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Investing in the Cultural Capital – Degree Show at Karachi University

 

The role of fine art is to make us acquainted with the changing role and face of society. From self-expression to idolism and idealism, from the spiritual to the profane, from political agendas to elucidations, from craftsmanship to technology the gamut of exploring is boundless.

 

Traditional methods of creating works of art are fast being replaced with spontaneous methods deemed fit to meet the fast paced world we are living in today. And, the role of fine art is no longer just limited to self-discovery and expression but has developed into a strong promotional tool as well. It offers a prospect of making the artist visible, to enable him/her create a ‘corporate image’. It has become a prolific and profitable cultural capital with an upward trend confirmed in today’s economy- an awareness fast gaining momentum amongst the students majoring in the arts.

 

The Department of Visual Studies which is now in its sixteenth year is located within one of Pakistan’s largest universities. The Karachi University which has fifty-two departments and twenty postgraduate institutes exposes the students of visual studies to students and faculty across all academic disciplines offered at the university- ranging from the sciences to humanities.

 

After a year of working on the final project, representing all they learned, the graduating class of Fine Arts and Islamic Arts at the Department of Visual Studies, Karachi University, end their final year with the BFA Degree Show held on the premises of the department. The display is a significant measure of the undergraduate experience stimulated by the creative dialogue present within the work after intense and often fierce soul searching.

 

Amna Bibi’s thesis whimsically reflects the many roles of a woman and the secrets she begrudgingly holds on to while Gina Gul’s ‘Locate/Relocate’ takes us on a personal journey layered with mixed emotions she experienced when she moved to Karachi. Gul develops a strong narrative through the use of plaques and doors. Hadiqa Arshad’s set of paintings and installations ringing childhood memories confronts an inner turmoil which leads her to embark on a journey of realization and remorse. Syed Shuja Ahmed and Mishal Khan make use of grids and cartographic patterns to develop a visual vocabulary to contextualize the complexity of memories.

 

The students ‘are encouraged to widen their experience and engage with the larger issues’ within their practice expounds Durriya Kazi, Head of the Visual Arts Department at the Karachi University. Social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts are used as tools to measure their designs and develop analytical skills.

 

Rabia Khan’s thesis stood out tremendously. What appeared to be hefty, dilapidated and elapsed pillars, rusted oversized metal chain and large boulders perhaps heaved across the department floor on wheels were indeed a unique construction made of thermo-pole and foam. These super realistic, yet light-weight, constructions were meticulously executed by the artist. Khan reflected on the relationship the people of this metropolis are forced to develop with the persistent and endless growing construction sites on the one hand and then the demolished sites on the other.

 

The students of the Islamic Arts- Bareera Ahmad, Hummairah Awan, Hina Aijaz, Rehana Rafiq and Sameen Arif- explore a variety of traditional techniques innovatively to talk of their spiritual journey encompassing the ideology of transcendence through Tawhid and Tassawuf. Besides being decorative the application of ‘Islamic symbols’ served as an evangelical tool to forcefully drive home the point of spirituality as a source of salvation.

 

The self-referential works of the fine arts and Islamic arts graduating class levered ideas over traditional drawing and painting skills; thereby classifying the entire degree show as conceptual in nature.

 

The primary concern of the students, generating a body of work for their final project, is time and resources- challenges which brought opportunities for inspiration and innovation intensely explored by these students. The students of the fine arts department explored possibilities and investigated ideas making an effort to push their display to a new depth thus making up for the lack of resources conspicuously evident. Amna Bibi’s experimentation on monitors picked at junkyards is an accurate testimony to this. Over a year she experimented and explored with the polarized filters to come up with a unique technique thereby projecting the image from the blank screen onto manipulated 3-D glasses and magnifying glass. Due to lack of financial resources she had to turn to second-hand screens, not hiring any technical help she worked on her project independently to create captivating preliminary results.

 

At its end, the Karachi University needs to invest funds to upgrade the department which hosts a large pool of students with great potential. The Department of Visual Studies was sadly in a deprived condition. The display was dimly lit and the walls in pitiable condition thus considerably impacting the year-long body of culminating work showcased by the graduating class. Art graduates display a high degree of entrepreneurship and select their degree show as a launching pad for their careers hence it becomes the responsibility of the alma mater to provide all opportunities at its end to ensure that all efforts are made to assist students in the staging of their work.

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