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Running the Printmaking Marathon

Semblance of Order at Koel Gallery
Fantasy Asia at IVS Gallery
Sydney-Lahore at the Saeed Akhtar Studio
Some exciting news for artists in Pakistan and abroad who aspire to continue their practices in traditional Printmaking; The second week of September, 2014 was chock –a-block with Printmaking shows in Karachi and Lahore – an ode to Printmaking undeniably!
Countering the perception of many who consider the medium to be dead, this Printmaking dose revitalizes the discipline as an independent, sovereign and valid art form. The entire region is high on Printmaking; the Sydney-Lahore Printmaking Show in Lahore, followed by the three Printmaking events in Karachi, one after the other.
Achieving a milestone in Pakistan, Romila Kareem and Riffat Alvi (with the support of VM Gallery and Rangoonwala Trust) bring together the first International Print Biennial in Karachi. Kareem’s impetus behind the huge task is to placate her students’ questioning minds about the possibility and criticality of Printmaking in the exponentially growing, all-embracing, complex nature of the arts. More so, this educational endeavor aims to promote public knowledge about the discipline, encourage artists and potential printmakers and inspire collaborative and individual ventures in both its practice and research.
Exhibiting more than 150 works of 79 artists, the show is curated in three major sections, along with an Open Call section for the emerging talent in Pakistan where the best works are shortlisted by a selection panel. The first unit is an Archival collection that displays works of the early masters in Printmaking. It integrates formidable works by Anna Molka, A.R. Chugtai, Akram Dost, Ahmed Khan, Afshar Malik, Anwer Saeed, Collin David, Ismail Gulgee, Meher Afroze, M.Kazim (Late), Marjorie Hussain, Nazish Attalullah, Naiza Khan, Salima Hashmi, Saeed Akhtar, Shahid Sajjad, Shemza, Usman Ghouri (Late), Zahoor-Ul-Akhlaq. Several collectors were approached to lend their archival prints for the Biennial who, very willingly, shared their collections. The second section is a display of works by International Visiting Printmakers (Michael Ponce-Le-Leon, Michael Kempson, Bartolomeu Dos Santos, Peter Daglish, Walter Crump, Zarina Hashmi, Mehmud-Ul-Haque, Rokeya Sultana, Munir-Ul-Islam, Damon Kowarsky, Micheal Esson, Ragini – Upadhay) who have been visiting Pakistan for print projects and collaborations since 1967. The third section comprises of the contemporary practicing Printmakers in Pakistan. Woven into the exhibition was a large collection of the Box-Print Portfolios that have been organized and curated by the educational institutions in the country thus far. Parallel events to the Biennial include Artist Talks by eminent printmakers/ artists and educational outreach workshops for children.
The most outstanding achievement of the Biennial is the onset of a rigorous tradition of research on the practices of Printmaking in Pakistan. The event is the result of a yearlong research supplemented by a research-based catalogue that documents the evolution of Printmaking in Pakistan from the 1950’s to present day. Grounded study, documentation and publication are vital to any kind of institutionalization and this undertaking reinforced their worth. Kareem travelled miles to identify works of masters/ printmakers from public and private collections and later scrupulously transported them to the display venue. In the process, Riffat Alvi, Director of VM Art Gallery generously supported Kareem, and Meher Afroz and Naiza Khan mentored her as key advisors. Every bit of the culminating event is worthy of praise. Hats off!
Almost parallel to the Biennial in Karachi, Lahore celebrates the Sydney-Lahore Printmaking Show at the Saeed Akhtar Studio in Lahore. Curated by Usman Saeed and Imran Ahmed, it brings together a dynamic array of prints from the collections of Cicada Press, Sydney and Saeed Akhtar Studio, Lahore. More than 75 artists’ works from two culturally distinct regions of the world actively converse with each other, offering an investigative discourse between the art practices of two cities.
Semblance of Order, curated by Abdullah M.I. Syed, is yet another exquisite international travel exhibition that grew from the Parramatta Artists Studios International Residency for Pakistani and Australian Artists. Koel Gallery (Karachi, Pakistan), Parramatta Artists Studios (Sydney, Australia) and Aicon Gallery (New York, USA) are hosts to the travel show. The artists in residence are Michael Kempson and Ben Rak from Australia and Roohi Shafiq Ahmed, Abdullah M.I. Syed and Adeel-uz-Zafar from Pakistan.
Through this cross-cultural engagement, Abdullah Syed explores the evolving roles of artists in diaspora and ones who work with diverse communities and across different cultures. The show embodies the societal transferability and vulnerability of artists as they interact with their peers from different parts of the world. This Pakistan-Australian commune is deeply situated within the role of Printmaking in an age of mechanical reproduction. Digital media and reproductive technologies (Printmaking being one of them) are critical tools for the circulation of information and hence are vital gears for artistic exchange and cross-cultural connection. Taking off from Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of art production, Syed says that, “for this exhibition semblance and play are combined in a creative printmaking studio, where editions… hover between order and disorder. An evolving process emerged, allowing the artists to create, negotiate and edit in a space for intervention and becoming.”
‘Three Muslims from Pakistan and a Jewish and Christian from Australia reveled in each other’s company’ at the Parramatta Artists Studios Residency in Sydney, Nafisa Rizvi addresses the audience at an Artist Talk for Semblance of Order at Koel Gallery, Karachi. Kempson, with a dual role of a resident artist and a Master Printer at the Cicada press (jointly working with the Parramatta Artists Studios in the residency), elaborates on the “organic, relaxed process” and the “mutual understanding and respect” amongst the participants.
Kempson, a prolific and internationally acclaimed Printmaker, the Director of the Cicada Press and convener of Printmaking Studies at UNSW Art and Design visited Pakistan for an exhibition in Karachi in 2010 and was invited by the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) faculty to collaborate on an exchange print portfolio at their Fine Art Department. That was the beginning for Kempson’s association with Pakistan. This time around, he visits Pakistan to commemorate four shows that he is an integral part of; one in Lahore and three in Karachi. Kempon’s work is about celebrating and enfolding the cultural differences of his visits to Pakistan and China. His recent etchings are an installation of soft, delicate toy arrangements where each animal symbolizes a country. Being attentive as an Australian to the “stark reality of [the] middle power status”, the animal toys, as “prim gatherings of trinkets… playfully explore the complex dynamics of geopolitics, conscious of the not so cute reality of Australia’s past engagement in the Asia/Pacific region”.

