As a consequence of an improvement in Karachi’s law and order situation, revival of city’s social and cultural scene became a priority in every circle. Therefore, considering the enormous aesthetic potential of the city and to lighten the prevalent vacuum of creative interaction, the Karachi Foundation for the Arts (KFA) introduced the Karachi Biennale 2017 in March this year, at The Second Floor (T2F). This festivity is a visionary platform that will create a stimulus amongst artists and innovators to undertake projects that would rejuvenate dormant public participation and inculcate team spirit.
Under the auspices of the Karachi Biennale Outreach Committee of the KFA, the second bout of talks on ‘Urban regeneration’ titled ‘Public art in local context’ was recently held at T2F. The panelists for this artists’ open house deliberation were Niilofur Farrukh, Masuma Halai and Gulraiz Khan, who are acclaimed professionals and activists in their respective fields of art, pedagogy and civil disciplines.
The presentations by Farrukh and Khan revolved around public art practices around the world and their impact on corresponding communities. Halai, meanwhile, spoke on the specific mission of the Outreach Programme to engage artists and enthusiasts in 100 projects across the city. These presentations were followed by an interesting discussion on public art in the local context and the challenges it faces in the public space.
The Karachi Biennale Outreach Committee discusses public art practices around the world and their impact on corresponding communities
A common query which came from various participants was regarding the tacit role of politics in public art, particularly when people react negatively to it. In response, Farrukh explained that rejection or exclusion of art from public space is a political act, though certain viewers may have liked it. She narrated the mysterious disappearance of one sculpture and removal of another due to public rejection. Furthermore, Khan also explained how decisions eventually may have some political ingredient; hence, the decision ‘not to be political’ could as well be a political one. He mentioned how ordinary wall-chalking and graffiti on the Berlin wall eventually ended up as a work of art owing to its historical significance.
On a question of whether public art would depict social responsibility, or is it destined to be imperialistic ignoring real issues, Farrukh explained that artists will go into poorer areas, such as Orangi and Baldia towns. Their project concepts will be moderated by the KFA for their acceptance by the general public. However, she emphasised that public art is all about engagement, but not necessarily for specific objectives.
Questions regarding the Outreach Programme were handled by Halai who apprised the audience that artists will propose project ideas that can evoke interaction with the community. The programme focuses on recycling of redundant items into useful toys, furniture items, playground fixtures and even batteries. She demonstrated the use of empty cable reels, usually seen abandoned on roadsides, by converting them into seats, tables and children’s interactive installations.
The evening concluded with a vote of thanks to the panel and the audience who remained engaged and responsive during the discourse.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 29th, 2016