The best of the biennale

What must be relished above all else when one views the artworks on display at any iteration of the Karachi Biennale is the mingling of the establish

The Making of Identity
Guest Editor
Art and Ethics

What must be relished above all else when one views the artworks on display at any iteration of the Karachi Biennale is the mingling of the established and the new, the international and the national. The Karachi Biennale (KB22) offered plentiful helpings of both, with some artists further reinforcing their storied artistic careers while others used the platform to announce themselves as prodigious talents to keep an eye out for in the future.

Wall of Thoughts by Bilal Jabbar

Of all the young artists whose work was on display at KB22, Bilal Jabbar’s installation was easily the one which towered above the rest. His work Wall of Thoughts served as a perfect juxtaposition of the technology driven underpinnings of KB22 against the quaint, almost mundane aspects of the traditional. Jabbar had mounted numerous thaalis onto a plain white wall which would start to rotate about their central axis the second they detected movement in their immediate vicinity. The metallic glean of the rows of thaalis lit under the fluorescent lighting of the room made the installation resemble the aesthetic of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis instead of evoking any sense of the antiquated. According to Jabbar, he “uses an amalgamation of domestic cutlery and auto-electronic machines to engage the viewer in a new atmospheric experience that could be a reflection of their own subconscious.” The most arresting dynamic of Wall of Thoughts was how it burst into life when it detected motion within the space, hence encouraging viewer interactivity and immersion by using kinetic and sensory experiences to is advantage. Housed at the Sambara Art Gallery, Jabbar’s work deservedly won him the KB22 Engro Emerging Artist Prize, and it’s easy to see why. What is also fairly easy to ascertain after seeing Jabbar’s work is that he is indeed the son of master sculptor Abdul Jabbar Gull.

The Sacred and the Earthly by Imran Qureshi

Imran Qureshi always manages to delight and dazzle, but his work at Hamid Market during KB22 also managed to entrance and puzzle. The Sacred and the Earthly may well be one of the best works he has ever produced which, given his vast and varied catalogue, is no mean feat. This kaleidoscopic work was akin to the physical manifestation of what a Sufi shrine would look like if one had consumed copious amounts of LSD. Operating on maximum over-drive, the cacophony of images and sounds descended down upon those who ventured into the catacombs of Hamid Market with such ferocity that one had no choice but to surrender to the installations overriding power. One of the installations sequestered behind a swinging pair of windows and doorway represented, as Qureshi puts it, “the profound physical and emotional experiences the residents of a local neighbourhood go through when their homes, streets and entire neighbourhoods undergo an intense transformation.” The other video projection and sound-based work was a personal highlight of KB22, in large part due to the fact that its mechanics were so difficult to decipher. The images denoting religious iconography bounced off the walls as if existing in a hall of mirrors. Appearing as an Islamic rendition of New York’s Times Square, The Sacred and the Earthly combined religious rituals, symbolism and modern technology to create a singularly dazzling work of art.

Water Wars by Amin Rehman

Multidisciplinary visual artist Amin Rehman’s work at the Sambara Art Gallery and NED University (City Campus) highlighted that water, much like land, is political and continues to become more so due to scarcity, national ownership and boundaries. The interactive display Water Wars had viewers point their cellphones at the images on the wall, which would in turn lead to videos addressing the water issue playing out in real time on the user’s mobile phone. The series of videos addressed the rising of the Indus River Delta, the Arabian Sea encroaching on the sweet water of the Indus River, and the pollution of these waters due to non-existent sewerage disposal mechanisms. The drying up of the Karez system in Balochistan, waste choking the River Ravi in Lahore, the emergence of water mafias across the country and the impact of climate change are all prescient issues which were touched upon by the artist. Rehman, who has been exhibiting since the 1980s, wanted to use video and photo to defy location through augmented reality, much like water defies the boundaries of land. As he puts it, his “work comments on the current effects of the systems of domination by nation states exerting power over others.”

Mukaalmah! We Can’t Both Be Right! by Rabeeha Adnan

Located at the Jamshed Memorial Hall, Rabeeha Adnan’s musical play of sorts sought to explore how objects, and by extension humans, interact with each other in a curated setting. Adnan used instruments and objects which she found at and sourced from the Jamshed Memorial Library to create an artwork which was authentic to and representative of the space. Mukaalmah! We Can’t Both Be Right! used projection and mapping alongside light and sound to illuminate the instruments as music filled the library. The work served as a commentary on the norms which dictate societal settings and interactions within groups, both aiding the participants but also limiting them in several ways. Adnan, an interdisciplinary artist, uses storytelling to highlight the power dynamics which exist within state structures. Through the setting of Mukaalmah! We Can’t Both Be Right!, a library,  Adnan wanted “to investigate how gender and other categories affect and limit human relationships.”