"It's a Good Day to Disobey"
In 2016, Tara Pandeya, dancer and choreographer, received a 1-month ACC Fellowship to research traditional dance in Pakistan.
As a specialist in Central Asian dance, Ms. Pandeya sought to uncover cross-cultural links between Central Asian dance forms and classical Kathak dance (as it existed in present-day Pakistan). Developed in Northern India, Kathak uses dance to portray epic myths. Under the Mughal Empire, Kathak flourished and evolved with the introduction of Persian and Central Asian artists. Kathak was further developed by the tawaifs, elite courtesans who contributed to music, dance, theater, and literary traditions. Tracing the trail of tawaif and the influence of Mughal (Central Asian) patrons on Kathak, Ms. Pandeya met with dancers, visual artists, filmmakers, scholars, and female rights activists in Karachi and Lahore. Conducting most of her travel and research independently, Ms. Pandeya was recommended by her hosts to hire a driver. This experience lent Ms. Pandeya a particular view of Karachi, which she shares with us below:
A large portion of my time was spent viewing Karachi from the backseat of taxi and sometimes rickshaw. From this backseat perspective, I quickly became mesmerized by the Pakistani freeway and truck art I saw while stuck for hours in traffic, navigating Karachi as a concealed single woman. Ironically, my highly restricted movement on this trip enabled me to embody the feeling of being inside the zenana (the hidden female-only quarters where the tawaif would have once lived).
This experience inspired me to collaborate with Pakistani filmmaker and photographer Kohi Marri. I was interested in documenting and using my own body to map topics surrounding women in the public sphere, appropriate ways to be seen, and taking up physical space as a female in society (and of course I was acutely aware of the privilege of not using public transport or walking).
We travelled several hours out of Karachi’s center to the truck depot, where all of the city trucks are housed and painted. I titled this photo project: ‘It’s a good day to disobey’. In the final photograph (below), I instinctively placed my hands on my hips as I felt a crowd of curious truckers gathering behind me.
It was a stance very opposite to the invisibility that I learned to embody alongside other women navigating crowds in the public realm. I asked Marri to include the onlookers in the shot and to turn the camera towards the expanding group of truck drivers who had inquisitively followed me from truck to truck, as I hopped on and off the tires striking various poses.
I had a fruitful trip and intimate contact with artists on a daily basis, and was able to interview many of them about their lives and attitudes towards their work. Hearing the personal stories of performing and visual artists living in Pakistan, I was able to better understand how traditional, classical and contemporary art is patronized, viewed, received and accepted within various circles of society, and the far-reaching impact it has on Pakistani culture and consciousness. I am extremely grateful to ACC for their invaluable support of this project, without which this work in Pakistan could not have been carried out. I was warmly embraced by the artistic community; I gained a highly intimate exposure to the stories and lives of artists working in Pakistan, all of which, has of course had a profound impact on my ideas and how I filter my thoughts in the creation of new works.
I am currently creating new choreographic works and conducting research as a Fulbright Scholar in London at Roehampton University’s Center for Dance Research, looking at the artistic cross-pollination which occurred between dancers in the courts of Central Asia and Kathak dancers living under the patronage of Central Asian Mughals in the courts of Northern India. A culmination of this research will result in a dissertation submission and a separate choreographic premiere at the San Francisco Opera House in July 2019, commissioned by the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.