Urban explorations

The founder of Cinema 73, Asad Kamran, has created a community space housed inside a garage that regularly hosts screenings in the hope of generating discussion and discourse about art

Karachi has been home to some of the country’s finest artists and musicians. With history embedded in every street corner and courtyard, it is a treasure trove of alternative spaces that are being reclaimed by artists. The mega city has a diverse social topography and cultural climate that has inspired a collective of artists. The founder of Cinema 73, Asad Kamran has created a community space housed inside a garage that regularly hosts screenings in the hope of generating discussion and discourse about art. The garage space was transformed by Noor Ahmed to curate a series of Open Studios with Kamran as the inaugurating resident artist followed by Ammara Jabbar and Haider Ali Naqvi. Each artist spent time in the space and interacted with the local community. Nestled within the Sea View Apartments, Ahmed’s curatorial practice captures an interdisciplinary and immersive approach to installation. Ahmed closely worked with each artist to create solo presentations inside the garage space resulting in three exhibitions that took place between September and November 2020.

Kamran, the founder of Cinema 73, worked closely with Ahmed in conceptualising the initiative to promote artists and nurture a positive social impact on the community. The exhibitions were an intervention on their own as artists kept an open door policy throughout. The first show, titled Portrait of a Time, showcased Kamran’s paintings in charcoal, acrylics and projections. Originally from Karachi, Kamran has studied at The University of Edinburgh, UK. Away from Pakistan, there is a deep understanding of displacement, isolation and loss of freedom in his portraits. The framing is claustrophobic, the expressions are calm, the shades and painterly strokes have immediacy and stillness about them. Through purposely created lines to emote gesture and feelings, the artist shares the vulnerability of loneliness within the metropolis.

The second Open Studio artist, Jabbar uses found object art to express complex narratives based around living in Karachi using recognisable kitsch visuals and emblems taken from daily urban scenery and pageantry. The show’s title, Good Time, is an exaggerated investigation that directs the visitor into a meticulously created space using subversion of domesticity and encountering the chaotic, threatening and unsafe environment as a female. Aligned with the perspective of “the personal is political” Jabbar crafts an unapologetic experience for her visitors confronting them with the reality of violence and the abuse women endure on account of rampant lawlessness. These unforgettable site-specific interventions, according to Ahmed, have generated surprise and curiosity among the community visitors as Jabbar carefully selects language and visuals directly from the public streets and households of Karachi. The Road Less Travelled has been the third showcasing in Open Studio series of artist residents with works by Naqvi. The artist created a visual map of the physical and emotional endurance of a family caught in the Karachi flooding that happened over the summer. He spent time with a family residing near Gujjar Nala where he asked each family member to create drawings that he later used to create a series of wire drawings drilled directly into the walls of Cinema 73. With sensitivity and compassion, Naqvi displays an almost archaeological account of their memories and experiences. The original paper drawings were kept as part of the installation along with a bird’s eye view image inside a light box framed by black aluminum metal window displays. The light boxes help contextualise the physical location
while alluding to the scale of destruction encountered by other similarly displaced families.

The exhibitions have a thematic cohesion and interconnectedness that has been Ahmed’s focus in her curatorial practice. They are interactive, readable and deeply affected by Karachi’s uncontrollable fluxes of urbanisation, population and various socio-economic phenomena. Each artist has created narratives and an understanding of their existence within the city on a psychological plane that influences their work. An initiative like Open Studios gives artists the chance to gain experience and partnerships with ambitious curators like Noor Ahmed who endeavour to create inclusive community art practices. Open Studio has been a welcome change to the locked down and quarantined home life of Sea View Apartments. The garage has enough room for a small gathering. Cinema 73 maintains Covid SOPs ensuring people can frequent without risk of infection.

The writer is an artist and an art therapist

Urban explorations