Multi-colored silk sarees, traditional musical instruments, puppets and face masks from all over South Asia- an exhibition to remember Madeeha Gauhar served as a stunning tribute to one of the pioneers of modern theater in Pakistan. Madeeha Gauhar, an actress and director par excellence, was the driving force behind Ajoka Theater. She died in April this year, after a prolonged struggle with colon cancer. Ajoka Theater has been producing and performing on stage since 1984. Their plays seek to bring social change, and highlight issues of women, women rights, exploitation of poor, religious extremism and the gradual decay of culture in Pakistan. During her lustrous career, Gauhar produced, directed and acted in over 50 original plays. Although Madeeha had worked in television and film, her first love was theater. There is nothing in Ajoka that does not have a stamp of Gauhar’s aesthetic and social consciousness on it – be it their music, dialogues, set- designs, themes and how they deal with costumes. Most of the actors in Ajoka have been trained and directed by her for years. The display attempted to present glimpses of Gauhar’s multi-faceted life and therefore included items from her household and wardrobe Ajoka as an organisation has made the point not just to continue its work but also celebrate Madeeha Gauhar legacy with the same spirited festivity and artistic passion with which she lived her life. Memorials and theater performances have been held in Gauhar’s honor across the globe, including in India. This exhibition at Alhamra was a part of posthumous celebrations of Madeeha’s life. The exhibition was inaugurated on Friday by the veteran journalist Hussain Naqi. Academic luminaries like Pervez Vandal and his wife Sajida Vandal, Khawar Mumtaz, Dr Fauzia Afzal Khan, Dr Shaista Sirajjudin and Dr. Rukhsana David were present there in the first day. The exhibition carried photos of Madeeha Gauhar through the ages. There were photos of her in her school uniform as well as a young student during her Kinnaird College days. One could see Madeeha in her younger days, flaunting her saree as a young woman, posing in a group of women, chatting with actor Qavi and smiling into the camera with Zohra Sehgal. In the middle of the exhibition room was a large portrait of Madeeha garlanded by marigold and jasmine flowers. Guests and youngsters stopped by and posed with it. The display attempted to present glimpses of Gauhar’s multi-faceted life and therefore included items from her household and wardrobe. The most striking ones were her multi-hued sarees made from cotton, banarasi, and silk. She had worn some of them as recently as last year. Some sarees were draped in the middle of the exhibition hall along with Madeeha’s vibrant collection of gowns and shalwar kameez. The center space had a table with a small lamp. The lampshade looked like a mushroom top which was embellished with flowers of different colors. Underneath the light was a photo of Madeeha and Shahid Nadeem- her husband and Ajoka co-founder. Four of the sarees were hanging from the balcony on the top like banners. Sea-green, purple, pink, red, peach and blue colors greeted the eye along with a splash of golden and silver hues. They carried traditional patterns of golden embroideries, silver threadwork and ethnic printed border covered with elephants. The exhibition also featured photos of the memorial of Madeeha Gauhar held by the Punjabi Academy in New Delhi. Some of the photographs were sent by Indian artists like members of the Manchrand Manch theater and these photos also carried signatures. The wall-hangings from Madeeha’s home decorated the exhibition hall that day. Traditional and folk musical instruments were exhibited there, along with a collection of puppets and masks that Madeeha had collected over the years from different parts of the world, including India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. There was a bookshelf on one corner of the room that carried her trophies and some books. A worn-out copy of Othello peeped out of the bottom right edge of the shelf. There was a flat-screen placed near one of the walls, and it presented some of Madeeha’s interview answers and speeches. There was a bench near it, for the guests to sit and watch. A walk around the circular exhibition room gave a peek into Madeeha’s life and career. There were newspaper clippings that carried news of her protests against Ziaul Haq’s Hudood Ordinance and the subsequent laathi charge in 1984. They also included profiles of her done by journalists in the 80s and 90s – applauding Ajoka for standing up against religious extremism and sexism. Nearly every English publication has acknowledged one Ajoka performance or another. The photographs in the news clippings served as compelling evidence of Madeeha’s success as an artist as well as an activist. This exhibition was significant not just because of its positive tone but also because many young people are unaware of Madeeha’s decades-long career and struggle. It is important to celebrate artists, particularly when they are women and even more so when they are activists fighting for feminism and social justice. Therefore, this display was a vital addition to how we imagine and memorialise Madeeha Gauhar. The writer is based in Lahore and tweets as @ammarawrites. Her work is available on www.ammaraahmad.com Published in Daily Times, October 1, 2018.