‘A ‘biennale’, an Italian term used for large-scale public art exhibitions, was held for the first time in Venice, Italy in 1895. The term meaning ‘every other year’ had subsequently spread across the globe with multiple cities hosting their own. The most recent addition being two of Pakistan’s cities — Karachi and Lahore — each inaugurating their first biennales just a few months ago. Soon after the success of art exhibitions, other festivals emerged, with the first-ever display of an architectural biennale taking place in Venice in 1980.
Now, during the architectural biennale’s 16th edition that commenced on May 25, 2018, Pakistan showcases its first-ever national pavilion in Venice under the title The Fold. Curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the architecture festival aims at raising a conversation of ‘free space’, which is something most Pakistanis are unfortunately not too familiar with. Keeping in mind the scarcity of open areas in Karachi, the innovation behind The Fold came from makeshift free spaces in informal settlements found mostly in narrow pathways surrounding construction.
Karachi is one of the most populated cities of the world. It has one of the fastest-growing populations, with its present-day number soaring above 20 million. It holds the country’s largest service sector and is a premiere industrial and financial centre. As a result, there is an influx of migrants from all across the country coming to Karachi in search of employment. According to data collected by the team of the pavilion, this surge of people has led to an urban landscape of regulated and non-regulated housing. The non-regulated holds 60 percent of the population due to its affordability, but only shares 8.1 percent of the city’s land. Among its issues, housing lacks spaces of social interaction and as a result most socialisation is seen in small alleyways. These tiny spaces are trapped in dense construction, receiving only limited lighting. Yet it is the one open for all — quite often anyone is allowed to come to play, converse and just enjoy the company of others. Taking all this into consideration, The Fold celebrates unity and mutuality of these liminal spaces and how everyone is welcome, no matter the space or lack of it.
Pakistan displays its first-ever national pavilion in Venice that celebrates unity and mutuality of liminal spaces
Located in the Levante section of the Gardens of Marinaressa, the pavilion is constructed from verticals of varying sizes with the help of their construction partner, International Industries Limited (IIL), who are the premiere producers of steel tubing in Pakistan. Taking up only a small area of the garden, the interior is almost completely
hidden from the outside. A closer look allows one to appreciate the space as a singular folding system with an abstraction of irregularity and variability. As mentioned by the team, the characteristics of concealment and multiplicity are reminiscent of the physical limitations of the non-regulated settlements and its subtle rise in the design’s profile-view suggests the inclination of these settlements to increase in unison.
The pavilion would not have been possible without the participation of architects Bilal Kapadia, Mustafa Mehdi and Salman Jawed of Karachi-based multidisciplinary design practice, Coalesce Design Studio and Antidote Art and Design (a Dubai-based platform that pushes forward the careers of emerging and mid-career designers and visual artists). The project received immense support from the Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation, a Dutch non-profit organisation that creates awareness about philosophical themes in contemporary art and design.
They are also joined by Assistant Professor Durreshahwar Alvi and Head of Department of Architecture Sami Chohan as well as fourth year architecture student, Zeba Asad from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi. Asad I. Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners served as the commissioner of the national participation project. Sami Chohan is also the curator of the project. Notably, the national pavilion would not have been possible without its official sponsor Khaadi.
The pavilion will also be on exhibit under Venice Design, — the largest international design exhibition that is organised by Pakistan’s support in Venice, GAA Foundation. This exhibition coincides with the Venice Biennale and is held at the European Cultural Centre, showcasing designs from 30 different countries.
“The Fold” is being displayed from May 26 to November 25, 2018
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 15th, 2018