Karachi is an alpha city which has a fast pace to follow however COVID-19 has affected many industries including the art scene of Karachi which e
Karachi is an alpha city which has a fast pace to follow however COVID-19 has affected many industries including the art scene of Karachi which eventually slowed down the art activities in the city. However, the galleries once again resumed art shows to survive. During these times, Noor Ahmed, an artist and a curator, came up with an idea of open studios at Cinema 73 which, she believes, is going to work in the long run to foster creativity and experimentation in a flexible and equipped space.
Noor Ahmed conceived of the concept of the Open Studios to promote fresh modes of communication, cultural dialog, and innovative forms of public engagement, and was further motivated by the pandemic, which largely prevented artists from exhibiting work in physical spaces. With this initiative in mind, she approached Cinema 73 and its founder, Asad Kamran, as a location for this idea to manifest. Asad Kamran’s garage located within his residential area is converted into a community space and cinema which began with screening Pakistani and Indian movies. From Ahmed’s curatorial perspective, she was interested in the inaugural run of Open Studios being at Cinema 73 because as a space, it was particularly interesting due to its nature of being a community space, engaging with and situated in the public realm. Keeping this environment in mind, she invited artists Asad Kamran, Ammara Jabbar and Haider Ali Naqvi to work in and exhibit here, whose practices directly engaged with/were a reflection of the city of Karachi.
The open community space allows artists to work freely and also the general public to interact with them and see the art process and not just the end product. Noor believes that open studios provide artists an opportunity to earn a different experience presenting their work differently and also interacting with the general public whereas it is also an opportunity for the public to understand and have access to the contemporary art. The recent shows that the space has hosted speak about the metropolis, its life and the artists dig deeper into the roots of the city through their practices.
Karachi is counted among the busiest cities of the world thus the inaugural show titled ‘Portrait of time’ displayed an array of portraits by Asad Kamran which portrayed the hustle bustle of the city and in each portrait Kamran showed how an individual soaks the surroundings of the city yet feels lonely, abandoned and isolated. The quick colorful strokes whirled around the time and reflect feelings, beliefs and sentiments of an individual that he/she inhales from the city. It’s a conversation of the artist with himself to soothe his fears, anxiety and loneliness. His attempt to dissect and draw a line between the chaos in the society and how a person absorbs it is a thought-provoking process. Noor looks at it as if it highlights the satisfaction that can come when the internal struggle is turned outward and transformed into something that can be share and collectively explored.
Ammara Jabbar presented a solo exhibition titled ‘Have a good time’ in which she investigates how this city treats people on the basis of genders. She takes a look at the city through her work and questions the notions and reactions towards a woman. She further explores the concept of divisions of the spaces on the basis of genders. The independent and playful sound and video installations are symbols that Jabbar wants her viewers to decode and decipher as per their discernment and also understand the level of expectations the city places on a woman. She used objects found in a domestic setting to create sound effects which become clues to understand her concept. She shares her experience as a woman living in the metropolis. There are certain rules and guidance for females to behave and their actions and reactions are always policed by the society.
Karachi has many skins and layers, and each layer has millions of stories which connect all of us together. However, not every story makes it to the surface thus many tales are brushed under the carpet, forgotten or walked over. Haider Ali Naqvi shared such narrative of a family who had lost their house in a result of actions taken against encroachment surrounding Gujjar Nala (rainwater drain). The artist involved the family in his work and developed collaborative drawings to show the city from a different angle and take his studio practice a bit further. The show titled ‘The road less travelled’ depicts a family’s suffering and pain. These innocent drawings, made by the children who were living in that house, are a culmination of their memories, pain and suffering.
“I had invited these three artists whose work revolves around the city. They know the city and explores further into the subject. Their work is interactive and explores many facets of Karachi. By interacting with and eventually exhibiting work as an open studio, they had autonomy to share the many processes of their studio practices. ” Noor Ahmed
Inquiring upon the current situation of pandemic and a predictable lock-down, Ahmed explicated that she is very much positive about the scheduling of the shows at the space. “The artists were allowed to own the space and work alone. This idea of open studios is already a reaction of the pandemic, so the space is also COVID friendly. ”
The online exhibitions target a certain audience and are only accessible to a few whereas the idea of an open studio at Cinema 73 is to let artists and non artists come together and engage, directly or indirectly, in art and creative activities. It is to bring art in the public so everyone can be a part of it.
Ahmed further explains that open studios by Noor Ahmed takes her curatorial practice further and allows having public engagement with contemporary art. “There is an end product that we see at the galleries. I wanted to show the whole process of it. I let the artists use and work in the space and display the work at the end. My emphasis is to show the process. I conceived of Open studios as a platform that could provide an alternative mode of exhibition for artists, allowing them more autonomy and access to the public.”