SHAMA JALTI RAHI
The candle kept burning by JULIUS JOHN ALAM
28 JULY – 6 August, 2016
Julius John Alam, a Lahore based artist is a Fulbright Scholar. He received a Bachelor Degree in Fine Art from the National College of Arts, Lahore in 2013 and a Masters Degree in Fine Art from The New School, New York, NY, USA in 2016. His work has been shown in various shows in Lahore, Karachi, Dubai, Philadelphia and New York.
“I use materials that are indexical of the human body, such as ash, clothes and water, to create sites of remembrance that memorialize victims of violence. While violence against anyone exposes the vulnerability of human life, those who have limited means of self-defense due to race, gender or poverty are particularly susceptible to it. It is the loss of these lives that do not qualify as grievable, that are memorialized in my work. These memorials are anti-monuments, fragments that become a landscape which can be experienced as space. I hope for this experience to induce empathy in the viewer for the lost lives memorialized. I do not hope for a dramatic change in the viewer through these experiences, but simply nurture a goodness which is a fragile everyday care for other human beings.
Julius John Alam
In September 2014, Shama, a 27 year old woman, was burned alive along with her husband by a mob in Kot Radha Kishan, Kasur District, Pakistan, after they were accused of burning a sacred canonical text. She was a mother of three children and was carrying a fourth at the time of her death.
I was not in the country at that time, but my wife, who coincidently was also carrying our first child, was in Pakistan. She was living close to the place where this happened and I could not help but think that it could easily have been her.
In 2016, I began work on a series of books made out of latha, a fabric which is widely used in Pakistan to wrap a dead body before burial. The project, titled SHAMA JALTI RAHI (The candle kept burning), began as a lamentation for the Christian couple that was lynched in Pakistan in 2014, but slowly expanded into a process of mourning and memorialization for 51 lives that had been lost as a result of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan since 1980. I intend to make a book for each victim. I see these handmade cotton books as testaments of love, made sacred through the ritual of tearing the cloth and stitching it together with care. The viewers join in mourning the loss of these lives by reading the surface of the empty pages.