Art is one of those rare forms of expression that can inspire passion in a wide range of people, from the most casual of observer to the serious collector or dedicated academic. However, when it comes to expanding the role of the arts into the public realm, the role of patrons and supporters cannot be overstated. With their intent of bringing the joy and excitement of a certain genre or artist to the public realm, the patron embodies the classic ideal that art in itself belongs to the people. Osman Khalid Waheed is one such patron and dedicated art lover
After graduating from Harvard, he joined Ferozsons Laboratories Limited, a publicly listed pharmaceutical company in 1993. For the next six years, he worked in various functions, and in 1999 assumed the role of President of the company. During his tenure, Ferozsons improved its sales and profitably consistently, and for six years was rewarded as one of the Karachi Stock Exchange’s Top 25 Companies. The company provides medical solutions for critical diseases like cancer, heart disease and Hepatitis in collaboration of major international pharmaceutical and healthcare companies.
Waheed is clearly deeply involved in his work in the pharmaceutical industry, but also serves on the board of several different institutions, including the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and of course, The Lahore Biennale Foundation.
Some years ago, Ferozsons Laboratories Limited undertook a collaboration with the National College of Arts (NCA), where Waheed would meet the future Co-Founder and Vice-Chair, Qudsia Rahim. Their project, “Art for Humanity”, explored the idea of art as social function, and brought together NCA students from various disciplines to create an art intervention in a public hospital. The mandate required the students to go beyond personal aesthetics and design art-based solutions to resolve practical problems faced by patients and doctors. This four-week elective produced some wonderful results, making the ward less alienating space for patients through the use of art, but also addressed practical challenges faced by the patients by creating a guidance system that allowed patients to easily navigate the crowded ward, and using crates and broken furniture to create a dining and recreation space for use by patients and their families. The success of the project made Waheed and Rahim realize that “…the idea was bigger than this one specific application, and that there was a great need, particularly in Pakistan, to explore public art as a vehicle for social change.” From there, the Lahore Biennale Foundation was founded in February of 2015.
As founding Chairman of the Lahore Biennale Foundation, Waheed is able to pursue an interest he became passionate about during his undergraduate study: art. As an economics major, he decided to venture from his traditional course load, taking classes in Art History, specifically the Renaissance period and Surrealism movement. These courses had a great impact on him as a student, and his interest naturally grew as he learned more about the arts from his wife, Sadia, who studied at the National College of Arts (NCA) and now teaches there.
The executive board members of the LBF come from diverse occupations and backgrounds, yet each retain a dedicated appreciation of the arts. With Waheed as a businessman, and Rahim as an artist, they are accompanied by Ali Naqvi as Co-Chairman of LBF. Naqvi is based in Hong Kong as Head of Global Markets (Asia-Pacific) for Credit Suisse, and is the owner of Islamabad United Cricket Team; Raza Ali Dada is an acclaimed architect; Mohsin Hamid, an internationally celebrated author; Fawzia Naqv is Editor-in-Chief of ArtNow, one of the only publications dedicated to Pakistani Art, and Rafay Alam is an accomplished environmental lawyer.
For Waheed, the highlights of Foundation thus far have been beyond what he expected. In his own words, “in it’s first two years, the LBF, has undertaken some groundbreaking projects in partnership with the City District Government of Lahore and the Punjab Horticulture Authority. These include a wonderful public sculpture at Istanbul Chowk, “City Within A City” by artist and NCA faculty member Atif Khan, a series of bus stops in the city under a project called ‘Where the Bus Stops’ in collaboration with the City District Government of Lahore, and a public art project, “Rooted (Paivasta)” at Lawrence Gardens (Bagh-e-Jinnah) with the support of the British Council and the Punjab Horticulture Authority, with artists Unum Baber and Matt Kushan, and the City in Context, with the support of the Goethe Institut and CKU. “These were in large part the result of the extraordinary work done by Qudsia Rahim, vice chair of LBF who has put the Foundation on a solid footing through these initiatives.”
“Our most ambitious public art project to date has been ‘My East is Your West,’ a collateral event by the Gujral Foundation that formed part of the Venice Biennale in 2015,” he explains. “LBF executed the Pakistan component, ‘The Viewing, The Viewer and the Viewed’ of this ground-breaking project with the generous support of Habib Bank Limited. Conceived by leading contemporary artist and Artistic Director of the Lahore Biennale 01, Rashid Rana, the project created a virtual space linking a purpose-built structure in the heart of Liberty Market, Lahore to an identical room in a palazzo in Venice. Audiences in both cities were able to see and speak to each other in unexpected interactions that took place through a screen or ‘mirror’ that existed neither in Lahore nor in Venice, but a third space that created an alternate reality and existed in both cities, blurring not only geographic boundaries, but also the lines between artist and audience, the viewer and the viewed.”
In regards to “The Viewing, The Viewer and the Viewed” what impacted Waheed the most were these impromptu interactions, which transcended barriers of language, culture, religion and geography. In one instance, a young boy from Liberty Market looks into the mirror and sees a group of young Italian girls. He serenades them with an impromptu folk performance of Bulley Shah in a language that is utterly foreign to them, and brings them to tears. For Waheed, “these are connections that transcend notions of East and West, of otherness. At a time when human migration has become such a contentious geopolitical issue, these moments are priceless and powerful responses.”
For Waheed, one of the core objectives of the LBF is to help restore the space for the arts in the public domain. The LBF has been doing this through art in public spaces, residencies, seminars and workshops in the Arts, and plan to take it a step further through our flagship project, the Lahore Biennale, which aims to turn parts of the city of Lahore into a living art space every two years.
Another important aim of the Foundation is to help conduct primary research into Pakistani modern and contemporary art. Currently there is a dearth of research material available to curators at home and abroad. This creates a real barrier for museums looking to expand their collection and recognize the importance of Pakistani artists. The LBF announced a research award last year. The recipient of the first cycle, Saira Ansari, conducted research on pioneering artist Zubeida Agha with the support of LBF and the Asian Art Archive. Waheed hopes to continue supporting research into the arts as a means of shedding light on important Pakistani artists domestically and abroad. For Waheed, supporting the arts is by far the most effective way of projecting the soft image of the country and highlighting its immense creative potential, which has become increasingly important in such politically crucial and intensely personal times.
As the Foundation looks ahead to the inaugural edition of the Biennale, there is a lot of excitement in the air. “With Rashid Rana as the Artistic Director,” says Waheed, “we are bound to experience an art event that is original, innovative, and questions the boundaries of the medium itself.”