A few months ago, I took my younger sister to see an art show, Zikr Volume II, at VM Art Gallery. It was her first ever visit to a gallery and she loved how paintings and installations were placed around the gallery. My sister wondered who had set it all up. I realised at exhibitions we applaud the artists, but never think about the curator. Curation is like storytelling. You tell a story with art pieces as characters performing their unique roles in their special positions on the stage. I decided to catch up with Faraz Siddiqui aka FS Karachiwala, a versatile and a brilliant artist, filmmaker, creative producer and art curator, and talk about art curation as a proper field of study. He has recently received the Cultural Visa from the UAE, which is a huge appreciation for him as not many artists have received such recognition
Us: Tell us about your background in the arts, and what inspired you to become a curator?
Faraz Siddiqui aka FS Karachiwala (FS): My journey in the arts has been truly diverse, spanning nearly two decades and encompassing various creative endeavours. It all began when I ventured into the world of media arts as a visualiser and photographer, where I honed my skills and passion for visual storytelling. However, destiny had more in store for me, and in 2016, I found myself drawn to the captivating realm of fine arts.
Stepping into the art gallery was like entering a treasure trove of artistic expressions, each canvas telling a unique story. I had the privilege of assisting in numerous exhibitions, each with its own distinctive theme, featuring contemporary artists who mesmerised the audience with their creativity. In the midst of this creative haven, I felt a deep connection with the art of curation – the art of crafting narratives through the arrangement of artworks.
In this transformative period, one individual emerged as a guiding light in my artistic journey – the esteemed artist and curator, Ms. Riffat Alvi. Her work and expertise are renowned in the art community, but what truly captivated me was her commitment to nurturing emerging artists. Ms. Riffat’s mentorship and support have been instrumental in shaping the artistic careers of many known artists in Pakistan today. Witnessing her dedication to providing opportunities and guidance to budding talents left an indelible mark on my heart. It reinforced my belief in the power of curatorial practice to elevate artists’ voices and create platforms for their artistic expressions to thrive.
I am driven to continue my curatorial journey, supporting emerging and unrecognised artists and celebrating the vibrant tapestry of creativity that unfolds before our eyes. Through my work, I strive to pay homage to the nurturing essence of the art world, just as Ms. Riffat Alvi has done for so many talented artists, who are now known and revered figures in the contemporary art scene of Pakistan.
Us: Receiving a cultural visa from UAE is an absolute honour for an artist. How do you feel about it? How will this help you advance in your career?
FS: Receiving a Cultural Visa from the UAE is an absolute honor and a remarkable privilege. This accreditation allows me to make even more meaningful contributions to the vibrant cultural landscape of the UAE and nurtures stronger artistic connections between Pakistan and the UAE. I am genuinely thrilled about the endless possibilities and opportunities for growth that this opens up, both for my career and for promoting the rich cultural heritage of both countries.
I am deeply grateful to the Dubai Government and its visionary leadership for granting me this prestigious recognition. Their commitment to fostering creativity and preserving cultural heritage is truly commendable, and I feel proud to be a part of their esteemed art community. Representing Pakistan in this diverse and vibrant arts scene fills me with immense pride and gratitude. I am eager to explore and celebrate this remarkable milestone and embrace the artistic journey that lies ahead.
Us: The role of the curator is continuously in development. According to you, what does it mean to be a curator today?
FS: Being a curator in today’s ever-evolving artistic landscape involves a multifaceted and dynamic approach to the role. As a curator, I see myself as a storyteller, weaving narratives that connect art, history and the contemporary world.
Furthermore, the role of a curator extends beyond the physical gallery space. In the digital age, curators must adapt to online platforms and virtual exhibitions, reaching broader audiences and engaging with global art enthusiasts. Utilising technology and social media to promote art and facilitate discussions becomes essential in enhancing the impact of curatorial endeavours.
In short, being a curator today involves a fusion of storytelling, art expertise, technological savviness, community engagement and ethical responsibility. It’s an exciting and challenging role that empowers curators to shape and enrich the artistic discourse of our time. By curating exhibitions that inspire, educate and provoke thought, curators contribute to the continuous development and relevance of the art world in the present and future.
Us: How would you define your curatorial process?
FS: My curatorial process is a thoughtful journey that revolves around crafting exhibitions with a cohesive theme while presenting a diverse range of perspectives. It involves several key stages that contribute to the successful realisation of each exhibition such as conceptualization, selection of artworks, layout, public engagement and post-exhibition response.
Throughout the entire curatorial process, my emphasis is on creating exhibitions that resonate with viewers, challenge their perspectives and provide a platform for artistic voices to be heard. Each exhibition is a unique narrative with multiple layers, encouraging audiences to explore the intricate connections between art, culture and the human experience. By curating exhibitions that combine storytelling with diverse perspectives, I aim to contribute to a more inclusive and enriched artistic discourse.
Us: How do you build relationships with artists?
FS: Building strong relationships with artists is a fundamental aspect of curatorial practice. This involves various key elements such as networking, maintaining open communication, conducting studio visits, fostering collaborations and, most importantly, sustaining long-term engagement.
