By Malissa Rogers
A recent series of paintings depicting Muslim clerics in situations involving gay men sparked outrage throughout Pakistan when Islamic extremists threatened violence in response to the images. The journal that published the images removed the pictures from the site in response to the numerous threats.
The National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, removed the Journal of Contemporary Art, where the paintings by Muhammad Ali first appeared in their summer edition. School officials disposed of all the issues in campus bookstores and eliminated the editorial board that helped publish the journal, according to the Associated Press. A court is also considering if the artist, the journal’s editorial board and the headmaster of the school can be charged with blasphemy.
“The college’s decision to cave to Islamist pressure underscores how space for progressive thought is shrinking in Pakistan as hardline interpretations of Islam gain ground,” reports Asif Shahzad for the AP.
According to the AP, the lawyer who asked the court to consider the blasphemy charges said that the images implied that the clerics “had fun” with the boy before performing the traditional Muslim call to prayer.
However, Asaim Akhtar, an Islamabad-based art critic who wrote an essay that accompanied the images, said that the artist blended different images that were “deliberately, violently profane” in an attempt to challenge the homophobic beliefs that have consumed Pakistani society for decades.
“Ali redefines the divine through a critique of authority and the hypocrisy of the cleric,” Akhtar wrote. He has also been listed as a potential defendant in the blasphemy charge, according to the AP.
Shahzad described how Islamic pressure has influenced the dissolution of the journal in his article about the paintings. “It was a marked change for an institution that has long been one of the leading defenders of liberal views in the country.”