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Exhibition focusing on Afghan refugees in Pakistan opens

Updated June 09, 2019

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PICTURES of Afghan refugees on display at the exhibition.—White Star
PICTURES of Afghan refugees on display at the exhibition.—White Star

KARACHI: Canadian journalist and author Doug Saunders’ book Arrival City became the chief inspiration for the German Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016. The book talks about the 20 cities of the world that Mr Saunders went to and then recorded his impressions on the impact of the rural-urban migration that took place in those cities. An exhibition with the same title, Arrival City, and its Pakistani theme ‘Seeking Home — The Afghan Narrative’ with special reference to the Afghan refugees in Pakistan opened at Commune Artist Colony on Saturday.

Talking to Dawn, the curator of Seeking Home, Marvi Mazhar, said the exhibition focused on the Afghans living in Karachi in particular and Pakistan in general. “We researched on how the Afghans are living in Pakistan. We don’t have a refugee act to date. [But] apparently we are the best host country in the scenario,” she said.

The exhibition is composed of photographs, videos and posters accompanied by captions about the regions that are highlighted pictorially.

‘The idea is to home in on the big cities that are viable for newcomers’

Peter Cachola Schmal, director of German Architecture Museum (DAM) who was part of the team that took part in the Venice Biennale, said: “This exhibition looks similar to ours which we did in Venice and later in Frankfurt. The idea is to home in on the big cities that are viable for newcomers who could be coming from rural areas or other countries. In Saunders’ book his observation that in cities such as Mumbai and Sao Paulo, the neglected parts of the towns can be a starting point for incoming migrations and successful ladder [for the migrants] to climb into the middle class. If the cities do not hinder [their progress] or take them down, which is happening in the world in slum areas, you destroy the arrival city for new migrants. To acknowledge that they exist is the starting point for the new ones. There are certain things that these arrival cities can work for, and in some cases they don’t work.

“When the exhibition happened in Venice, it was the major topic in Europe. In Sept 2015 doors opened in Germany and millions came pouring into the country. Doors closed in 2016 when the show was up. The rightwing, popular forces ever since are on the rise in Europe,” said Mr Schmal.

Speaking on those who were chosen for the job, he said: “We went to look for artists who were working on these topics. In Germany, it’s the same case: the question of arrival city was never touched [which these artists have]. The common opinion was we should not have migrant borders, because it will be dangerous. Our government was trying to avoid concentrated groups of immigrants. So the policy was mix them all so there’s no one strong group.”

The exhibition –– followed by a symposium and participated by Danial Shah, Salman Alam, Zehra Nawab, Sophie Wolfrum, Jochen Becker, Joachim Baur, Sameer Nizamuddin, Zia-ur-Rehman, Hafsa Ghani and Fariha Kidwai –– is organised by the Goethe Institut and Deutsches Architekurmuseum. It will conclude on June 23.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2019