Marylise Vigneau

French, lives in Retz, Austria

 

 ARTICLE 19

The article 19 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan says:

“Freedom of speech: Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press , subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence. ”

These “reasonable” restrictions have often been exploited against different groups of people such as minorities, journalists, human rights activists, atheists, homosexuals, etc. They are interpreted as a freedom to disregard others’ faiths, perceptions, sexuality and opinions. They produce outcasts. Status quo, ruling alliances and so-called decency build a wall around these fabricated pariahs and silence them. In the recent years, the enforcement of Pakistan’s blasphemy and criminal defamation laws remain a significant concern, as well as new laws to extend controls over the right to freedom of expression online. Killings and attacks on journalists, media workers and human rights defenders remain endemic and characterized by ongoing impunity.

This story takes place in Lahore and constitutes a series of portraits of people whose way of thinking, living, loving, is obviously against the official Pakistani narrative. People whose life is a fight because they have to hide their opinion, their beliefs or lack thereof, their sexuality, their art, their concerns, joys or sorrows.

After long conversations, these images have been carefully staged to respect the safety and therefore the anonymity of the people pictured. Each of them is named « Noor », a name that means light and is used indifferently for women and men. This series is ongoing.

This work is dedicated to the memory of Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer who dedicated her life to defending minorities and died in Lahore on February 10, 2018.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / Noor is an Ahmadi, which  means that since childhood she has known that she needs to conceal this part of her identity in order to avoid verbal  violence and discrimination against her and her family.  She understood very early that she belonged to a  persecuted minority. She used to skip school on the days  when the chapter about Ahmadis was to be studied. The  Ahmadiyya sect of Islam emerged from the Sunni tradition of Islam and its adherents believe in all the five pillars and  articles of faith required of Muslims. Nevertheless most  Pakistani Muslim considers Ahmadis as non-Muslims  because they consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of  the movement, to be a prophet. Muslims consider  Muhammad to be the last prophet and Ghulam Ahmad’s  messianic claims are considered blasphemy. For the five  million Ahmadis, religious persecution has been  particularly severe and systematic in Pakistan, which is  the only state to have officially declared Ahmadis as non- Muslims. Pakistani laws prohibit the Ahmadis from  identifying themselves as Muslims, and their freedom of  religion has been curtailed by a series of ordinances, Acts  and constitutional amendments. When applying for a  Pakistani passport, Pakistanis are required to declare that  Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was an impostor prophet and his followers are non-Muslims. In 2008, Aamir Liaquat, a  famous TV anchor, permitted a guest scholar on his show  to declare Ahmadis liable to be killed due to the  “blasphemous” nature of their faith. Within two days, two  prominent Ahmadis were killed, one of them being a  physician and another being a community leader. Noor is now in her thirties and is a successful independent  professional woman. She is proud of her hard conquered  freedom and likes reading, learning, dancing and carnal  pleasures. She had once the opportunity to travel to a non-Muslim  country in South-east Asia. For the first time in her life, she could wear a skirt and feel the tenderness of the wind on  her legs.

