Karachi Biennale’22: A preview interview with the dynamic artist-curator Faisal Anwar


Karachi Biennale’22: A preview interview with the dynamic artist-curator Faisal Anwar

        "To me, biennales have an opportunity to present a city to the rest of the world through the language of art.

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“To me, biennales have an opportunity to present a city to the rest of the world through the language of art. It’s an opportunity to have conversations, collaborations and engaging dialogue that is a reflection of a collective vision…”



The news of the third iteration of the Karachi Biennale, KB’22,  has once again excited the art lovers, artists, art fraternity, and the people of Karachi and has set the wheels in motion. Karachi Biennale Trust has announced the curator of its third edition, Faisal Anwar who is a dynamic, talented and widely acclaimed artist.


Anwar graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore in 1996 and from Candian Film Centre’s Habitat-LAB in 2004. Based in Toronto, Canada,  his hybrid art practice gave him fame and popularity. He explores the history and diversity of urban spaces and cultural identities.


His inspiration from hybrid art, algorithms, data visualization, ecology, and cognitive sciences makes him the perfect choice as a curator of KB’22 which is a  process-based, experimental, and interactive art biennale that aims to bring art to the public and create a better connection between the art, the city, and its people. His practice branches through multiple media including interactive installations, immersive environments, data-driven interventions, and public art.  Anwar has been awarded several residencies, project grants as well as research grants throughout his career, including the prestigious SSHRC Insight Development grant, 2013 was awarded the Artist as Innovators Grant, for research for kids with multiple disabilities by the CFC Media Lab, Banff Centre and University of Toronto’s Adaptive Technology Lab. His work has been widely shown in galleries, museums and public spaces around the world.


Anwar has participated in prestigious residences at Labverde ( Brazil), Banff New Media Institute ( Canada), Parramatta Artist Studios (Australia), Livid Inc.( USA )
He has been keenly investigating the intersection of low and high-end technologies and harnessing human behavioral patterns to expand the digital experience across media.


In this preview interview, Faisal Anwar shares how is he going to shape his vision as a curator, give more strength to this project by his profound experience and what should we expect from the biennale.


Art Now: Congratulations on being selected as the curator of the Karachi Biennale’s third iteration. On a casual note please share the excitement with us?


Faisal Anwar: Thanks a lot. It’s indeed super exciting to be invited and contribute as KB 22 curator. I feel greatly humbled and am looking forward to bringing forward the creativity, potential and magic this bustling city holds.


AN: As you are aware that being a curator is a tough job that comes with great responsibilities. What is your outline and vision as a curator?


FA: Yes, I am thankful that Karachi Biennale has trusted me with this great responsibility, and I would try my best to live up to the expectations the community has from me. It is a strategic role not only to lead with an artistic vision but also to bring people together making a collective attempt to present an image of Karachi and Pakistan. My broader outline is to build upon the progression and successes of the previous two Biennales and expand the possibilities. My mantra is cross collaborations, I believe that in today’s environment, creativity, innovation, and art does not thrive in isolation, therefore I will be bringing some new working models parallel to the existing ways art is understood and experienced, with the vision that KB22 is a comprehensive learning experience not only for the artists, community members, local and international audiences, but an experience that has the potential to grow in future even after the biennale.


AN: What exciting projects should we look for in KB 3rd?


FA: It’s a little early to outline the projects as examples, but I would say that I am looking at KB 22 as an overall dynamic experience. There will be projects that explore new mediums and materials, projects that bridge disciplines, initiatives that generate dialogue across communities, exciting mentoring opportunities, with education and innovation as a focus.  I hope the excitement keeps building as the key vision is to bring people together in the spirit of sharing, giving, and learning and raise Karachi’s profile on the world map.


AN: What is going to be the outline of your curation?


FA: As mentioned above the job comes with great responsibility, at the same time it also presents an opportunity to do things in new and exciting ways. I am very mindful to present a quality experience. Less is more, so my focus would be on the quality of works and meaningful engagement. Also, I am mindful to bring good systems in place to improve the process for the participating artists.


AN: KB 17’s theme was witness that revolved around the politics of representation, KB’19 was art and ecology that evoked a debate on ecology through art however KB22 theme is not disclosed as yet but I am guessing it is going to be something related to Pandemic or art and technology. Can you discuss a little to escalate the excitement?


FA: I am very appreciative that people are excited and wanting to know more, and the theme will be launched in due time. In a nutshell, it is going to be a reflection of art trends in contemporary times, looking at various art trends in Pakistan and around the world, including the shifts of contemporary forms and behavior pre and post-COVID.


AN: Your medium of art is data, social media, and recently Augmented realities. How do you see this medium transformed in Pakistan? The world is heading towards digital and technology in the arts. Where do you see Pakistan standing with the technology in the arts?


FA: Art has always been a true reflection of the times it exists. It amplifies diverse expressions, mindsets, along with archiving contemporary times. The rapid progression in communication technology and development in creative computing has influenced all facets of life, including art.


I think the new digital mediums have given agency to many artists around the globe, including Pakistan. Artists are successfully using the digital space for the dissemination of their work to a wider international audience, in many ways the dependency on promoters, agents, publications, and galleries have reduced.


South Asia as a whole and Pakistan, in particular, is among the fastest-growing countries in the world to generate digital content of all types, including images, text, and videos with one of the largest youth audiences. It may be a surprise for some, but there is a lot of exciting work happening in the innovation and start-up tech industry in Pakistan. There are great examples in the fields of social economy, wearable technologies, robotics, VR and data-driven automation. Parallel to this, there is a trajectory of art and tech emerging economy around the world, and I am personally really interested in having conversations with artist collectives and academic experts to help us ask new questions.


