The Vasl Artists Association recently concluded their five-week long residency in an exhibition that showcased an arresting body of work by four young artists from variegated disciplines. Vasl’s Taaza Tareen program caters to emerging artists who are still in the formative stages of their artistic careers. The selected artists are funded to conduct their proposed research and are mentored during the making of their works to facilitate them in developing a more critical understanding and artistic acuity.
The 11th annual “Taaza Tareen” followed in the tradition of having a thematic premise, which for this year was “Diversity-Adversity.” Karachi, with a population of almost 22 million people and growing, hosts and is home to a myriad of ethnicities, sects, and religions. It, in essence, is a microcosm of the country itself where various types of minorities are more visible and represented than they would be perhaps in any other part of the country. This eclectic and convoluted mix of people gives Karachi its unique identity but also injects the fervour and pace that the city reverberates with. Chaotic, astir, and tumultuous are few words that may come to mind when describing the city’s lifestyle. Indeed, the conglomeration of communities and identities from various backgrounds is going to result in times of clash as well as coalesce, in times of calm and turbulence, and in times of joy and angst.
After having been selected by a jury, the four artists were provided with their studio spaces at the Karachi Parsi Institute where they utilised their time to address and to make works in response to their personal point of view to the inevitable quandaries of rapid urbanisation.
Hailing from Jacobabad and settled in Lahore, Hamid Ali Hanbhi recalls his past experiences for his research during the residency. Hanbhi’s job prior to studying in National College of Art was to paint at a shop in Jacobabad where he encountered clients from several backgrounds. He was tasked to not only paint trucks and other vehicles, but also to paint spiritual iconographies for various communities and religious parties. Having faced criticism for his practice from those he least expected from, it was during this time that Hanbhi realised that appearances can be deceiving; what we may take as a uniform for someone’s character may not actually hold true. Hanbhi incorporates this act of transformation and polarities of deception through functional objects common in our everyday use. With satirical undertones, Hanbhi staged a pile of red chillies made out of kohl and resin, and conversely assembled a queue of kohl holders moulded out of red chilli powder. The two recognisable objects not only negate their purpose through their materiality but also possess virulence in their mutated mode of consumption, which the artist shrouded in its inviting familiarity.
Born in FATA and brought up in Peshawar, Noormaha Jamal is now settled in Lahore after graduating from National College of Art where she specialised in miniature and printmaking. Jamal has lived in many cities and her consequential interactions as a Pakhtun woman with people from within and beyond her community has recurrently surfaced in her practice. While Jamal had initially proposed to engage with the Pakhtun community settled in the city, the cauldron that Karachi posed as drew the artist to informally and spontaneously interview people from diverse ethnicities, race, socio-economic class, and sects. What the artist was most intrigued by was how these individuals, dissimilar from one another, mentioned the tribulations of living in a megalopolis like Karachi, which poetically was a factor that also united them as one. Jamal chose to make unrefined, grainy sculptures – a quality she found the city’s essence to be saturated with. The figures are minuscule but unsettling, evoking an inaudible squall for the adjourned attention. She reflects on those individual as well as on the collected narratives of grievances; the acceptance towards the aberrations and the passive attitude to continue despite the frequent disruptions is what, as per the artist, keeps the city moving.
Resilience, malleability, and docility were also the themes in Bushra Khalid’s paintings and installation. Khalid lives and works in Sialkot but is originally from Lahore, where she graduated from Punjab University in 2017. The artist uses the degh (a large cauldron) as an analogy to comment on how the city moulds itself after episodes of disturbances. The cauldron is scraped, pressed, hammered, and beaten to form its shape, to which it adapts and silently submits. It is vigorously handled and in spite of the violent abuse and wear it generously gives back and dutifully performs its function. It contains, and it produces, despite the visible scarring and the continuous accumulation of soot on its voluminous under belly – a feature that the artist not only claims is native to Karachi, but also beautifully parallels to a pregnant woman’s torso that is about to introduce life. The cacophony of the burning, beating, cleaning, and scraping are the haunting voices of witness that narrate the various happenings and occurrences that the city has undergone and continues to do so.
Jehanzaib Haroon also graduated from NCA but has spent most of his primordial years in Karachi. Perhaps this is the reason why his work is imbued with immense nostalgia. Having taken an ethnological approach, the artist surveys various spaces as a mere observer and documents the chasm between the many socio-economic groups. He further looks at the psychological development of children and the evolution of their relationship with the space they occupy and the city they inhabit as they grow. The work exudes complex emotions about the past, the melancholia, the childhood, the loss and return, and the longing. The dream-like process of memory is evident in his display where the artist chose to install a whimsical playground of curtains for viewers to navigate through. He uses the time based media of photography and opts for the more primitive and organic forms of printing such as cyanotypes and salt prints. The imagery of everyday objects and the melange of silhouettes
create an obscure narrative and accentuate the transience of memory, as if the artist rushed to grasp a fleeting moment. The facades of various houses present themselves as defiant portraits and reinforce their facets tethered to concepts of home, of isolation, and of endurance.
The fifth actor in this year’s residency program was the writer-in-residence who joined later as the weeks progressed. Writer and educator Natasha Japanwala closely engaged with each artist and through her creative writing not only summated the artists’ history, their constantly evolving thoughts, and their process, but also chose to reflect on how the individual dialogues with the artists affected her personally and changed her outlook on the overwhelming life and on the pulsating yet deafening rhythm of Karachi.