She wishes to leave Pakistan.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / Noor grew up in a family of  artists. His mother is a writer and his father was a painter.  He spent his childhood surrounded among the intellectual  friends of his parents and by books both from the  subcontinent and the west. He is the only person I  encountered who did not need to fight against a  conservative religious family. From childhood he was free  to be whom he wanted and this freedom was a mental  bubble within a highly restrictive society. Nowadays he is a filmmaker, floating between a rich inner  world populated by Tarkovsky or Abbas Kiarostami and the documentary work he does for a living. He might leave  Pakistan for a while in order to find more opportunities.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / Noor is a fearless woman in her fifties. After the birth of her 3 children, she became an  activist. “A peace activist” as she defines herself. She  frequently organizes demonstration against the terrible  events that happen regularly. Against the looting of a  Christian colony, against discrimination, against the  cutting of old trees along the main canal of Lahore,  against blasphemy laws, against the persecution of the  Ahmadi community, against the abduction of bloggers by  the Pakistani state and very recently in memory of Mashal  Khan who was lynched by an angry mob of fellow students in the premises of his university, on April 13, 2017, over  fake allegations of posting blasphemous content online.  She lives in a house full of sculptures of different deities  like Buddha or Ganesha, Christ, etc. She listens to young  people who feel different and lost or hopeless. She has received several death threats and spent some  nights in police custody because of her protests.  Sometimes she takes a spray and drives through the night to paint walls with peace slogans.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / “I, the Native, the Muslim, the  Gay, the Pakistani and finally the Artist. The perpetually  angry man, refuting and relishing the fame and fear that  comes with being reduced to a cliché. This is not a labor of love, but an inquisition of judgments and sweeping  generalizations. Generalizations that stick to my skin like  wet glue, a hundred men ejaculating their verdict all over  me.”
Noor is a gay visual artist and more recently has declared  himself to be a Muslim atheist. He lost his father at a  young age, who was serving in the armed forces, to a  skirmish in Baltistan, and was declared a “shaheed”. The  word originates from the Quranic Arabic word meaning  « witness » and is also used to denote a martyr. The word is  used as an honorific for Muslims who have died fulfilling  religious duties, especially those who die waging jihad, or  historically in the military expansion of Islam. Within  Islamic mythology a “shaheed” transcends death and  cannot die.

 

In Pakistan the word has acquired more  nationalistic sentiments and is used to legitimize the  deaths of its officers by portraying them as martyrs, and  creating a mythology around them using religion and state sponsored propaganda. After the loss of his father, Noor was informed that there  was no need to mourn his father, as he was still alive, a  statement, which would later in his life, helps him come to terms with the faith he was born into. In his teenage years Noor became aware of his attraction towards other boys.  He fell passionately in love with a much older man who  would eventually lead him into a religious cult and was the beginning of a painful romance. These experiences  eventually allowed Noor to formulate a personal identity  construct. Noor had once written, “there is a deep anger  inside of me and a fire,” which much like the burdens of  his identities, he carries inside of himself with great pride.
Noor pursued partial higher education in Europe with a  thesis titled “Safety and the pursuit of the safe space,”  which according to him “of all the utopian postulations, is  perhaps the most dangerous idea of all. This idea instills  within us visions of a just democratic state, a life void of  suffering, and eternal bliss after death, and most  importantly it forces us to selflessly commit our lives  towards the realization of such delusional ideas.” Noor is back in Pakistan where he lives with his mother  who knows that he is gay and fears for his safety. In order  to spare her from further anguish, he keeps his atheism to  himself. He currently has no lover, “I do not wish to be  somebody’s dirty little secret”.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / In 1977 under the military rule  of late General Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani government  decided to implement The Hudood Ordinances. It replaced  parts of the British-era Pakistan Penal Code. The Hudood  Law was intended to implement Sharia law or bring  Pakistani law into « conformity with the injunctions of  Islam », by enforcing punishments mentioned in the Quran  for Zina. Zina relates to adultery or fornication – any  extramarital sex – and is prohibited in Islam. If it has  become more frequent for young people to date and  sometimes have extra-marital sexual relationships, they  need to be cautious and extremely discreet and they  rarely live together outside marriage This picture is taken on the rooftop of a young couple.  They got married a year ago but had been living together  since the past 3 years. They belong to two different sects  of Islam and they had to fight with many prejudices and  discontent from their families. They both want to leave Pakistan.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / Noor is a well-read, witty,  sensitive, bright young woman. She is unmarried. She  never accepted any proposal and is unlikely to ever do so.  Her marriage would be based on a lie. She is an atheist  and she knows that it is unconceivable to announce it. She has to pretend all the time. “I am like a ghost among  others. I have to constantly hide who I am”. She hopes to leave Pakistan.

