The 3rd Islamabad Literature Festival Art Section took place with 3 days of lively talks, diverse, enthusiastic crowds and interactive discussions between the speakers and the audience, set to the backdrop of the Lok Virsa and wonderful weather on the closing day.
The Art Section commenced with Rashid Rana in conversation with our editor, Quddus Mirza. The two speakers kept the audience glued to their seats with light hearted banter interspersing serious dialogue as they discussed Rana’s practice and his vision for next year’s Lahore Biennale, taking place from 5th November to 24th December 2017. Rana explained that the Biennale isn’t limited to those dates, however; it is envisioned as an artistic movement that expands beyond those dates and beyond the gallery walls, with artists determining the how and where their works will be exhibited. They also reflected on the obstacles artists face in Pakistan, especially in terms of both official and informal censorship from the public. The session ended on a high note and set the tone for the next day. A major hurdle for artists in Pakistan is the lack of public exhibition spaces. Naeem Pasha of Rohtas Gallery pointed to the example of the National Gallery in “The Business of Art”, which has not acquired any new works since 2007, and due to a lack of curatorial expertise or interest, does not preserve its collection as it should.
Oversights or mistakes by organisations and individuals are always in danger of exposure in the current age of social media, however, and there is a growing awareness of public perception. In “The Art of Social Media”, the discussion revolved around the uses and the dangers of social media and how it aids in spreading awareness. Teachers today are not necessarily expected to have all the answers, but rather work facilitators, helping students figure out to navigate the plethora of information that is available online and create the intellectual frameworks to allow students to interpret art. Teachers are more self-aware as well, with the rising use of social media in class rooms and students recording juries. The session encouraged debate and had many audience members keenly sharing their personal view points.
In “City as Art, Art in the City”, speakers discussed how new artistic organizations are engaging with the city and initiatives like ‘I am Karachi’ are reclaiming public spaces. They also agreed that artists cannot expect government funding, and that the artistic should take ownership and raise funds through private channels. Furthering the conversation of balancing the public and the private, Adeela Suleman spoke to Quddus Mirza about her role as an artist, running Vasl Artists’ Collective and teaching with her private life as a mother and a wife. From a young age, Suleman was brought up to be the “perfect housewife”, but took the pressures imposed upon women and channeled her skills and energy into art that questioned and challenged the norms of society, tackling deeper socio-political issues.
An important discussion on women’s depictions in art took place with Salima Hashmi, Ayesha Durrani, Farida Batool and Aasim Akhtar in “Translating Gender”. Salima Hashmi spoke about her experience in the 1970s and 80s, when activists protested against misogynistic laws, and artists, including herself, employed creative ways of subverting ideologies. Connecting to a number of seminars across ILF on women’s issues, “Translating Gender” was very well received, with Salima Hashmi in full form.
The second day closed with a live performance by a new creative group, the Tea Collaborative, who engage with the city on social and political grounds – and have tea. At ILF, collaborators Hurmat Ul Ain, Sabahat Nawaz, Waqar Aziz, and Zehra Aziz in Tea Party performed to a packed session – not surprising, since in South Asia, tea is the ultimate social lubricant, enjoyed across social and ethnic divisions. Tea is also an economic commodity, weighted with colonial history and thus provides a rich ground from which the group can launch numerous conversations on a variety of social and cultural topics. As the Tea Collective explains, they imagine a “tea happening as a theatre of wilful play, an unfolding narrative and interaction where tea is the invitation for participation.”
Tea Party was part of a larger exhibition, ‘Invisible Cities’, curated by Nadia Batool Hussain, which focused on Islamabad and Rawalpindi, termed “twin cities” due to physical proximity, though they bear little similarity to one another. The exhibition, which included installation, mixed media, new media, photographs and more, excavated the layers of hidden urban life and uneasy coexistence by artists embedded in these cities. With this exhibition, so deeply rooted in the city in which it took place, the ILF Art Section showed the importance of situating art within a particular context and engaging with artists who inhabit that space.
The Lahore Biennale Foundation works on similar lines. In April the Lahore Biennale Foundation was pleased to launch its first ever project in Karachi, Innovations in Public Space: JPMC Waiting Area, in collaboration with Patients’ Aid Foundation. The project was carried out along the lines of human-centric design, expertly executed on-site by artists Naima Dadabhoy and Roohi Ahmed, with the generous support of Ferozsons Laboratories Limited as the sponsors.
As part of the on-going Intersections initiative, a project entitled Where the Bus Stops has also entered the implementation stage- the first bust stop can be seen in front of UCH, Gulberg. This multi-partner endeavor brings together LBF, the Commissioner’s Office Lahore, Lahore Transport Company (LTC), Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) and the Social Innovation Lab (SIL) at LUMS. This project also carries forward the ethos of human-centered design, which was a major consideration during the selection process, with designs sourced via an open call. With participants hailing from varies backgrounds, their aesthetic yet functional creative solutions will provide a new way of looking at structures in the city.
A second artSPEAK entitled Art in Parks and Public Spaces was held on April 21, 2016, for the Stories We Tell – Aao Sunayein Kahani project, being carried out in collaboration with the School of Visual Art and Design, BNU and the Centre for Culture and Development (CKU). The event took the form of an open discussion at Bagh-e-Jinnah, and proved to be a success, with visitors to the park engaging with artists, students and musicians to in order to have a stimulating conversation regarding the significance of art in public spaces. Sajjad and Hafiz, members of the Mirasi community who participated in the project, shared how it had “removed the dust” from their work, in order to bring it back into focus and revitalize it.
In exciting upcoming events, the LBF Artistic Director Rashid Rana will be in conversation with Glenn D. Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York City on May 3, 2016, as part of post presents. This series of talks is devoted to the cross-geographical consideration of modern and contemporary art. The sessions are an extension of post, MoMA’s online platform devoted to looking at art from a global perspective.
To stay updated on ArtNow’s initiatives, visit this page and sign up for our newsletter.
Bye for NOW.