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VISIONARY WOMEN

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By Shaheer Masud
Tue, 11, 22

In the recently concluded Karachi Biennale 22, Pakistani and International female artists created some of the best and most memorable exhibitions. The themes and issues highlighted touch on critical topics such as environmentalism, cultural heritage, and labour rights, to name a few. You! takes a look…

VISIONARY WOMEN

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The stories of our struggles, within and with the external, need to be preserved and told in a way that they defy any limits of time and geography. It is only the stories that we leave behind that will keep us in the consciousness of generations to come. The two weeks of Karachi Biennale 2022 showed just that and how a creative impact needs to be made. Indeed, collective imagination, which was a central theme of the third edition of the Biennale, allowed artists to collaborate and unleash new ideas that have enraptured audiences. A salient feature of this year was the integration of latest technologies.

VISIONARY WOMEN

Unsurprisingly, Pakistani and International female artists created some of the best and most memorable exhibitions this year. The themes and issues highlighted touch on critical topics such as environmentalism, cultural heritage, and labour rights, to name a few.

VISIONARY WOMEN

The historic area of old Saddar is home to many of the venues that exhibited the works of exceptional artists. At NED City Campus, ‘Mictronal’, presented by Invisible Flock, Faqir Zulfiqar, and Allah Jurio, connects modern sound and data technology with a 5,000 year old tradition. The ‘Borindo’ is an indigenous Sindhi wind instrument in the shape of a clay pot. It sounds similar to a flute. As the cultural heritage of the Indus unfortunately dies out due to negligence, this exhibition stands out as a brave rescue of the musical stories of our ancestors. The dimly lit room, full of 200 Borindos, equipped with lights and sensory microphones and in the middle, a microphone hangs inviting the seeker to send sound through it. Only for it to be transmitted through an amplifier and be digitally converted into the pitches of the Borindo which then fill the room with ancient melodies.

Audio Placebo Plaza
Audio Placebo Plaza

This experiment of musical, ethnographic archaeology was the winner of the Engro Jury Prize Award. Victoria Eaton, member of decorated art group Invisible Flock, believes this piece is about the positive side of technology that allows us to connect with experiences that would not have been accessible otherwise. She focuses on her subject not as a discoverer but as an enhancer; there are still traces of ancient musical traditions along the Indus and her work is a collaborative and connective attempt to amplify it. “There seems to be a revival in musical traditions of Indus cultures happening now. What is important is that these are revived respectfully and with consent of those who hold that history,” shared Victoria Eaton.

Rabeeha Adnan
Rabeeha Adnan

Many artists, like Invisible Flock, have been able to present through the affiliated programmes of the British Council which has been an organising member of all editions of the Biennale. This partnership has brought Pakistani and British artists together, to explore concepts in a bilateral nature. Amir Ramzan, Country Director, British Council - Pakistan, believes in the massive potential of these collaborations to not only improve diplomatic relations but also allow artists to exchange ideas of modern art forms to combat many problems people are facing in both places. “We share the common aim of supporting young artists, promoting contemporary art, and using art to look at and think about important issues like climate change, cultural heritage, and preservation,” he stated.

Another exhibition at NED using music for mindful expansion was ‘Audio Placebo Plaza’. Presented by Canadian artists Erin Gee, Julia E. Dyck, and Vivian Li; the participatory artwork takes the healing quality of music and distributes it in the fashion of communal medicine. With a space styled in what can be described as ‘dispensary disco’, the visitor feels as if they are on a music video set.

VISIONARY WOMEN

Participants can share whatever mental health issues they deal with and are prescribed digital music developed through various audio techniques, to help them with their struggles. Pre-set categories music were given local pop cultural names like ‘The Meesha’, ‘Katakat Chat’, ‘Lake Aansoo Dream’, etc. By creating custom tunes to help people with their mental health, the feminist trio’s artwork highlights the ability and expectation of women to perform emotional labour in society. But by turning it into a communal activity and then using that as a medium to create an experience, the artists really show us what constructive mental health work looks like.

Alecia Neo
Alecia Neo

On the busy old Bandar Road (now M.A. Jinnah Road) is a narrow space inside the Hamid Market building that hosted exhibitions, bringing architectural heritage and futuristic art together in the experience. Here, Singaporean artist Alecia Neo presented ‘Power to the People’. This is her ode to the labourers of Saddar, the people that keep the heart of the city running daily, where she brings together spirituality and solidarity while igniting class consciousness. A disk in the centre of the room is projected from both sides (representing a male and female) with hand gestures of gratitude, warmth, and worship. Light bulbs scatter the floor, with circular mirrors attached, as they dim and brighten to represent the ups and downs that have been Karachi’s story. Through the window, one can see the Rahguzar Walking Street lined with red bricks made by women labourers of Makli. Working class women are an especially marginalised group in Pakistan and globally. Neo wanted to emphasise the equality of the genders when it comes to honest, hard work and class solidarity.

VISIONARY WOMEN

Madyha Leghari presented her bilingual, interactive film experience, ‘Speaking in Tongues’, at Jamshed Memorial Hall. To call the film surrealist would be an understatement. Leghari narrates with her innermost thoughts on identity, ambitions, purpose, and desire. Inspired by the Sanskrit poetic form, Leghari’s stream of consciousness style writing pairs well with the free form visuals that take the audience inside her dreams. The artist attempts to make deep connections between self and nature.

Her hands, covered in flower petals, move around plants and insects that are shown going through their life cycles. The title of the piece refers to her incessant monologue that is available to listen to in Urdu and English. Communicating and finding consensus on how to continue viewing the artwork, is a brilliant additional experience that the artist was able to create.

Madyha Leghari
Madyha Leghari

Also presented at Jamshed Hall was ‘Mukalmaah: We Can’t Both Be Right!’ by Rabeeha Adnan. The driving thought behind this piece, quite relevant for a venue that houses the Theosophical Society, is the strenuous coexistence of Abrahamic religions despite the similarities between them. The artist’s push for this theme is especially admirable, given how Abrahamic religions have traditionally espoused heteropatriarchal ideals, and the way she does it deserves applause.

The stage is set with musical instruments found in the venue’s library, an old television atop at the back, and two sci-fi-ish electric poles near the sides. The resulting performance is theatrical, colourful, and sonically schizophrenic. We hear a Beethoven composition play as the instruments (or actors) light up in different neon colours.

VISIONARY WOMEN

The sound changes as the composition pauses and plays at various points and digital sound effects create a techno-futurist aesthetic, while the TV also plays with graphics and text to the same effect. The individuality of the props shows that ‘mukalmaah’ or ‘dialogue’ between separate entities is often messy, but necessary. It makes one see that despite obstacles in the pursuit of coexistence, we can create beauty and spectacle when we come together with our differences.