Against a backdrop of turbulent events, the vivacious duo Still Waters are focused firmly on pushing Pakistan's contemporary arts scene, internationally and at home. Kiran Aman and Khadija Malik Hassan have both worked in other fields: Aman founded a fine jewellery business in 2003; Hassan is an author and journalist who has been involved in fashion journalism in Pakistan for several years. Following the launch in Pakistan of their first publication in April last year, their publishing house was born. "We wanted to do a book together because in Pakistan there is no industry for coffee-table books," said Aman at their Dubai launch on Saturday in the Al Quoz art and design club Shelter.
Still Waters' inaugural book is titled Revived: The Journey. Hassan provided the text and Aman the jewellery. It is based on a collection of pieces that Aman designed, structured around the four emotional states of a woman that she conceived: Encaptured, Wired, Echoed, Encircled. Each of these, the book says, "are states that colour every woman's emotional journey". The pair approached 14 women from Pakistan's fashion industry for their involvement. Fashion, said Hassan, was picked because it "is the one industry in Pakistan that has been pioneered largely by women".
The result is a book of 14 mini-biographies of the women, illustrated with black and white photographs of key moments in their lives and a discussion about the emotional states they relate most to. Nilofer Shahid, the designer behind the fashion house Meeras, talks of losing her father, a subsequent period of financial struggle and launching her business, experiencing different emotional states on the way. The designer Faiza Samee discusses her engagement at 14, having given birth to three children by the time she was 20, and the elements of her character that make her an "Encaptured" personality. (A state that "achieves contentment through fulfilling the roles required by family and society.")
Aman and Hassan are preparing for the release of the paperback version and planning to distribute Revived to Pakistani schools for "young girls looking for direction in today's fast-changing world", according to Aman. It's a concern with contemporary life in Pakistan that is partly behind the pair's decision not only to launch Still Waters, but to release a further two books in Dubai. The developing creative scene in Pakistan is, says Hassan, "exactly what the country needs now".
Of the two other Still Waters books, Raw Life illustrates this emergence best. It is essentially a photographic book, again pulled together with snapshots of people's lives. But here, instead of focusing on fashion, the book questions all manner of creative types: from filmmakers to make-up artists and comedians. It was a project originally put together by the author Khaula Jamil as her thesis while studying communication design three years ago in Karachi. But "as an art student, there was a dearth of creative information", she says. "Who were these people in fine art or television? What was their creative process?"
The book set about looking at the way that its subjects had forged their careers, and is a playful collage of their scribbles, photos and thoughts on the topic. It is a source of inspiration for young Pakistanis looking to the arts, as was Jamil's intention. At the age of 25 and shortly to move to the US to take up a Fulbright scholarship in photography, she is a name to watch out for too. The final book, Skin, is a collection of poetry by the Pakistani writer Faraz Maqsood Hamidi. Again, it is concerned with contemporary themes; there is discussion of small talk, parties and hot summer days. The book is a collection of humorous and non-humorous pieces. "I try to keep it reverent and at the same time irreverent," Hamidi said at the launch after joking that he doesn't much like poets because they can be self-indulgent. He finished his reading with a brief note about Still Waters, about its aspiration "to make a difference to Pakistan's modern culture by promoting Pakistani talent". The trio of books launched here marks the beginning of their efforts; there are plans to release them in America and the UK, too. It is an achievement of which Hassan and Aman should be proud.
Revived, Raw Life and Skin are available at the Shelter, Dubai (www.shelter.ae).