 

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Pakistan/ Lahore / 2017 / Noor is the grand son of two  legendary figures of the Pakistani cinema. He belongs to  the Shia community but is a non-believer. He and his wife  chose to give birth to their son in America so that he  possesses an American passport and is never stuck in
Pakistan. He poses in an empty pool of a house that is soon to be  destroyed and replaced by one more commercial mall. The miniature gun his hand is holding used to belong to a  famous British actor. He is tired of a society that pratices hypocrisy on a daily  basis out of all kind of social and religious fears. “I’m afraid of your fears because it is out of fear that you  act most irrationally”, he said.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / Dancing used to be part of life  in Pakistan until the rise of military ruler Zia-ul-Haq in  1977 funded by the US during the cold war in an attempt  to defeat the soviets in Afghanistan. In his policy towards a radical islamisation of society, he banned classical dance  performances from the airwaves and cracked down on  popular Kathak performers. Kathak is one of the major forms of Indian classical dance. Its origin is attributed to  the travelling bards of ancient nothern India, known as  Kathakars or storytellers. Nowadays, Kathak has gone  virtually underground, with only a few remaining qualified  instructors and even fewer public performances. Noor is a gorgeous woman who has decided to learn this  dance. She considers herself “as the most beautiful  creation of God” and likes to take pleasure in her beauty,  her body and her sensuality. Despite being religious, she  refuses to stay in the gray cage attributed to women by  the clerics and the so-called public sense of decency.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / Noor is a musician in his  thirties who moved to Lahore some years ago. To please  his parents, he spent a while in England studying  something he was not interested in. He left Pakistan heart  broken and came back uncured. He almost surrendered to  an arrange marriage but escaped this dead-end a week  before the wedding. Earlier in his life he had tried to force  himself to believe and to behave accordingly. He had even stopped playing the guitar and listening to music. All in  vain since he is nowadays an atheist. He studied Marxism  and was a social activist for a while but is slowly giving up  because “everything is so screwed-up in this country.  Nowadays he finds shelter and comfort in his passion for  music. « The only thing that matters now is how to make  my career in music, that’s all. And I am loving the whole  process.  »

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / Noor has been a bright,  curious, sharp-eyed child. In his teenage he found it more  and more difficult to accept the omnipresent religious  narrative and began to question it. He battled. He tried  believing. In vain. More and more, his vivacity, his sexual  urge, his observations throve him away from Islam. For  example, he used to be attracted by sculptures and Islam  was calling them idols and advocating their destruction. Nowadays he is an atheist without any doubt or regret. He  is therefore also an apostate and this makes him “wajib-ul- qatal” (liable to be killed) according to some extremists.  He knows that announcing apostasy means inviting the  risk of death – even if spared by government authorities  and courts, a fanatic mob would certainly not have mercy  on him. For that reason, we choose to photograph him
wrapped in a shroud on the roof above a city that he loves and is sad to see being destroyed by corruption, religious  intolerance, social indifference and a kind of feudal  capitalism.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / I encountered this little boy  sleeping on a flowery quilt at a swinger party. In the recent years through the convenience of social media, parties are organized on weekends at some participant’s places and  married couples of all ages gather. Some nights are wilder  than others but some ingredients remain the same: Illegal booze (alcohol is forbidden in Pakistan and police is  allowed to arrest people found with a bottle), dimmed  lights, cautiously blinded windows and music welcome  guests. Women wear transparent tops, men crack jokes  and dance with each other’s wives. « We are doing what  you do in the west when you are young. These parties  have become essential. It is a moment solely for  ourselves, we forget responsibilities and just want to have  fun » says a guest. « Enjoying? Enjoying?” asks a tipsy man. « Enjoy but not to  loudly. Children are sleeping in the next room », answers a woman. Furtive hands, dancing hips, deep laughter, mellowness, décolletage, music. A house in the sensual night of Lahore, a moment of innocence.

 

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PAKISTAN / Lahore / 2017 / Noor exudes a gentle and  dense sensuality as well as a sparking wit. He is a  designer, a writer and offers drawing lessons. He loathes  religion and the way people spend their life censuring themselves. He loves singing poetry, meeting friends. His hands dance when he speaks. He wishes he could move out of Pakistan and its  repressive ideologies and epistemologies. But he does not  fancy an exile in the west. Nepal could be a possibility.  Elsewhere but close to his culture. “You know, we live in hell here”.