“Lahore is a special place and the biennale can bring something beautiful to it”

February 23, 2020

A conversation with Hoor Al Qasimi about her selection of the art and artists for the Lahore Biennale

The News on Sunday (TNS): How did you select your artists and how did the international artists react to engaging with Lahore?

Hoor Al Qasimi (HAQ): There were issues like shipping and the cost of insurance, but it was very pleasing to learn how excited and cooperative the artists were to be a part of the Lahore biennial. Some of the works were very expensive but they agreed regardless, and wanted to be a part of this so that there was trust and I asked for all their works and they agreed that they would send me everything that they had ever done and then we can have a conversation about those works to see what might work.

There are people like John Akomfrah whose work I was very familiar with, but I asked him to send me everything that he had ever done… everything from the very beginning. They just sent me everything and I told them what I wanted to show, and in some instances they said “Really? This? I haven‘t shown this in a while”. They said they would have to think about it, if they wanted to show it, in Akomfrah’s case, how he wanted to show it and put it together in one loop.

With Barbara Walker, I knew straight away that I wanted her wall drawings that she had done in the diaspora pavilion in Venice ages ago. I told her I wanted to invite her to do a wall drawing in the Jinnah Library. I wanted the whole city… I was greedy. I walked into Tollinton Market, I saw the wall and I thought this is all Barbara. The entire space for just Barbara Walker, and then she could not come and I told her that I need to show your work in any way possible. Even if you can’t come just send me something. In the end, she said, she really wanted to come and I got so excited. She worked day and night in that freezing space, doing the kind of things that I envisioned, and that happened; and I’m very happy.

TNS: What were some of your visions for the Biennale and your experience putting it up in Lahore?

HAQ: I wanted the best production. When they invited me I didn’t think I’ll do just anything. No, I want to give my absolute best. We had to have professionalism and the best exhibition, not cut corners. At the end of the day, we have a goal and a work ethic. There were days when we lost the entire day just looking for permissions and waiting on things to happen; days that made me rethink why was I even doing this, but then there were some places that just gave me the space and said, “do whatever with it”.

Then there were some places like the Planetarium which I just had to use because it was so beautiful and perfect, and I knew I just had to have it but some places like the Jinnah Library I couldn’t have.

TNS: Choosing artists like Diana Al Hadid and her site-specific work that was developed in response to Lahore and its own history, I’m curious to know how these artists were chosen and what the process entailed to develop the works.

HAQ: In Sharjah, we do this quite frequently. We invite artists to do site visits and get inspired by the city. I knew I wanted to invite lots of women… and the people that I invited for site visits included Diana, Taus, Bahar, and Ayman Zedani with Almagul Menilibayeva, we knew about the project already, it was a question of how to make it work within the site. If we have the Planetarium we knew we could make it work.

With Taus it was just research until the end, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do until much later and Bahar knew when she met with the Irrigation Department that she wanted to work with those people.

TNS: With everything that has gone on and the biennale that has gone up what is your take on Lahore? It is a city with a lot of flavour and character but not easily tamable.

HAQ: Well I was supposed to leave a few days ago, I changed my flights. (That says a lot). I was saying that I feel like I need to be here for the whole five weeks, just to make sure that everything is perfect and also because I don’t want to leave. I want to enjoy the exhibition. Just want to stay and spend time with it. It is the same with artists; nobody wants to leave. I think Lahore is a special place and the biennale can really bring something very beautiful to it.

Curator Hoor Al-Qasimi Lahore biennale can bring something beautiful to the city