Manora Field Notes — Pakistan’s foray into Venice expo


VENICE: The all-women team representing Pakistan at the La Biennale Venezia.—Dawn
VENICE: The all-women team representing Pakistan at the La Biennale Venezia.—Dawn

KARACHI: A first-ever ‘Pavilion of Pakistan’ has been organised by an all-women team comprising Zahra Khan, Naiza Khan and Asma Rashid at the 58th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia.

The official Pakistani pavilion has showcased Manora Field Notes, the work of multi-disciplinary artist Naiza Khan.

In a statement received here on Sunday, curator Zahra Khan explained that Venice Biennale’s theme ‘May you live in interesting times’ alludes to uncertainty in the modern age and Pakistan’s presentation will engage with multiple bodies of knowledge and narratives including archival material, historic myths and conversations with local communities.

“I am proud and honoured that Foundation Art Divvy’s latest endeavour, which focuses on bringing contemporary art from Pakistan to the public arena, is to organise and present Pakistan’s first foray at the Venice Biennale,” she said, adding “Pakistan has a remarkable, vibrant art scene and it is extremely important that it is represented on the world stage, particularly at a prestigious forum like the Venice Biennale. This pavilion is an opportunity to present an entirely different side of Pakistan.”

Naiza Khan, who is based in Karachi and London, said her exhibition drew upon a prolific archive of material collected over a decade on Manora Island, off the port of Karachi.

“Manora Field Notes showcases a new body of work, including a sound piece, multi-screen video installation and series of cast brass objects, which examine conflicting narratives surrounding this contested landscape,” she said.

Manora Field Notes will immerse the viewer in life upon Manora Island.

Responding to the overarching theme of the exhibition, Zahra Khan explains: “There are few countries which have experienced the upheaval which Pakistan has in recent times. This, along with a significant number of art schools and a long cultural history has fostered a vibrant and diverse arts scene. Artists speak clearly and powerfully about issues of identity, migration, violence, community, and of course contemporary issues like climate change. We chose Naiza’s work partly because it also allows for an insight into the mundane — set against the backdrop of an island with a long history, tiny and yet a microcosm in many ways of Pakistan today.”

The organisers are confident that the Pavilion of Pakistan would unfold across three interconnected spaces, encouraging visitors to explore the venue like a ‘map’ of Manora Island. Central to the installation are archival materials relating to surveillance and navigation, found by Naiza Khan in the island’s abandoned 19th-century observatory. These include the 1939 India Weather Review, a record of weather reports from across British India, which will form the basis of a sound piece and a series of cast brass objects.

Asma Rashid, director of Foundation Art Divvy and organiser of Pavilion of Pakistan, said: “The Pavilion comes at a time when Pakistan is turning the corner and looking forward to new horizons. The Pakistani pavilion in Venice is years in the making, and we hope this opens a new window to the diversity of talent and practice of artists and curators working out of Pakistan.”

She welcomed the support extended by the information ministry and the Pakistan National Council of the Arts.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2019