June 01 – Project01 started; June 15 – filed; June 17 – Project02 started; June 20 – Project03 started; July 13 – emailed galleries and peers with in-progress Projects01|02; July 15 – filed; July 15 – filed; July 25 – aiming to file; July 30 – aiming to file; August 01 – aiming to file; August 02 – aiming to file; August 10 – aiming to file; August 10 – aiming to file; August 15 – aiming to file; August 16 – opening of Project01; August 31 – aiming to file; September 11 – aiming to file; September 11 – aiming to file; September 19 – aiming to file; September 30 – finish Projects02|03; October 01to15 – execute Project04; October 30 – website up and running; November 15 – start Project05
*We, as an artist duo, are perpetually researching opportunities for residencies and grants.
This is what our schedule looks like for the immediately foreseeable future, and recent past. More often than not, we mull over the fact that applications take an overwhelming amount of time and effort to file, ranging anywhere from 48 full-time work hours to 96, which translates to time spent away from actually producing and executing projects. Since we are just starting out as an artist duo, working without any apprentices or studio assistants, anything and everything that comes out of our studio practice requires our unmitigated involvement.
However, in spite of the fact that applying for these opportunities is laborious and does take an inordinate amount of time, we realize their significance in furthering our practice, which is to say that this is not an option, we have to do it in order to meet the goals that we have set for ourselves—and the only way to meet the rigor that such a schedule entails, is by treating these application processes and deadlines as a intrinsic facet of our practice.
Why do we have to look for these opportunities:
The artists that we look at are all backed by prestigious art residency programs—such as the Whitney ISP, Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, MFAH Core Program, Akademie Schloss Solitude, DAAD, etcetera—which, to a certain degree, make their work more credible. These residency programs afford opportunities for travel and critical engagement that would otherwise be not accessible. Since artists in Pakistan are not as privy to interacting or engaging extensively with art collections in person—even much of the art from this region is not as available to the local audience and is more frequently showcased internationally—this kind of cultural mobility and experiential diversity counters the lack thereof. Most of these opportunities are funded, which coupled with their highly site-specific nature, helps realize more ambitious research projects that may otherwise remain proposals.
Residencies are structured in a way that involves interaction with different stakeholders, namely critics, historians, museum directors, curators, gallerists, and collectors. Artists become a part of and share this comprehensive network if and when they get into a program, which potentially helps them showcase and sell their work and gain access to venues that might have otherwise remained elusive.
Artists’ residencies are reminiscent of art schools where the artists get all the benefits of critical engagement and discourse without added pressures of formal art education. A lot of residencies have resident artist-advisers who work with the visiting artists full-time, providing them with valuable support and feedback. Another avenue for learning comes in the form of other visiting artists who become one’s peers during the duration of the residency. While in an art school one is working with other students, who may or may not pursue this profession post formal education, one’s peers at a residency program, are all invested in and actively pursuing art as a career, which gives one insights into the operational systems of the artworld from different perspectives and in diverse regions. Another art school occurrence, the individual and group critiques and studio visits from established curators and critics, become an even more frequent phenomenon at these programs, enriching the experience further.
An artist becomes privy to different modes of production because of living and interacting with fellow residents; now this is a rare insight. (Aside: we, the co-authors of this essay, have been colleagues and friends for a couple of years and would always discuss and critique ideas and work, but would not be aware of how either one of us arrived at the final piece(s). Now that we work together, we are becoming privy to how the other person thinks and problem-solves, which not only gives the other person clarity, but enriches, both collaborative and individual works.) The problem identifying and solving strategies become more evolved and agile, rendering the concepts and projects more complex and multifaceted. The nature of this learning entails embracing differences, contradictions, and multidisciplinary approaches to thinking and articulating, leading one to understand and deconstruct how artists negotiate their thinking processes and struggles to get to the “finished product”, while negating the uni-dimensionality of one’s own practice—because, of course, there is no one mode of thinking, and no right and wrong answers, no binaries, since each of these is merely a socio-linguistic construct.
All of the above are factors that may/should contribute significantly towards dislodging one out of a complacency that the isolated nature of a studio practice affords.
What can potentially keep artists from applying:
As previously stated, the amount of effort and time required to file applications, given that there is a plethora of opportunities, it is highly unlikely that one artist can apply for even a small fraction of these. (Our list, above, was shared to communicate how deadlines fall back to back, and require constant engagement and checking into.) Each rejection, no matter how big or small, takes an emotional toll, and could act as a deterrent. Formal art education (especially in Pakistan) rarely lays an emphasis on how to write for and file applications, for residencies and otherwise. And, of course, every opportunity comes with its own set of rules and objectives, pandering to which proves difficult, and even though one proposal may be relevant—and can be used for multiple opportunities—it has to be reworked every time to meet the requisite agendas.
Why art residency programs may have been set up:
Art as a profession allows one to be more flexible with one’s timings, and conventionally in not being supported by governments, artists may have had to make their own opportunities, which could have entailed coming up with such support structures and institutions. The profession is also relatively a more isolated one, where the artist may run the risk of critical complacency and settle for where they are, especially after gaining critical acclaim and recognition. Since art is more at the periphery of human experience, or at least supposed to be, to serve its unique “function” of enhancing and expanding the realms of human understanding and imagination, it is just as crucial for artists to be dislocated, as for them to be located.
Omer Wasim & Saira Sheikh:
Omer Wasim has a BFA in Interdisciplinary Sculpture and an MA in Critical Studies from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Baltimore, Maryland. He has been teaching and practicing in Karachi, Pakistan, since 2014, and is currently an adjunct faculty in the Liberal Arts Programme at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. Wasim has not been to an art residency program.
Saira Sheikh has a BFA from the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, Punjab, and an EdM from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, New York. She has been teaching and practicing in Karachi, Pakistan, since 2013, and is currently Associate Professor and Head of Liberal Arts Programme at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi. Sheikh has been to two art residency programs.
Omer Wasim & Saira Sheikh are visual artists who practice together, to radically examine and mine contemporary art practices, and recent, albeit superficial, interest of the global west in their region; and also to reconfigure, re-articulate, and disrupt existing and complacent modes of artistic engagement and production.
They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
*This essay contains some assumptions, and many generalizations; it is based on our personal and collective experiences and perceptions, as well as deliberations and speculations, and does not propose to present any objective, absolute or infallible truth(s).