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Is it Possible to Live Outside of Language?

Commissioned by the Goethe Institut Pakistan, in collaboration with Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and Vasl Artists Association, a group exhibition titled ‘Is it Possible to Live Outside of Language?’ opened on August 22nd, 2019 at the IVS Gallery in Karachi. The show ran till September 22nd, 2019. Curated by Aziz Sohail, the show included artists from Pakistan and Germany.


The exhibition uses a concept from the novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundathi Roy, which centers on Anjum, an intersex woman, while exploring themes of queer identity, particularly pointing out how Anjum’s mother chooses to identify her child, because of the ‘binary gendered Urdu language’.[1] The exhibition therefore expands on the idea of living ‘outside of language’, specifically in a queer space, also exploring the ways in which language acts to confine expressions of one’s gender or sexuality, while also investigating the kind of potential that exists in using language to elevate self-expression in a queer space.


Brazilian-born and Berlin-Based artist Lucas Odahara presents a body of work that merges sound, sculpture, text and performance. The vaguely covert pieces are meant to represent different perspectives of the human body, the leather almost replicating the look and feel of skin, while the contorted, ambiguous shapes resonate with human bodily organs. English, Urdu and Portuguese text is written in white on all pieces, while recordings of local speakers (recorded in Berlin and Karachi separately) in Portuguese and Urdu played in the background. The merging of different languages and collaborators reflects upon the movement of language from one part of the world to another, commenting on their shared histories over time.


Vassiliea Stylianidou creates two video works titled ‘Somatic TaleOhrz’. The videos depict the story Who is the Next Person to Wear It? in the form of text, music and visuals. The story is speculative fiction surrounding the protagonist Faraq Shayar Alli-Tis Faraz, an intersex individual exploring the ideas of ‘queer desire, embodied home, violence, textile and exile’.[2] Using Asad Alvi’s text about the history of the ready-to-wear garment industry, How Could a Voice Rewrite Text? acts as a performative reading commenting on language, post-colonialism, violence and capitalism in the Global South. The video projections depict psychedelic visuals of text merging with voiceover, while fusing the imagery of a human figure draped in a garment from head to toe.


The artists collective named The Many Headed Hydra continues their body of work that started in 2017 through 2019 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The collective brings together artists and collaborators that ‘incorporate gender dissidence as well as resistance against extractivism on ecological and social dimensions’.[3] A site specific body of work, ‘Oracle Flags’ uses screen printed and hand dyed cotton flags depicting only arms and hands against a blue backdrop. Vicky Shahjahan also collaborates with The Many Head Hydra in ‘We Are Here, From the Sea’, a prints of black and white photographs taken of Sea View beach in Karachi, commenting on the idea of Sea View being a free and open space in the past, while becoming overly surveyed and controlled over time. The Many Headed Hydra was initiated by artist Emma Haugh and curator Suza Husse in 2016 at District, a ‘queer feminist art space and cultural center’ in Berlin.[4]

Out of the two Pakistani artists participating, Omer Wasim explores the insufficiency of language as a means to express queerness, aiming to create a new form of visual language that allows the artist and the viewer to understand the queer experience through the literal and metaphorical, both. His installation combines the use of drapes and visuals of the male body, commenting on both the hidden nature and visibility of gender expression and sexuality. The second Pakistani artist participating, Fiza Khatri’s paintings recreate images from clothing stores and barber shops that she saw in Kathmandu. Using the medium of colour pencil on paper and oil on panel, she points out how the clothing stores used male and female mannequins to attract customers of only two specific genders, while the barber shop acted as a gender neutral ‘Ladies and Gents Saloon’. Khatri highlights how that particular space represented stark gender binaries, while also tearing them down at the same time.


The exhibition aims to comment on the internalized concepts of the many forms language is used (or misused) to identify or represent gender and queerness. An individual’s assigned gender, their pronouns, and even their names are only some examples of what begin to act as their identifiers, limiting or liberating their idea of identity. The project not only brought together diverse voices and experiences, but also highlighted the idea of the queer experience transcending language and coming together in a collective space.





[1] ‘Is It Possible to Live Outside of Language?’ IVS Gallery, 2019

[2] Vassiliea Stylianidou, ‘Is It Possible to Live Outside of Language?’ IVS Gallery, 2019

[3] The Many Headed Hydra, ‘Is It Possible to Live Outside of Language?’ IVS Gallery, 2019

[4] The Many Headed Hydra,


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