Mariah Lookman, Still from Night Song (2015)
A music playlist composed by Mariah Lookman reminiscing about the time spent with her mentor and friend, Lala Rukh. The compilation gestures towards ‘generational time’, highlighting the deeper aesthetic and political sensibilities shared between artists across different generations, something rarely accessible to anyone who does not know the artists personally. This playlist accompanies the exhibition Notations on Time curated by Sandhini Poddar and Sabih Ahmed at the Ishara Art Foundation running from 18 January – 20 May 2023. The exhibition stages a dialogue between artistic generations to highlight entanglements between the past, present and future.
ساز کہتا ہے اس کو دن مے نہ چھیڑ
… Saaz keheta hai is ko din mei na cchair
(… the instrument says do not touch/tease/strum it during the day)
Memories are ephemeral matter. The voice, the spoken word, a poem read, a song sung can bring back afresh memories of the past, even those thought to be forgotten. The evening gatherings at Lala’s, often on the porch leading up to the garden belong to those that are among my most favourite. At the end of a long day’s teaching at the National College of Arts, Lahore, post a protest rally, a Women’s Action Forum meeting, an All Pakistan Music Conference recital, time spent at her studio on McLeod Road, for Lala the arrival of the evening and nightfall laid the day’s work to rest.
The work in a garden however, begins once the twilight has faded and the night has settled. It was Lala who introduced me to the Mughal Garden that by design celebrates the night, and in particular pays homage to the moonlight. The night blooming flowers- Parijat, the Raat ki Rani- would stir and fill the air with the scent of jasmine, crickets would chirp, one was calling out to find a mate, while the other chirped to give a signal, a warning. At times the odd frog in the small pond in the garden would join the chorus and croak. The street sounds would also saunter in – a passerby masseuse with his oils bottle holster, the whistle of the night watchman and the street dogs all would fade as we settled down to chat, to listen to music, a time for reflection, a time for a quiet smoke.
The playlist here criss-crosses time, and places – it is but an attempt to encapsulate a world that was Lala, and Lala’s Lahore as I remember her.
To access the Spotify playlist, click here.
About the Artists
Mariah Lookman (b.1973) is an artist based between Galle, Sri Lanka, and Karachi, Pakistan. Specialising in process-centred and research-based practice, she also teaches and curates. Currently, she teaches in the graduate programme at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi. Over the years her practice has evolved from single authorship projects to collaborative work. Most recently, Mariah was commissioned for the Istanbul Biennial in 2022, where she built an aquatic garden with a meditation and performance deck titled ‘Nelumbo’ accompanied by a video installation titled ‘A search for Sanjeewani in Sri Lanka’. She was a participating artist in the Asian Art Biennial in Taiwan and Colomboscope Art Festival in Sri Lanka in 2021.
Lala Rukh (1948 – 2017) studied art at Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan, and at the University of Chicago, USA. She taught for 30 years at Punjab University, Department of Fine Art and the National College of Arts where she set up the M.A. (Hons) Visual Art Programme in the year 2000. After retiring from teaching, Lala Rukh devoted her time in her studio and to activism in Lahore. She was among the foremost feminist activist artists of South Asia. Her work has been exhibited at the Kiran Nadar Museum Art (Delhi), Punta della Dogana (Venice), Jameel Arts Centre (Dubai), Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Documenta 14 (Athens and Kassel), the Yinchuan Biennial (Yinchuan) and Sharjah Biennial 12 (Sharjah).