Art alive

December 4, 2022

Metro users delight in the work of famous photographers displayed at the Kalma Chowk terminal

Art alive


t was rare a sight to see commuters catching the last bus home at the Kalma Chowk metro station stopping to take a look at the images pasted on the walls of the terminal. Even those in a hurry, stopped to take a look. The passageway that also serves as a pedestrian crossing was transformed into a gallery over the weekend, displaying the work of Pakistani photographers.

The exhibition, curated by the Pakistan Photo Festival (PPF), was the second edition of the Pakistan Photo Festival Fellowship Exhibition, a photography project and festival dedicated to documentary and contemporary photographers of Pakistan. Over the past year, 11 photographers from across the country were selected for a seven-month fellowship where they were given an opportunity to work with internationally renowned photographers on the projects that were put up for display.

The exhibition was accessible to everyone in an outdoor public space. According to Shah Zaman Baloch, the PPF founder, there is a growing trend for displaying art directly in public spaces. “We at the PPF consider all forms of art as a source of creativity that unfortunately is locked away from public viewing in commercial galleries. The PPF is an attempt to reach out to the masses and help them connect with the stories presented through these projects,’’ he added.

It is interesting how cities around the world are exposing metro passengers to creativity and culture, transforming stations into microcosms of the city. Those using these metro routes for their daily commute realise that some of the stations create artistic scenes, while others embed city culture and history in their design.

Metro routes and terminals are a somewhat new concept in Pakistan. These are slowly replacing the worn-out bus stops. The authorities have yet to explore these ideas and hold exhibitions like the PPF event on a regular basis.

“The idea was not only to display and showcase the work of our students before a larger audience but also to transform a public place,” says Shah Zaman Baloch. He says that during his travels he has found metro stations to be a potential epicenter of cultural activities catering to a broad range of audiences. I find diverse forms of art adding life to colourless public places and turning them into a culturally-enriching experience for the commuters,” he adds.

“The idea was not only to display and showcase the work of our students to a larger audience but also to transform a public place,” says Shah Zaman Baloch, the organiser.

Organisers of the event were not just surprised by the number of passer-by who paused and looked at the exhibition but also by the interest it generated among many who interacted with the photographers whose work was on display and shared stories of their own. “Our purpose here was to engage with the people, make them understand the concept of the projects and hear what they had to say about it. We could not have found a better way to get such feedback,” said an organiser of the event.

Though the event might be seen as a one-off exhibition portraying local photographs, Shah Zaman Baloch thinks otherwise. He says the PPF was founded with the intention of bringing Pakistani photographers at a par with international photographers. “With the advent of Instagram and other social media platforms, we have seen many local photographers come up with amazing photographs. But most of their work is either portrait or landscape. Rarely, do we come across a local photographer who takes the plunge to explore other genres of photography. Even more rarely do we see a story being told through a series of photographs,” he says.

Shah Zaman recalls the first batch of students who participated in the inaugural PPF fellowship programme in 2017. They have continued their projects that were exhibited and have won prestigious fellowships.

The PPF is a free fellowship offered to aspiring photographers in Pakistan. It is completely funded and supported by the founder who does not want to allow a sponsor to influence the fellows’ work during the length of the fellowship and the final projects. “If you don’t have artistic freedom, the art is dead. We are open to sponsors and organisations interested in funding the fellowships but we will make sure that they fund the process from the goodness of their heart and not with the intention of influencing the projects,” says Baloch.

When the last bus left and the metro staff started wrapping up for the day, Riaz Turi, who hails from Kurram district still stood looking the work of Hasan Raza Khan. It was titled The Wall of Home and depicted the sectarian struggle Kurram Agency has gone through in recent past. Turi, who works as a security guard in Lahore, said the exhibit brought back memories of his homeland, the struggle of his people and their yearning for peace. Turi said he had caught sight of the exhibit while rushing to his job in the morning and waited all day to return on his way back and have a good look. He said he had never been to an art exhibition before.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Lahore.

Art alive