In recent years several organisations have emerged in Pakistan that are dedicated to bringing art to the public. Among these is I AM KARACHI, a movement aimed at redefining the cultural fabric of the city through numerous social interventions. Early February marked the inauguration of the organisation’s second International Public Art Festival (IPAF) at the remarkable Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw (NED) University’s city campus.
Set up in 1921, NED is one of the first institutes in Pakistan and therefore, an ideal space for IPAF to be held. The festival explored the theme, ‘Karachi ki Khoj: (Re) defining the metropolis.’ With his team, curator Sohail Zuberi, brought together a number of artists and photographers from all around the world to explore and understand the essence of Karachi through a weeklong exhibition. With careful selection and curation, the works at IPAF brilliantly blended themselves into the ambience of NED, becoming unified with the space.
Inviting viewers at the entrance was the sound installation of Wajiha Ather Naqvi. Playing recorded sound clips of prayers from different religions, sects and denominations, which sounded from two speakers, the listeners were able to experience the diversity of the city. In a country where religion defines community and segregates the minorities from the rest of the public, Naqvi’s work reminds us of the similarities we share and when put together shows us how all sounds of worship resound harmoniously.
Crossing through Naqvi’s work, one is met by the intriguing canvases of Sarmad Hashmi. The audience is invited to colour in the black and white drawings with available markers and the end result displayed beautifully colourful pieces, full of life. The work becomes a collaboration between artist and audience, where the audience now has power on what the work can look like. Because of its interactive nature, the work also becomes a fun activity within the exhibition.
Haider Ali’s metallic line drawings are recreations of drawings by local residents around the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar. While en route, the artist wanted to witness the urbans developments happening in the area through the eyes of locals and used their drawings as a form of understanding how the change looked to them.
The methodically curated photography section of the exhibition displayed a great variety of pieces. With the senseless targeting of members of the Hazara community, many have fled to other cities for a safer life. Saadat Ali portrays the lives of young Hazara men living in Karachi. Leaving their homes in Quetta for education, his photographs capture the intimate and heart-warming relationships between these roommates. The scenes he portrays are warm and casual where everyone seems happy but the longer one views his work they realise that Ali only captures a split second of what these young people must have to go through away from families and what they have had to witness in the past.
Seema Nusrat’s installation included structural paintings on the facades of the university done in yellow and black paint, which are colours all too familiar to the Karachi public. Similar colours cover barriers and structures across the city which have increased exponentially in recent years. With an increase in security measures, we have little control on our surroundings and that is emphasized in Nusrat’s work.
Reminding viewers of the beauty of the city are the works of Sheema Khan and Noman Siddiqui. The intricately drawn clay works map iconic sites of the city and are quite lovely to look at. The naturalness of the clay brings out the authenticity of the spaces while the brown hue also creates a nostalgic feeling, as if the audience is given a glimpse into Karachi’s past.
Exhibitions such as these are vital to the social and cultural development of the city. Art is a reflection of its time and is meant to be viewed by a diverse audience. By bringing these events to public spaces, these organisations are creating awareness and broadening the community of those that appreciate local art.