Updated 30 Mar 2018


Awami Roshni, a site-specific light installation, by The Awami Art Collective
Awami Roshni, a site-specific light installation, by The Awami Art Collective

When we enter museums or audience to watch performances as audience, a tangible barrier or spatiality separates us from objects and people who tell stories about our history, identity and affiliations to objects. We may be overcome with emotion but are restricted by distance and environment.

What if all those barriers were transcended and one got to the heart of the matter instantly? It is a singular interactive moment that would become a conversation with the city and the hearts of its citizens. The Awami Art Collective is a group of dynamic artists and thinkers who set out to do just that. Their site-specific light installation ‘Awami Roshni’, installed at the Canal intersection on Mall Road, is part of the Lahore Biennale this year and has been described by one of its members as being focused on “the phenomenon of the spectacular.”

From a distance one could spot a multitude of singular beams of green and white lights intersecting and glowing amidst the evening sky; motorcyclists and cars could be seen slowing down to identify the source of these translucent beacons of light, dramatically lit amidst the energy and movement of traffic in the city. The spectacle had clearly piqued the interest of people. The luminous interplay is a homage to the colours of our national flag and our national motto “Unity, Faith, Discipline.”

A site-specific light installation by an art collective pays homage to inclusiveness as a tool to combat marginalisation

The collective explains the concept behind the installation: “The central white crescent-like tower stands for faith and the white in the national flag; the green light intersecting from both sides to make it ‘one’ stands for unity and discipline but barges in to consume the white light.”

The team has also executed another related project which will remain on display during the biennale. That we live in an ephemeral world of digital representations and artificial realities, where time and distance has become immaterial, is not an exaggeration. Increased communication and interaction has been made possible with the availability of technology that has bridged these gaps. To build upon this idea, Awami Art Collective has literally and metaphorically “seized the moment by launching a selfie app designed by a team from The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) that will allow citizens to their take pictures which will play on digital screens installed on the Upper Mall Road. A Facebook page by the same name has been launched for promotion.

The all-pervasive selfie culture and the desire to be “seen” — often a subject of critique — has been channelled by the Collective into something positive that, as the team put it, “We employ the selfie as a tool of integration, to combat marginalisation and bring the civilian in the public sphere as ‘a star of his/her show.’

“Lahore is home for the ‘awam’ — all strata of society shall engage and collaborate by sharing a reflection of their ‘selves’ and featured in the public domain will propagate the idea of inclusiveness, personal expression, sharing and ownership of homeland.”

Such immersive experiences and unique initiatives raise pertinent questions about art and society. For example, with the influx of new medias what role can public art play in granting agency to viewers. What other creative mediations can take place in this space that will integrate art into the public sphere? The answers to these questions are yet to be found.

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 25th, 2018