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Salvaging the White in our Flag

Spread across four different locations in Karachi, Is Saye Kay Parcham Talay (ISKPT) began in November 2015, in Lahore. Playing on the line from the popular national song Is Parcham Kay Saye Talay(Urdu for under the shadow of this flag) the idea behind the project was to engage in a conversation about the politics of marginalization and minority issues through art.

A traveling exhibition that held shows across different venues across the city, the project was as much about taking ownership of the city as it was about beginning a conversation about the marginalization of minorities in Pakistan.  Viewing of art – usually confined within the space of the gallery – is usually not available to the public at large. Although these are not financial barriers on the surface, the deep-rooted polarization of class in our society contributes towards filtering the people who visit these spaces.  Attempting at using public spaces, the four exhibitions, thus, in the second phase of ISKPT were shown under the title -the city as gallery. The first two shows were held at 71 Clifton and Jamshed Memorial Hall respectively while the third show of this second phase of ISKPT was held at the IVS gallery. A group of artists – established and young – displayed their interpretations of what it means to be marginalized.

Among the striking pieces was Samreen Sultan’s work titled ‘Masjid Mandir sab aik samaan, Sab kahein Allah ki shan’ showed a juxtaposition of a mosque and a mandir. Seeming like a memorable image of a flock of birds flying off at a glance, the work discussed the idea of coexistence between Islam and Hinduism.

Filmmaker Hira Nabi’s two channel video projections made for an emotional experience. While the first screen showed footage of a flight departing from Allama Iqbal International airport in Lahore, the second titled ‘Escape’ talked about the bloodshed and killing that the people of Karachi, particularly religious minorities, have had to face in the past two decades.  What made for an interesting juxtaposition is the footage of the national flag fluttering atop rooftops of homes in Lahore placed right next to a screen talking about the killings of shias, ahmedis and others. One is reminded of other Bani Abidi, an artist who works with video and photography, who photographed individuals belonging to minority communities for her ‘Karachi series.’ Having staged her subjects doing everyday chores on the streets of Karachi at dusk during the month of Ramzan, Abidi forced viewers to think about the disappearance of minorities from public spaces due to increasing intolerance in the city.  Nausheen Saeed, another Pakistani artist, baked pieces of bread that resembled human body parts after her father was killed in a militant attack on the Ahmadi community.  “I realised these things have become routine in Pakistan; you forget if it’s a piece of bread or a human.” She had said.

Sarah Kazmi worked with a different medium/theme to discuss minority issues. Placed in the center of the gallery was a big platter/thaal with different recipes written on small pieces of paper. Having explored food for her dissertation at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture while pursuing her BFA, Kazmi said that she has always loved the idea of working with food.  The idea that Kazmi wished to drive home was that communities come together over one thing and that is food. They are willing to eat the cuisine of another community – forgetting biases for that time. The installation invited the viewers to participate as well. While grounded in a solid idea, perhaps Kazmi could have explored execution in a more convincing manner.

Serving both as an introduction and conclusion to the show was Ayaz Jokhio’s ‘subz parcham’ swaying outside the IVS gallery door. Devoid of any white, it emphasized the lack of space for minorities in today’s Pakistan. Blatant and unapologetic for having taken liberties with the most sacred symbol of the country, it summed up the exhibition quite aptly



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