Ghabrana Nahin Hai unfolds artist Shanzay Subzwari’s experience of the COVID pandemic, relaying the reality and surrealism of her cross-cultural journey between lockdowns in the cities of London and Karachi. The film is a collaboration with UK filmmaker Joel Chernin, it is described as a Cabinet of Curiosities: dancing between the depths of pandemic politics, to the floods of Karachi gently watched by a domestic cat, to warm scenes of butterflies in rural Pakistan, interspliced with bizarre compendiums of imagery.
Ghabrana Nahin Hai is underscored by a deeply political soundtrack, including speeches by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, as international governments were forced to issue instructions to their citizens. Johnson’s urgent “you must stay at home” is a sharp contrast to Imran Khan’s calm “Ghabrana nahin hai” (“No need to worry”) with their juxtaposing rhetoric underlined as clear markers of culture. As these politicians’ words echo dizzily within the film, the dualism faced by Subzwari as she moved between two very different cultures and governmental attitudes becomes clear.
Between these speeches, Ghabrana nahin hai moves slowly through a placeless city in lockdown and echoing through the streets is the haunting melody of ‘Hum Dekhenge,’ a protest song written by Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz in response to the country’s 1980s military regime. Re-performed here by the artist herself, it is a comment upon the politicisation of the pandemic and its implications upon the individual; in sung phrases such as “above the heads of those in authority…we will see” it can be seen as a call to action, noting that citizens themselves have a responsibility to question those in power, and their choice of advice.
A swirl of rose petals carries the viewer from the beginning of the film to its final encore, a Sufi motif signifying moving between worlds, referencing birth, death, and the continuously transforming conditions we find ourselves in today.
Click here to download the critical text of Ghabrana Nahin Hai (in a pdf).
Ghabrana Nahin Hai by Shanzay Subzwari & Joel Chernin (2021) has been commissioned by Platform Asia for the Sudden Beams – Homing In programme. Supported by Arts Council England.
Find out more about the Sudden Beams programme here.
About the artist
Shanzay Subzwari’s work is influenced by her training in Mughal Miniature painting, whose attention to detail and layering now emerges in her film and video works. Through analogue and digital collage Subzwari presents a desire to examine the Surrealism of the contemporary globalised condition. This Surrealism might exist in events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, political rhetorics or environmental emergencies, or in the differing attitudes to circumstances, which she noticed from living in the major cosmopolitan cities Karachi and London.
Subzwari graduated with a Masters of Fine Art with Distinction from the School of Art, Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University on the prestigious British Chevening Scholarship (2019/2020), and a Bachelors of Fine Art from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi (2014) with a Distinction in her dissertation and the Award for Academic Excellence in Fine Art. Subzwari is frequently invited to participate in exhibitions both in Pakistan and internationally, including in London (2020, 2019, 2016), Venice, Italy (2019, as part of Imago Mundi at The Venice Biennale), Fribourg, Switzerland (2016), and Istanbul, Turkey (2011), and her work has been represented by GraFFik Gallery, London. She was invited as a fully-funded ‘Watch and Talk’ participant at the Festival Belluard Bollwerk International, Fribourg, Switzerland in 2016, the SAARI artist residency in Mynamaki, Finland in 2018, and was part of the Dean’s Seminar on Art and Value in Madrid, Spain (2020). Subzwari’s work has been acquired for the Hundal Collection at the South Asian Institute, Chicago, USA, and most recently by The Furqaan Ahmed Collection, Pakistan. Along with her full time artist practice, Subzwari writes art reviews, articles and catalogue essays for numerous publications, and has a private teaching venture in The Art Lounge.