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Percieving Orangi with a fresh frame of reference: maps altering perceptions

 

 

In response to the urban artist community’s disconnect with their surroundings, the Karachi Biennale Trust in collaboration with the OPP to inaugurate its first artist residency program. In the residency, the artists were immersed into the environment of OPP’s and its miscellaneous NGO’s working to achieve development in the area. Curator Mohammad Zeeshan selected four artists to create works of art on the subject of the OPP; who included Abid Ali, Ahsan Javaid, Hasnain Ali and Muneeb Aqib. Emphasis was kept on the OPP RTI (Research training Institute) and the methods employed in their practice of cartography. Hence, the group show following the residency program, displayed a myriad of systematic maps of the town of Orangi.

 

Critical and engaging were works by Ahsan Javaid, who translated on to sheets of tracing paper, the previous documents and letters pertaining to the project. From a distance these visuals appear rather obscure and faintly visible; but when inspected up close, the seemingly plain series have woven

 

inscriptions of proposals either requesting government aid or to shed light on community’s issues. The artist critiques conventional ways of representing the city in maps, utilizing different techniques to achieve this objective. The small-scale photomontages titled the “Uncensored mind maps” too were reminiscent of this criticality.

 

Furthermore, the visually arresting reliefs by Hasnain Ali depicted the homes of the Orangi’s citizens. The meticulously carved mini facades aptly convey his interpretation of the place and reflect the time spent at the OPP. The artist touches upon the issues of encroachment, new and old settlements, and the construction, as observed in “M-530” where an elevation of a place under construction with presence of RCC pillars has been shown. Muneeb Aqib’s body of work, however, employed the technique of layering to demonstrate the dualities of Karachi’s central urban sphere and areas located at the periphery such as Orangi. The cyanotype prints juxtaposing micro and macro drawings onto a paper created unidentifiable fictional spaces.

 

And lastly, Abid Ali body of work illustrated the concept of positive and negative outlooks of a community through the light and dark areas in his composition. Black, to him represents the dark side which is often shown to us, whereas golden accounts for the endless potential seen in the people of Orangi town. The brilliant diptych in gold titled “leading towards” portrays the contrast of one’s outlooks toward a particular place, through dots and flowers; further, highlighting the role of map making in shaping perspectives. Flowers are a recurring motif used to empower the indigenous community of Orangi. On the other hand the tetra “into the region” mimicking a similar pattern of flowers and dots, depicts the area realistically, as seen in the official maps of Karachi by using a relatively subdued color; beige.

 

The exhibition encompassed the experiences of artists during their time at the OPP and their subjective understanding of mapmaking and the town of Orangi. Some visual tropes were more effective than the

 

others; in spite of that, the show proved to be a great effort and initiative both, by the artist community, and the OPP.

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