As a contemporary arts organization, one of the mandates of the Lahore Biennale Foundation is to respond to local conditions through the art
As a contemporary arts organization, one of the mandates of the Lahore Biennale Foundation is to respond to local conditions through the art(s), while empowering artists to catalyze social response and change.
Often this takes the shape of public art projects that build upon the power of community, solidarity and creating positive networks of resilience. The Afforestation Lahore Movement is very much a project that falls in line with the purview of one of today’s most challenging debates: how can artists respond to climate change? How can creative practitioners make a difference in a way that will have both current and long-term implications as we bear witness to degradation in the age of the Anthropocene.
Once known for its sprawling and verdant gardens, picturesque vistas, and fertile vegetation, Lahore has long held the imagination of painters and poets. No wonder then it has always held the title of being the “City of Gardens”, however lately one may not agree with such a statement about greenery in the city of Lahore.
“The Lahore that I remember was green, it was beautiful. I still remember the cool monsoon breeze and the rustling of the leaves that we could hear in our houses. Those things have disappeared. We have to bring that Lahore back; that is the Lahore we want. The old trees of Lahore represent both our assets and our memories, especially for the generation that has seen Lahore transform. This is the generation that I represent because we are old, and yet at the same time we are also new” – Asif Bilal Lodhi, Commissioner Lahore
As a response to the ravages of time, in losing tree cover, and the often-stifling smog, the recently launched Afforestation Lahore Movement has become a way for the Lahore Biennale Foundation, along with the local government (led by the Commissioner’s Office, Lahore) to embark on a public-private partnership that will allow wider coverage and ownership of the city. This partnership will allow for better-coordination and effective results leading to a further positive impact on the economics of the city. On an individual level, the tactile experience of such an engagement affords the opportunity for one to re-connect with their surroundings on an elemental level.
Invited through a general open call, the artist(s) community, creative practitioners, land-care specialists and field experts were asked to join hands with the Afforestation Lahore Movement, with the aim to plant 8.5 million trees – as Lahore had lost over 75% of its tree cover in the last 20 years due to rapid Haussmanization.
Since spring of 2019, the Lahore Biennale Foundation has been working with artists as prime catalysts in creating experiential spaces in the city. This undertaking has provided artists the freedom to determine the role they take in reinvigorating and reimagining city spaces; individuals can join as artists, architects, land design experts etc. They may lend artistic and technical expertise in designing the site — or volunteer during plantations; by providing sites, planting nurseries, or as sponsors, where they can take ownership of a particular plantation site.
“As urban activist Jane Jacobs has stipulated: cities are essentially ‘people systems.’ I find this a fitting description of our work with afforestation. A project such as this is an ideal fit for an organization like LBF that has always worked through a model of multiple collaborations. For us this project has not only brought together various organizational partners but introduced us to a wider contingent of like-minded aspirants and change makers.” – Qudsia Rahim, Executive Director, Lahore Biennale Foundation
The movement is essentially a citizen-led initiative, and has been designed to facilitate the involvement of everyone in the community, whether they be the owners of large enterprises, or young student volunteers. The idea is to embolden a reconnection with city spaces, in real gardens and places of Lahore, where the issue of environmental degradation is identified as a common man’s problem rather than being understood simply as institutional jargon.
This project developed through various conversations, town-hall style meetings and focused meetings with field and academic experts. The Afforestation Lahore Movement works through a consortium of leading experts and practitioners with the Lahore Biennale Foundation at the helm as the secretariat. The movement aims to counter loss in tree cover through mass plantation of indigenous trees, with a focus on creating dense tree cover instead of superficial beautification with exotic plant species, which has been a practice in the recent past.
“What we’re trying to do with Afforestation Lahore is also to change a mindset which is to move away from the concept of exotic, landscaped gardens towards a wilder, environmentally friendly, ecologically balanced beauty. So, in that, we’re only promoting indigenous varieties of trees, particularly those that are easy to maintain, low on water consumption and increasingly becoming endangered.” – Attiya Noon, Secretary Afforestation Lahore
“The Afforestation Lahore Movement is not just about planting trees, it is symbolic of giving control of Lahore back to its citizens.” – Dr. Mujtaba Piracha, Additional Chief Secretary (Services Economy)
In the same vein, this focus on experiential spaces is borne out of a cognizance of the essential role trees have, and how nature is inextricably tied to the fabric of everyday life in the city. Every green space and every tree may hold individual associations, and adds to the collective memory and experience of the city. Studies have found such spaces help alleviate stress and mental fatigue, strengthen community and social ties, and improve health. As an economic activity, afforestation can generate returns by affecting a rise in property values and retail activity, and lower costs of heating and cooling. But perhaps the most pressing concern for Lahore is air quality, which we saw dip to absolute worst levels in the infamous ‘smog season.’ Trees help reduce carbon and can result in a direct decrease of carbon levels in the air. Ultimately, afforestation strengthens the ecosystem of the city against possible environmental hazards.
Major consortium partners of Afforestation Lahore Movement include: in the governmental sector the Parks and Horticulture Authority, Forest Department, Metropolitan Corporation Lahore, Lahore Ring Road Authority, Lahore Waste Management Corporation, Lahore Development Authority, Frontier Works Organization, National Highway Authority, Auqaf Department and Pakistan Railways, and in the non-governmental sector include the Lahore Conservation Society amongst others.