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KARACHI: Eminent art practitioners took part in a discussion on the topic ‘The art as city, the city as art — changing spaces’ organised by the Karachi Biennale at T2F on Saturday evening.

Responding to the first question put to the participants by moderator Gulraiz Khan about their experience of creating art in public space, artist and head of the department of visual studies, University of Karachi, Durriya Kazi said in 1994 she arranged a moving art gallery which travelled across the country. She said the idea grew out of discussions with students that why art galleries were centred on a specific area despite the fact that we were a people with a strong tradition of visual art, craft and poetry. She said it was a conundrum.

She said they looked around various sites and selected a truck because it used paint, brush and images that an artist would. She said it was converted into an art gallery and both students and established artists worked on it. She said it went to all over Pakistan because they thought people would respond. She said contrary to the notion that the concept was about truck art, it was actually about the audiences. She said it was an interesting exercise. She said the moment the artists started to get a response, they found a common language.

Artist Shahana Rajani said her art practice emerged by working in public spaces. She said after coming back from college, she joined the Karachi School of Art as curator. She said the experience of working in a gallery for one and a half years resulted in the compulsion to move away from it. She said she quit and moved towards public spaces. She said the phrase public space was a fluid one because a public space brought people together to engage in critical debate and discussion. In that context she mentioned working with a German artist on an audio walk project at the Quaid’s mausoleum.

Artist Zahra Malkani said she agreed with Ms Rajani that the definition of pubic space was fluid. She said a lot of work that she’d done in Karachi was collaborative. She said the experience of working in public spaces was haunted by disparities of gender, class and ethnicity. She said those things became heightened when you worked in such spaces.

Sculptor Abdul Jabbar Gull said he used to do public art way before he went to an art college. He said he painted cinema hoardings and did graffiti. He said he knew what public art meant to an ordinary person and to someone related to the field of art. He also talked about a mural that he made at the State Bank.

Replying to the question on the difference between public and private art, Mr Gull said it was hard to differentiate. He said the chaos that he found in Karachi inspired him to create. He said he had been working for the past 25 years and people from all spheres of life visited his studio.

Sharing her experience of working at Frere Hall and her interaction with the public there, Ms Kazi said you (artist) needed to engage with the people.

Ms Rajani said there were perceptions like public spaces had vanished and that there was so much violence in the city. She said the city was 100 per cent alive with all sorts of public spaces.

Ms Malkani said the reclamation narrative was painful because there was this idea that public art was charitable and democratic. She said sometimes it was the opposite as a lot of public art projects got funding.

Mr Gull said you couldn’t get away from the influence of someone if you were being funded by them. He said if you were asked to wear a pair of glasses (chashma) of a certain shade, you would start seeing the world through those glasses. He said: “We have so many chashmas.”

Published in Dawn October 30th, 2016