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‘Barricades, barriers have become an integral part of city’s landscape’

February 16, 2019

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ARTIST Seema Nusrat speaks at Alliance Française de Karachi on Friday.—White Star
ARTIST Seema Nusrat speaks at Alliance Française de Karachi on Friday.—White Star

KARACHI: The second Karachi Biennale 2019 roundtable was organised at the Alliance Française de Karachi on Friday where, in a bid to interpret and contextualise art against the backdrop of a constantly evolving social fabric, the topic of discussion selected was ‘barriers’.

According to the organisers, the aim is to look at the “physical barriers that have become an inherent part of the city’s infrastructure of fear and security threats, understood through a case study of the works of the main speaker, while exploring its social, legal and psychological implications through insights from the panellists and their individual fields of expertise.”

The roundtables are presented as a lead-up to the second edition of the Karachi Biennale set to take place in October and November 2019.

Managing trustee of the Karachi Biennale Trust and CEO of KB19, Niilofur Farrukh introduced artist Seema Nusrat whose body of work encompassing the theme of barriers was presented. “Seema’s work has underpinned security architecture and helped it to enter the art discourse. The idea of barriers that we face every day is something that the Karachi Biennale Trust has confronted as well as brought into discussion in the first biennale. At the time the biennale was conceived, it was a time when Karachi was facing tremendous amount of polarisation. Where there was a lot of violence and communities had ghettoised themselves in their own areas. The idea behind the Karachi Biennale was to build those bridges.”

She also discussed that one of the themes of KB19 is ecology and how the environment affects our lives.

Nusrat is a visual artist based in Karachi. She obtained a BFA from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and in 2002 went on to pursue a Masters in Fine and Media Arts from Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, Canada.

She shared how on her return to Pakistan she saw different materials such as sandbags used as a means to obstruct. She was greatly inspired by them and so decided to incorporate them into her art and explore how a new urban landscape is emerging in Karachi due to the use of such materials.

“I have been working on these barricades for the past five to six years as a part of my visual research. With regards to sandbags which [were] one of the materials, I noticed how they block the facades of buildings throughout the city. A visual barrier is being created. We cannot go close to such barricades, and so I decided to incorporate a sandbag labyrinth at the Frere Hall.”

She also explained how these barricades, entrenchments and barriers that were introduced as a security measure during unrest in Karachi have become an integral part of the city’s landscape. “The security infrastructure that looked alien at the time of its inception has become a regular feature at public spaces and government institutions. This could evoke fear and anxiety among denizens of Karachi but it could also be intertwined with the architecture such that it becomes a design element.”

A panel discussion was also held where speakers gave different perspectives of the theme of barriers. Barrister Nausheen Ahmed gave a legal point of view of barriers and said that “even if they don’t make us feel safe, they make us feel as if somebody is doing something to make us feel safe.” Whether in reality it has an impact or not, in our head it does give us the illusion that our welfare is being taken care of.

Educationist Lynette Viccaji spoke about the barriers of the mind which we erect to imprison ourselves, especially in the context of the Anglo-Indian identity. Today, the country faces the dilemma of accepting differences.

Dr Rubina Feroz spoke about how citizens have internalised different barriers within their thinking and consciously and unconsciously restrict and limit their thought processes.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019