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October 23, 2017

Out of the gallery, into the public


October 23, 2017

As the first Karachi Biennale (KB17) kicked off at the NJV Government Higher Secondary School on Saturday evening, doors to various venues were opened for the public to witness contemporary art produced by over140 artists of local and international repute.

Dubbed as the country’s largest international contemporary art event, the KB17 would be open to all and sundry at venues stretching across the city; opening each day at 10am till its culmination on November 5.

Divided into four clusters catering to different geographical coordinates of the city, lying under Cluster C, the Sadequain Gallery at the Frere Hall hosted works of 16 artists.

In an attempt to introduce the ‘visual-reality’ experience in documentaries, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s ‘Look but with love’ narrated tales of Pakistanis, stationed in both urban and remote areas, striving to bring about a change by helping those around them.

“We decided to work on these VR films all around the country and highlight different regions and individuals working in unique ways to help their communities,” said Nadir Siddiqui of SOC Films.

Speaking of the stories shared through the documentaries, he said the team went to Thar Desert to film the journey of a man who has been trying to help people affected by the water crisis.

“In Karachi, we filmed a children’s emergency ward in a government hospital where a doctor is trying to give better facilities to patients, whereas in Jamshoro, we worked with Saif Samejo - folk musician - who seeks to preserve Sindhi music; in Lahore, we worked with Beena Jawad who runs a classical dance academy.”

He added that they also documented in Nowshera where they filmed women who have been serving the elite commandos working with the local police to combat terrorism.  

While the VR documentaries were displayed outside the hall, a few visual and audio installations were placed inside the hall. On entering the hall, one is met with an area covered with different kinds of school bags emitting voices of children.

Sharing the concept of his project, Arsalan Nasir, a visual artist from Karachi explained that his work focused on helping visitors witness the difference in school curriculums through an audio installation.

“I was documenting the diversity in the courses being taught to students in different schools. I chose nursery rhymes and basic literature from government, low-income private schools and as well as the elite ones. I observed a stark difference that stemmed from the class system under which the schools happened to be categorised,” he said.

Nasir explained that he put all the data together to give a feel similar to that of a social gathering where everyone has a voice of their own that is diverse in its own way.

However, some of the voices echoed more than the others with respect to the spoken content. “The effect bears semblance to a real classroom where children start speaking simultaneously. The classroom aura also helps us understand how each student should be listened to because all of them have something different to say,” the artist elaborated.

With spoken sentences ranging from ‘heaven lies beneath the feet of mother’ to nursery rhymes in English, the line ‘Pakistan’s meaning is Unity of Allah’ stood out amongst all, signalling the sheer difference in the content being taught.

“It is evident that religion has become the focus in lower-income schools and seminaries, whereas in children of elite schools are taught a different culture; this can help us understand the change in our society,” said Nasir.   

While Muhammad Zeeshan’s work titled ‘Sincerely Yours’ was amusing, it was also uncompromisingly direct and honest. The artist had decided to showcase the letters of rejection he received over time.

Inscribed on a golden reflective sticker on cloth, the rejections appeared to be a commentary as despite being refusals the wordings were quite flowery.

Speaking of the difference of visitors an artist witnesses when at a gallery to the KB17, Nasir felt that the purpose of the biennale was to bridge art and people from all walks of life and not limiting it to any certain group.

Other artists whose works have also been displayed include (La) Horde Collectif, Agha Abbas, Anum Jamal, Bani Abidi, Faisal Anwar, Ivan Lam, Jamal Shah, Jean Hubert, Nahid Raza, Sonia Khurana, Stephen Sheehan, Umberto Zampini and Wajid Ali.  

The event will be held on the following locations, Karachi School of Art, VM Art Gallery at Rangoonwala Trust, 63 Commissariat Lines, Capri Cinema, NJV School, Jamshed Memorial Hall, Pioneer Book House, Claremont House, Alliance Francaise, FOMMA Art Centre and IVS.

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