Welcome readers to the November 2019 issue of ArtNow, where we weigh in on the expansive second iteration of the Karachi Biennale currently taking place at 7 venues, all of which are being reviewed by our dedicated contributors. In keeping with the KB19 theme, we have interviews and profiles of the KB Discursive keynote speakers Sacha Kagan, Zain Mustafa and Mariah Lookman, an in depth look into Alliance Francaise de Karachi, a KB venue, in the art spaces section, a photo essay on the behind the scenes of KB19 by Jamal Ashiquain, debates and conversations on the biennale in our in focus essays, a book review of the KB17 catalogue, and blog posts about the discursive talks that took place at the JS Auditorium at IBA City Campus.
The 2nd Karachi Biennale kicked off on the 26th of October after a long exciting build up with beautiful opening ceremony abuzz with energy and activity. The CEO of the Karachi Biennale Trust, Niilofur Furrukh and curator of KB19 Mohammad Zeeshan as well as the chief guest, mayor of Karachi Waseem Akhtar all spoke at the event and the theme of ecology, particularly the slowly disappearing birds as a symptom of wider issues of overdevelopment and urbanization was discussed. The theme is very pertinent in a city where the environment, from the air to the water to the soil is contaminated and where not only the landscape and the inhabitant wildlife, but even the people themselves are either direct or direct victims of its failing ecosystem. Three major awards were given out at the event, and I would like to congratulate Akram Dost Baloch for winning the Lifetime Achievment award, Rashid Rana for the Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Juried Art Prize and Arsalan Nasir for the Peek Freens Emerging Artist Award. The attendees of the opening were then immersed in the artworks and performances at the Bagh Ibn Qasim.
I would like to congratulate Niilofur Farrukh, Muhammad Zeeshan and the entire KB team on a successful opening event and for pulling off this tremendous feat of arranging such a large-scale exhibition that re-activates the public spaces of the city. As Zeeshan endlessly iterated at the event, it would not have been possible without the support of the government which facilitated the biennale in bringing art to the public every step of the way, yet, the unfortunate situation with one artwork in particular, Adeela Suleman’s “Killing Fields of Karachi”, renders these sentiments hollow. It raises pertinent questions with regards to censorship and silencing of not only artistic expression but the public’s voice, and who the public spaces of the city really belong to. The stance taken by the Karachi Biennale Trust fuels the fire, and while we can all appreciate the thin line that large institutions and public platforms need to walk, it sent a grave message that will set the tone for the future iterations of the biennale. That being said, it is heartening to see the artist community coming out in droves in support of the artist and of freedom of expression, and it goes without saying, being one of the few art publications in the country, that we stand with Adeela Suleman, with speaking up for truth and justice, and the right to freedom of speech and expression in the public sphere and otherwise.
Despite these controversies at play, the biennale is in full swing and I would urge the public to visit the remaining 6 venues and the exquisite art on display therein, as it remains an important part of our cultural landscape and a lot of hard work and passion has gone into the art as well as it organization by the KB curators and team. There are regular guided tours for the public, as well as tour groups for school children and teachers taking place at each of the venues, details of which can be accessed on the KB social media, website and phone app for those interested. Some of the most exciting public art is on view at the Bagh Ibn Qasim and the Karachi Zoo, both of which have brought art to those sections of the public that never get to experience art in its usual gallery setting, and the biennale efforts are commendable for making art truly accessible for the public in this second iteration, despite the complexities of this public realm that they have had to navigate.
As hundreds of art aficionados flock to the city for the biennale, the artistic climate has come alive with a number of exciting unofficial collateral exhibitions taking place alongside it. It is exciting to see the city abuzz with so much art activity, a rarity in the country, historically speaking. AAN Gandhara Art Space is hosting a group show titled “I Love You and Other Works from the AAN Collection”. The title has been borrowed from a video installation by the artist Bani Abidi which is titled ‘I Love You’ and which features the artists Rashid Rana, Imran Qureshi, Aisha Khalid, Asma Mundrawala and various others pronouncing this phrase silently. “This exhibition will delve into the elusive nature of these oft repeated words from our vernacular. Words which are meant to exhibit the purest of emotions and are so potent with meaning, yet sometimes are threatened by over usage in this digital age.” Say the curatorial statement. The works on display are chosen from the AAN Collection in response to the curatorial premises by artists Bani Abidi, Khadim Ali, Aisha Khalid, Imran Qureshi along with an in-situ installation especially created for the exhibition by Anushka Rustumji. The show was curated by Malika Abbas with Amina Naqvi serving as curatorial adviser.
Another very exciting show took place at Koel Gallery, a curatorial project of Amra Ali that pays tribute to Rasheed Araeen and his early works on the coast and ports of Karachi. His works and texts were interpreted through the works of a newer generation of artists, and included works by Farrukh Adnan, Noor Ali Chagani, Noorjehan Bilgrami, Sohail Zuberi, Usman Saeed, Zeerak Ahmed and Rasheed Araeen himself. The works included respond in interesting and diverse ways to the curatorial premise and the show is extremely well curated, with diverse mediums and ranging from minimalist, abstract and indirect, to representational.
Another exciting show is taking place at Chawkandi Art Gallery, “Becoming a Woman”, a solo by Qinza Najm curated by art critic and Artnow contributor Nimra Khan. The work talks about the marginalization of a certain gender and the double standards of society that place unfair and uneven burden on women. this is articulated through abstractions if the female form sitting in a provocative position taken as a metaphor. the work is a negotiation between women, their bodies and the spaces they occupy and seeks to raise pertinent questions about our preconceived and socially conditioned notions about the female body. Qinza Najm is a New York based artist with a PhD and psychology whose interdisciplinary artistic practice explores gendered violence and female subjectivity, using artistic means to create empathy and understanding between societies and cultures in order to address the deepest social traumas. This is her second solo show in Pakistan and her work is part of major museum collections including the Queens Museum NY and National Museum of China. Her work is also part of the current Karachi Biennale, an interactive sculpture permanently installed at the Karachi Zoo. The show continues till the 12th of November and is worth a visit.
Bye for NOW!