In terms of artists using the digital space in the creation of their work, this is still in its early stages, in fact, it’s in an evolutionary stage around the world.  Educational institutions with interdisciplinary programs and multi-platform channels are definitely helping young artists to fill the gaps. Although I personally see that more and more artists are going to experiment more in the digital space.


AN: Are we going to see the continuation of your art practice in the biennale? Or is the theme expected to be revolving around it?


FA: I am excited to be part of a contemporary art movement, among many outstanding artists, who are contributing and experimenting. I would say KB22 is going to reflect on present times. My role as a curator is to develop a framework that brings artists and new mediums forward to tell stories through accessible experiences.


AN: Being in Canada, you can see the art scene of Pakistan through a different lens will that also make a difference in your curatorial project?


FA: I think not just living and seeing from the outside but also because I am constantly engaged with the fundamental social, cultural and technological changes introduced by the digital age, I am able to inquire with a new and broader lens. I see many new models emerging around the globe on how art is viewed and presented.  The digital turn is changing the game in today’s creative industries rapidly, starting from how we read books, listen to music and now even to watching movies, it is inevitable that very soon how art markets operate will have to change as well directly effecting the overall art scene. I am most curious to see what the new generation of artists has in store for us responding to the mindset of today’s generation and how will the art be shaped in the next 10 to 20 years.


AN: Since the Pandemic, we have witnessed that things have changed drastically, in the art world as well. How would you ensure the smooth transmission of your message through the biennale?


FA: It’s eye-opening and in some ways fascinating to see how the world has changed so quickly in a year and how quickly we all adopted digital platforms to be connected with each other and for our livelihoods. For KB22, I envision using these shifts to our advantage, that is to look at new opportunities to have collaborations, which were maybe not possible earlier, having local and global conversations virtually and so on.  So if people are unable to come to Karachi, we may bring Karachi to them through KB22.  I also see social media platforms and narratives playing a major role in message transmission.


AN: Are biennales to be bringing art to the public or it will be more than that to you?


FA: To me biennales have an opportunity to present a city to the rest of the world through the language of art. It’s an opportunity to have conversations, collaborations and engaging dialogue that is a reflection of a collective vision. I see biennale as “experience” not only for the artists to conceive work and present, develop their production strategy and presentation, it’s also how we as audience interact with the spaces, art, and each other as a society. As its an exhibition that happens in the public domain, a biennale plays a role in education and can be a catalyst for a positive social change.


AN: We say that there is greater freedom of expression and voice today as compared to the Zia times. But the sad incident that happened at the KB 19 made all of us realize that the art is still policed and the voices are stifled. What is your take on that?


FA: I am a part of the generation that has lived through the changes in what we call freedom of expression, and censorship has long prevailed around all disciplines in Pakistan, yet artists, poets, writers, activists develop ways to constantly question and challenge the systems. Artists are always risk-takers, and my role as a curator would be to provide an encouraging space to facilitate different expressions.


While living in Canada, I am also a witness to the global take on what is and what is not “freedom of expression” witnessing movements such as Black Lives Matter, MeToo, and so on. Also seeing the way information is manipulated to spread fake news and change and influence people’s perception. We live in a time where lines are blurred between reality, fake and propaganda.


That been said, I personally believe that we don’t have complete freedom of expression across the world, it is not just in Pakistan, this is sad and disturbing but true. I have worked on projects in the west, where the municipality intervened to check the data I was working with to make sure there is nothing inappropriate being said about the status quo. Many experiences around us are either influenced or manufactured by many forces, we are constantly making calculated measures based on cultural context, many times to protect ourselves and others we love.


Karachi Biennial is in its’s infant stage. It takes time and years to streamline structures and processes with artists and the municipality, for developing mutually respectful partnerships.  We need a collective effort as a community to learn from the past and move on to the next level making better choices.


AN: Do you agree that the curation in Pakistan is based on experience more than the knowledge that comes from formally studying curation? How does it make a difference? And what measures can be taken to nourish the curators who have studied curation?


FA: I do not completely agree that’s the case across the board in Pakistan. To my knowledge, there is a small but growing number of young curators in Pakistan who have formally studied curation, which is wonderful as that brings a great level of commitment to their career trajectory and the careers of artists they work with. We need to protect them, support them, nourish them to take a leading path in the future.


At the same time, research shows that historically as well as in recent examples, many artists have also transitioned to become curators successfully, sometimes bringing forward a totally new perspective to the same inquiry and can break the stereotypes which comes with strict role definitions. For example, curators at times become inaccessible, and work only within a selective network of artists, but when we open up the pool we welcome a different perspective and opportunities to support new and bright talents and have new conversations.


AN: What is your take on looking outside the megacity centers to develop your curatorial practice and career?


FA: If I understood your question correctly; This is subjective to the individual’s motivation and interest. Career paths should be designed to keep the goals in focus. In some cases, the curatorial investigation may require stepping outside the mega centers and at times opportunities are less competitive outside the bigger pool, so it depends on how one chooses to designs their path.


AN: According to you, what qualities should a curator have?


FA: A curator’s job is to effectively design and bring forward the artist’s message to the audience. They should have a clear vision, passion, great organizational skills and a good grasp of the knowledge they want to bring forward. And of course a commitment foremost to the artists they present.


AN: What message would you like to give to the readers through this platform?


FA: The past year and living through a pandemic together has taught us a lot, much to reflect upon and how we will choose to design our lives moving forward. I see exciting times ahead. I wish to introduce and offer new ways to all of us to celebrate Karachi, its diversity and its creative spirit. I am looking forward to the support from all of you to make a positive and lasting impact on the city by the city.