Artist Writing: (BELIEF/PUNISHMENT) YAQIN SAZA (for Jam Saqi)



Jam Saqi is a Pakistani poet and novelist who was incarcerated for 9 years. His crime was possession of what the Zia regime had deemed “banned political literature.” His case was made known to me through the efforts of Amnesty International, and this work was executed and subsequently auctioned to raise funds for the organization.

The title of the work, as well as the forms, are derived from Urdu, the official literary language of Pakistan.

Ruined books, tarred and imbedded with screws, hog hair, and nails, banded and riveted with steel, address the loss, damage and disservice to the history of ideas and information that come with suppression. To rival this, the painted image of a book at its center confirms the intangible, yet indestructible, nature of belief, the presence and survival of conviction in a desert of waste.

The club, “bandaged” with paper treated to call to mind the tormented skin of a figure of a man, implies not only the capacity of a weapon to inflict pain, but how it can become emblematic of unjustified punishment. Here the wrapped likeness of a flayed man presents the capacity for torture to disfigure as well as distort human will to serve its purpose.

“As actual physical fact, a weapon is an object that goes into the body and produces pain; as a perceptual fact, it can lift pain and its attributes out of the body and make them visible. The mental habit of recognizing pain in the weapon (despite the fact that an inanimate object cannot have “pain” or any other sentient experience) is both an ancient and enduring one. Thus Homer speaks of an arrow “freighted with dark pains,” as though the heavy hurt the arrow will cause is already visibly contained in and carried by the object — is palpably there as its weight and cargo. Margery Kempe, a fourteenth-century mystic, speaks of a “boisterous nail,” as though not only the pain that can be produced by the nail but the noises cries in turn produced by the person in pain are already audible in the nail itself. It is in the spirit of the same observation that Wittgenstein ask whether we ought not to be able, to speak of the stone that causes hurt as having “pain patches” on it. And the implications of the observation are extended in Joseph Beuys’ small sculpture of a knife blade bound in gauze, exhibited at the Guggenheim in 1979 and entitled, “When you cut your finger, bandage the knife.”

Elaine Scarry. The Body in Pain. New York: Oxford, 1985.