On the face of it, Karachi is not an attractive city. What is appealing, is the energy, talent and optimism – optimism in the face of conflict, socio-economic disparity and political unrest.
My impressions are limited to two visits, eight years apart, to happily re-acquaint myself with the city, former students and with friends. I have seen amazing developments – not only in the city but within the art community. On my first visit, I spent time at Karachi University (KU) and the Textile Institute of Pakistan (TIP), but recently my involvement was focused upon Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS).
I have observed the difference in focus of the students as well as the difference in facilities available. This did not seem to impact on the quality of work, like all art schools each has their own identity, largely defined by both the nature of the student intake and the philosophy of the institutions involved.
I have had the opportunity to engage with a range of students and artists, from the youth community centre in Lyari, to running student and artists workshops at IVS as well as developing my Art of Reconstruction course for plastic surgeons. This course attracted plastic surgeons from all over Pakistan, keen to explore drawing and modelling processes to enhance their surgical practices. Of course art plays an important role in society and contributes to a broad range of cultural activities, however, assisting surgeons is gratifying; knowing you become a part of their procedure, in whatever small way, to impact the outcomes. This collaboration seems a productive way of using ones skills and abilities. It also emphasizes the range of approaches one can offer through art education.
The art establishment seems to be predominantly made up of women, at least in Karachi. Many of the writers, curators, gallery owners and the heads of art schools are women. In what I expected to be a ‘male’ society, this was a surprise. Why is it so? Is it regarded as a profession not suitable for men? In a country where they had the first female prime minister, it is not surprising, but refreshing that women play such an important role in the cultural development.
Like the art schools, so to the galleries. Previously I thought the galleries had more of a ‘shop feel’ about them, but during this trip the three main commercial galleries I visited were beautiful spaces- Sanat Initiative, Canvas and Koel Gallery – each with their own identity, very professional and equal to any gallery in Sydney, London or New York. Two of the three being owned by women. In addition to these commercial spaces, in 2010 I had the pleasure of exhibiting my work at VM Gallery, a community art space and this year at Indus Valley Gallery which serves as an ‘art school project’ gallery. Both galleries have a healthy exhibition programme, professionally run and dynamic in content and variety.
I was introduced to Karachi by Roohi Ahmed and Abdullah Syed who curated my exhibition “Where All the Butterflies Go” in 2010 at VM Gallery. My initial visit and exhibition fostered my interest in Pakistani art and having made a number of friends I was keen to understand more. I valued my on going communication with Danish and Saira Danish Ahmed, Naiza Khan, Adeel Uz Zafar, Noorjihan Belgrami, Raffit Alvi, Zarmeene Shah.
After a visit from Adeela Suleman to Australia, we discussed the possibility of my return to Karachi and to organise a residency atVasl.
Vasl is a very special organisation fostering relationships with international and local Pakistani artists, encouraging younger artists with support and opportunity. Many of these artists bring their own cultural backgrounds, absorb new inspirations, and are challenged by the environment and context they are working within.
It was a privilege to work at Vasl and IVS and I look forward to a continued association with these two organisations and with the wonderful city of Karachi.