By prioritising clear and open communication, fostering collaborative projects, and demonstrating genuine interest in artists’ work, a curator can forge deep and meaningful connections within the artistic community.
Us: Which creative thinkers have influenced your curatorial practice?
FS: My curatorial practice has been shaped and inspired by a wide range of artists, writers, academics, curators and creative thinkers. Among the artists, the works of Sadequain, Anna Molka and Shemza have left a profound impact on my journey, influencing my understanding of artistic expression and innovation.
In the realm of art history and criticism, I have drawn immense knowledge and inspiration from the great Marjorie Hussain, whose expertise has deepened my appreciation for the contextual significance of artworks.
Looking back, the legendary Imam Sb (Ali Imam) stands out as a transformative figure in the art world, having nurtured and provided a platform for numerous great artists, leaving an indelible mark on the art community.
Finally, I must acknowledge the pivotal role played by my design teacher, Yawar Abbas. His guidance and encouragement to explore diverse artistic horizons, coupled with introducing me to the world of art, have significantly influenced my curatorial perspective.
Collectively, these remarkable individuals have enriched my curatorial practice, shaping my approach to storytelling, curation and artistic exploration.
Us: What do you see as the challenges for 21st century curators? What lessons have you learned along the way?
FS: The challenges faced by 21st-century curators are diverse and demand adaptive strategies to navigate the evolving art landscape. Key challenges include managing globalisation and cultural diversity, addressing sustainability and environmental impact, navigating funding and financial constraints and meeting changing audience expectations.
Throughout my journey, I have learned valuable lessons, emphasising adaptability through collaborations, promoting inclusivity and diversity, prioritising in-depth research and contextual understanding, being responsive to social issues, and embracing sustainability in curatorial practices.
21st-century curators must embrace innovation, diversity and social consciousness to curate exhibitions that resonate with the dynamic and interconnected world of today. By staying agile and mindful of these challenges, we can create impactful and meaningful artistic experiences that bridge cultures and inspire audiences worldwide.
Us: Tell us about some of your favourite museums, institutions or galleries.
FS: Selecting a few favourites among the multitude of museums, institutions and galleries I admire is indeed a challenging task. However, in Karachi, two places hold a special place in my heart.
Mohatta Palace is undoubtedly one of my favourite museums. The way they curate their shows is nothing short of exceptional. Their ability to create immersive and thought-provoking exhibitions is truly commendable, making each visit a memorable experience.
Another cherished spot is the Sadequain Gallery at Frere Hall. This colonial gem houses the captivating and unfinished mural ‘Arz-o-Samawaat’ by the legendary artist Sadequain. The potential of this gallery to become a hub for art enthusiasts is evident, and I find myself drawn to the historical and artistic significance of this space.
While there are many other noteworthy museums, institutions, and galleries that I admire, these two hold a special place in my heart due to their unique curation and artistic heritage.
Us: Any exhibition/s that you just can’t erase from your memory?
FS: One that has etched itself permanently in my memory is ‘Karachi Under The Raj’ at Mohatta Palace. This exhibition was an absolute masterpiece in curation.
The way the exhibition paid tribute to our city, Karachi, by revisiting its glorious days during the Raj was truly remarkable. The thoughtful curation skillfully transported visitors back in time, immersing them in the historical context and rich heritage of the city.
The attention to detail, the engaging narrative, and the seamless blend of art, artifacts, and historical documentation made this exhibition an unforgettable experience. It not only celebrated the past but also offered valuable insights into the cultural and social fabric of Karachi.
Mohatta Palace’s Karachi Under The Raj stands out as an exemplar of curatorial excellence. Its impact on me as a curator and art enthusiast is profound.
Us: What needs to be done to promote art in Pakistan and make it more accessible to masses, especially the public that is so distracted by the socio-economical crisis in Pakistan?
FS: Promoting art in Pakistan and making it accessible to the masses, especially during socio-economic crises, requires a diversified approach that engages, inspires and uplifts the public. Strategies such as art in public spaces, art festivals and street art events, art education and workshops, collaborations with local communities, online platforms and digital initiatives, collaboration with NGOs and government, and connecting art for social messaging can pave the way.
By implementing these diverse strategies, Pakistan can integrate art into its cultural fabric and reach diverse segments of society, even amid challenges. Art’s transformative power can heal, inspire, and foster unity, making it an essential resource for building a brighter and more inclusive future for the nation.
Us: What are your future plans, and where do you see yourself in the coming years?
FS: I am passionately committed to showcasing the hidden gems of Pakistan’s artistic talent within the vibrant art scene of the UAE and the Gulf region. Through carefully curated exhibitions and thoughtful collaborations, my vision is to promote cultural exchange and nurture artistic connections between Pakistan and the Middle East. By facilitating exchange programmes for artists, exhibitions and curatorial expertise, I see a platform where the rich cultural heritage of both regions can intertwine, fostering mutual appreciation and creative growth. My ultimate goal is to build bridges of understanding and inspiration, bringing the unique artistic narratives of Pakistan to a broader global audience while strengthening the bond between these thriving art communities. As I embark on this journey, I aim to play a pivotal role in creating an enriched and inclusive global art dialogue that celebrates the diversity and talent of both Pakistan and the Middle East.