Unmasking urban realities


Unmasking urban realities

Zahabia Khozema's works focus on Karachi's public policies, with a particular emphasis on the demolitions at Kauser Niazi Colony in Gujjar Nullah.

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Zahabia Khozema’s works focus on Karachi’s public policies, with a particular emphasis on the demolitions at Kauser Niazi Colony in Gujjar Nullah.

Using diverse mediums such as visual storytelling, poetry, drawing, printmaking, installation, video, and photography, the exhibition sheds light on Karachi’s broken urban infrastructure, the housing crisis, and the devastating effects of climate change on its citizens. As an artist who firmly believes in a multidisciplinary approach, Zahabia Khozema challenges viewers to consider the personal and political causes behind the collective struggles faced by Karachi’s marginalized communities (Courtesy of VM Gallery).

Postmodern theories of the built environment emerged in the late 20th century as a critical response to the prevailing modernist approach to architecture and urban planning. Postmodernism challenged the notion of a universal, objective truth and emphasized the importance of multiple perspectives and subjective experiences. One prominent figure in the realm of postmodern theories of the built environment is Philip Glass, an American composer known for his musical compositions related to modern urbanism. Glass’s works often embrace repetition, layering, and fragmentation, mirroring the postmodernist principles of deconstruction and pastiche in architecture. His music serves as a metaphor for the complex and diverse nature of the built environment, highlighting the interplay between tradition and innovation and challenging conventional notions of form and function.

Furthermore, Glass’s compositions often blur the boundaries between high and low culture, challenging hierarchical distinctions in the arts. This connection between Glass’s music and postmodern architecture underscores the importance of embracing diversity, cultural plurality, and the social dimensions of the built environment. Glass, in fact, produced the soundtrack for the experimental film director Godfrey Reggio’s work titled “Powaqqatsi” (1988). In this film, Reggio explores the intersection of primitive cultures and the industrial world, chronicling the everyday lives of people living and working in impoverished countries where modern life is fraught with difficulty. The film spans the globe, from a massive gold mine in Brazil to small villages in Africa and a Nepalese temple, and is accompanied by a frantic score from minimalist composer Philip Glass (IMDb/Google).

Over the past few decades, Karachi itself has unequivocally earned a reputation for being one of the most difficult cities to live in. Its decline from a cosmopolitan city to a symbol of bad governance and civil neglect has prompted Dr. Akbar Zaidi, Executive Director of IBA Karachi, to call for an end to romanticizing ‘resilience’ and to understand the catastrophic situation at hand (Resistance, not resilience: S. Akbar Zaidi, 24th February 2023; Dawn publications).

Instrumental art is a form of artistic expression that focuses on deploying the aesthetic qualities of visual elements to represent recognizable objects or convey a specific narrative. It emphasizes the interplay of color, shape, line, texture, and form to evoke emotional or intellectual responses from the viewer by making direct references to the physical and social worlds, exploring and conveying subjective experiences, ideas, or concepts. Artists working in this style often prioritize the arrangement of visual elements, such as the use of color harmonies, dynamic compositions, or gestural brushwork. Through these techniques, instrumental art enables viewers to engage with the artwork on a heightened sensory level, encouraging contemplation and emotional connection.

Khozema engages in substantial fieldwork to bring her advanced abilities in a wide range of media, including painting, printmaking, photography, digital art, and audio, to create compositions that offer interpretations and provoke thought. She also brings perspectives and emotions into the dialogue, inviting viewers to explore their own perceptions and connections, fostering a deeper appreciation for the inherent power of a situation that can easily be described as a chronotopia of catastrophic urbanism.

The extent to which socio-political ideas can distract from the act of making art varies greatly from artist to artist. For some, these ideas can be a powerful driving force that shapes their creative process and influences the themes and content of their artwork. They may actively seek to address social or political issues through their art, using it as a platform for activism or commentary. In this case, socio-political ideas become an integral part of their artistic practice, and the two are deeply intertwined.

The weight of socio-political issues, such as injustice, inequality, or societal conflict, can be overwhelming and divert the artist’s attention from their creative instincts and artistic vision. The expectations and reactions of the audience can also influence the artist’s relationship with socio-political ideas.

Khozema does not seem to be under pressure to conform to certain narratives or align with specific ideologies, which can hinder artistic freedom and autonomy. In fact, she navigates these topics with an exceptional level of understanding in relation to the parameters of socio-political commentary in art. The artist reflects on her own intentions and priorities, finding a path that aligns with her artistic goals and values. By doing so, she ensures that her art remains authentic and meaningful, regardless of the presence or absence of socio-political ideas. The exhibition remains noteworthy for its use of scale, materials, and context, as both the intensity of experience and the resulting visuality are reminiscent of Anselm Keifer’s ethos of fusing architectural and cultural worlds to articulate certain concerns.

Over time, it is not only Karachi that has transformed into an urban sprawl that is extremely difficult to navigate in any positive sense of the word. Lahore, too, can be said to have experienced similar catastrophic malformations that are genetically inherent in Pakistan’s socio-political history. The proof of this claim lies not only in a range of documents related to political, economic, and cultural developmental issues (now archived in several related institutions) but also in historical records within the arts. Poverty linked to politics and economics, and its apparent consequences, has previously been depicted by artists like Zain Ul Abedin (1914 – 1976), among others. Khozema, as an interdisciplinary practitioner within the art world, is also aware of and engaged with issues surrounding languages and their position in sociological constructs. She embraces the possibilities of media technology with great competence, includes traditional means of production in her oeuvre, and has an informed approach to key factors now being considered in cohesive presentations. With Khozema, art truly becomes a field of human endeavor in which meaning is created and conveyed, intelligibly received by an audience, and the process of orchestration thereof leads to the formation of strong cultural statements.”


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