“…I am looking at the public and my curation is in relation to this nuanced audience. I have planned it in such a way that projects will be a part of the daily lives of people and will be running alongside them, so regardless of whether they view it as art or not, art is still happening to them.” Muhammad Zeeshan, Curator KB19
KB19 has officially kicked off since October 27 2019 for public view. Most of you might be aware that the biennial is displayed at seven locations within the metropolis. This piece reviews two venues, the Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim and the art gallery at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS), where several installations and a project covering the documentation of Karachi’s mangroves are exhibited respectively. With bold sculptures and fearless statements, the Qasim park displays some fifty domestic and international artists, and increases viewer experience in a massively spread public space where only the mildly trimmed grass, architectural pathways and a temple stir any public interest (the park is greatly devoid of smaller gardens, specialized botanic sections, accessible restrooms etc.). At the IVS gallery, The Mangrove Project is an enlightening collaboration between a group of individuals that documents Karachi’s mangroves, currently debilitating due to lack of care.
I: Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim
Upon entering the park, Amin Gulgee’s Impossible Growth will welcome and delight you. A lofty vertical structure built with glass, mirror, copper and steel stationed at the ground soars toward the sky. The work opened at KB’s inauguration with a punchy performance titled 4Makers. Incense sticks and bottles that can be lighted to ritualistically compete viewer interaction are strategically placed near the sculpture. With this towering artwork, Gulgee’s art practice soars as a fine reflection of his dexterity with material while fusing its physicality with sensual experience.
The park also displays Naqsh-e-Shehr, curated by Arshad Faruqi and Nurayah Sheikh Nabi. Forty-three artists participate to cartographically represent the diverse areas of Karachi over the city’s street map. Combined as one large. choppy piece, Naqsh-e-Shehr is perhaps the most awe-inspiring work displayed in the park. Its only con; you will have to lie on the foam placed on the floor to gaze up at the work that is suspended via supporting poles under a false ceiling.
Like many international biennials, here is the dilemma that the exhibited works present us. Art must be accessible to the public. Naturally, that is not enough. For the general audiences to understand and appreciate art, art per se must be capable be understood to a good extent. Yet we are historically aware that art has often lost its appeal and intellect when it exists as a mass targeted, kitschy narrative. The works at the Bin Qasim Park are thus divided; many of them raise intellectual and visual curiosity while several lose their meaning due to over-simplification.
This means that while Impossible Growth and Naqsh-e-Shehr inspire, several other pieces fall a little short of hitting the mark that a massive biennial like KB19 must have aimed for, for they pander to a kitschy public taste. R.M.Naeem’s Open to Sky is a collection of site-specific works, created to strike visually; it is divided in many similar shaped sections horded with red and green chili peppers; human heads casted in fiberglass sit at one end of each section. The work has garnered significant attention on social media for its visual appeal and intended concept. The work uses innumerable chilies lying wasted on the ground while being displayed in a biennial that is themed around “Ecology and Environment”. It is ironic that to indicate an environmental concern, the work itself wastes innumerable chilies. Similarly, Sehar Naveed’s Lost at Sea will have you lost partially. Stationed on the ground and created with metallic pieces and paraphernalia, the piece symbolically indicates how containers and cargo block this metropolis, however, the work fails to disperse any artistic reflection.
II: The Mangrove Project at IVS Art Gallery
The Mangrove Project at IVS art gallery is a ruminative collaboration between Noorjehan Bilgrami, Tariq Alexander Qaiser, Marvi Mazhar, Sadia Salim, Zarmeene Shah and Sohail Zuberi. Fit for this year’s biennial, the project documents the existing condition of Karachi’s mangroves via various methods. Disseminated on both sides of the gallery are several drawing studies and photographic archiving that ponder over the state of mangroves while a video plays showing the mangroves and originally captured sounds by birds and animals in their coastal habitat. Certain pieces of wood obtained from the mangroves have also been displayed; combined with nylon and wire the pieces almost feel like fillers within the gallery. However, this is inconsequential as thoroughly enjoyable and cogitative, the project is every bit worth your visit.
In addition, it is essential to note that no ecological drive is apolitical in contemporary times. In a city like Karachi where constant battle is being fought between the Cantonment and City Government over taking responsibility of cleaning up the noxious land, artworks that respond to KB19’s theme will bear either little or high political connotations. Karachi Biennale closes November 12 and it may not be possible for viewers to visit all seven locations as the city is often difficult to navigate. However, the Bagh-Ibn-e-Qasim and IVS gallery are satisfying spots to visit as most of the curated artworks instigate viewer interest and may even generate intended ecological awareness amongst the city’s public.
 Muhammad Zeeshan in interview with Nageen Shaikh, “Curating for the Public: An Interview with Muhammad Zeeshan, Curator KB19,” ArtNow Pakistan, September 2019.