Ben Rak is an artist of diaspora, educator and independent curator who works and lives in Sydney. His work is about negotiating his Jewish identity in a hybrid Australian culture and creating “previously untenable links with cultures other than my own, such as China, Pakistan and Japan, through collaborations and friendships. My art practice has reached a point where global narratives, identities and connections are woven into my own, and vice versa”, he says. Rak, as an art educator, has collaborated with a number of international schools on similar yet very dynamic art projects. Both Michael and Ben already have an extensive collaborative repertoire with Asia, particularly China and Pakistan and this series of events further consolidate their work ties with Pakistan.
Roohi S. Ahmed, a multi-disciplinary artist from Karachi, articulates her association and experiential journey of living in Australia through repetitive, linear, stitches. She subtly expresses “ruptured marks generated through unsaid thoughts and feelings… [t]he marks are not what they seem to be and cannot be read, making the work encrypted invitations, where one must dip into their own cache of signs and symbols to decode them”.
Adeel-uz-Zafar’s iconic etchings of soft baby toy animals wrapped in gauze represent beings that are mutated and seem to be transforming into wounds and “creatures with added appendages”. These bandaged creatures who appear to be swallowing each other, Adeel believes, could read very differently between the East and the West at various aesthetic, religious, social and political levels.
Semblance of Order is an exquisite collection of etchings and silkscreen prints that thrive on shared experiences of looking – and of semblance. As arbitrators and translators of their respective cultures, the artists, through their works, reveal a yearning for a kind of order. Collectively their works sway between creating and breaking of repetitive forms and grids.
Following Koel Gallery’s event, Fantasy Asia had its opening reception at IVS Gallery, Karachi, the next day. The project is an international box- print portfolio exchange with the printmaking students and faculty of Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS), Karachi and UNSW (University of New South Wales), Art and Design (formerly COFA), Sydney. It culminates in the form of two exhibitions of the artist’s proofs (A/P) at the two institutions, respectively.
Conceived and curated by Ben Rak and Rabeya Jalil and co-coordinated by Ben Rak (Australia) Rabeya Jalil, Nurayah Sheikh Nabi and Saba Iqbal (Pakistan), the exchange – the first of its kind at IVS – aims to extend academic connections with art schools globally, expose students to a broader approach to printmaking and facilitate them to work in collaboration with their tutors. There are 10 participants from each school (IVS in Karachi and UNSW Art and Design in Sydney), including students and faculty members. Every artist, at the end, receives a set of 20 prints from all the participants.
Fantasy Asia tends to reflect on the celebration, festivity and curiosity of living, adapting and transitioning from one culture to another, particularly that of South-Asia and Asia Pacific. In a way, the artists and thinkers are also the city’s outsiders; they see and analyze their environment with skepticism as they distance themselves from it. More so, they are extremely sensitive and privy to their intimate spaces – and spaces that they are invited to be a part of – and tend to engage with their immediate surrounding very critically. They sway between multiple roles; cultivating outside perspectives for the insiders and creating inside perspectives for the non-natives. Such regional and cultural collaborations reduce meta-physical and physical distances. They create a kind of domino effect or butterfly effect in non-linear structures where sensitive inter-activities, through the arts, lead to enduring connections that transcend ethnicity, religion, boundaries and politics.
A grounded printmaking practice requires acuity and critical vision; it is mathematical and process-oriented, and thrives on an intense engagement with one’s mind, body and soul. Despite the intervention of new media and digital technology, the discipline remains exclusive, rich and irreplaceable and this series of events further contextualizes its robust presence in the Visual Arts. The viewing experience, at least for the Printmakers, was liberating and festive. Maybe its time – to take out your stored rusted zinc plates, charbonnel inks and brayers from under your beds – time to perhaps pull out some more prints. You still have genuine patrons – plenty of admirers and a good lot of intelligent buyers!
Rabeya Jalil is a visual artist and art educator who is currently affiliated with the Fine Art Department at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi, Pakistan.

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