
….And so you walk down one of the alleys in the Red Light Area, with muffled dusty steps, till you reach a restaurant such as no other you’ve seen. Situated on the roof top of a rickety four story building, it’s the meeting point for various patrons of art, tourists, foreigners and Pakistani elite.The food smells warm and tempting, the flute player plays his sad melody, and the laughter of people rises as they sit with the inner walled city at their feet, like kings in a moment of forgetfulness.
From up above, the world of darkness below sinks to a miniature version of itself, diminished in it’s misery and size. On one side, brothels come to life under the falling cloak of night; on the other, devout heads kneel in prayer at the Emperor’s mosque. The contrast leaves you stunned into silence.
This ancient building or ‘haveli’ is home to an artist who has given the dancers and prostitutes of Diamond Market recognition denied to them in real life. Iqbal Hussain, the son of a sex worker himself, has dedicated his life to painting the women of Red Light district and immortalized them through his art. His paintings, more haunting than any I’ve seen, have been lined along every step of this building...the dark images following you as you climb a never ending circle of stairs to reach the roof top restaurant. As Hussain says, 'I portray them on canvas, portray them as human beings... they feel pain... they want their children to be educated."
….Women reclined on couches…lying in careless abandonment…faces staring at you with a fixed, almost indifferent gaze. What is it about them that leaves you feeling so unnerved, almost like a cold hand placed on your heart? Perhaps, it's because looking at the paintings, it’s you who seems to be intruding into their world…while the women are the appraising spectators looking on…or because in their wordless cry, they dare you to point a finger at them, so that it's you who is forced to lower your gaze, like a shamefaced child caught in a guilty act instead...
Whatever it is, long after you’ve left the precincts of the Diamond Market, even after you’ve gone back to your ordinary life, those eyes come back to haunt you: Painted, immovable, pinned to the wall, they mock you with their ageless look of pain that seems to have soaked to the core of their being with years of struggle….mocking you your mundane everyday struggles. And even when you close your eyes at night, somewhere, they’re still awake…staring into nothing…like creatures of a darkness that goes on forever.