A recent exhibition at Commune Artist Colony titled Seeking Home explores and questions the idea of home, and its relation to identity through the Afghan narrative of migration and displacement. The exhibition, curated by Marvi Mazhar, featured textual, photographic and video documentary-based journalistic works by Zehra Nawab, Danial Shah and Salman Alam. The show is the Karachi chapter of a travelling German exhibition Arrival City: Making Heimat by the German Museum in Frankfurt DAM and the Goethe-Institut. The German show, which was initially exhibited at the German Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice 2016, is also part of the display here. Heimat is a German word that can most closely be translated into “home.”

The German exhibition is more of an exploration of what makes a city conducive to migrant populations and the architectural qualities that allow for a better integration of immigrants into the fabric of the city. Meanwhile, the Karachi chapter is more focused on the people and their experiences. The Karachi show is a story of displacement and longing, while the German show looks at settlement and hope. Together they create a more comprehensive picture of the migrant experience and its impact on the metropolis.

The German exhibition does this through a series of eight theses that define the characteristics of the “Arrival City”, which enable it to receive the inflow of immigrants and assimilate them adequately. Some of these terms describe how Karachi is “a city within a city”, “affordable”, “informal”, “self-built” and “a network of immigrants”, all of which facilitate the “making” of “heimat.” However, home is more of an idea or a concept, it is “what we carry within ourselves” and not necessarily the place we reside in.

An exhibition explores and questions the idea of home and its relation to the identity crisis caused by large-scale migrations

It is the Karachi Chapter that truly brings home this idea of heimat that goes beyond one’s current place of residence. We are introduced to real life stories of immigrants who were forced to leave their homes in search of a better life, and how they have built a space for themselves and later generations, yet they still yearn for home. These stories provide an insight into the marginalisation of these communities in the very place they seek to make their home.

Untitled artworks from Arrival City/Seeking Home: The Afghan Narrative
Untitled artworks from Arrival City/Seeking Home: The Afghan Narrative

Their displacement and existence in between homes lost and those acquired make the viewer ponder over the very concept of home beyond a physical space and see it as a state of mind. The idea of home as a source of comfort, shelter and security, a space we can belong to and keep returning to, is questioned. Home then becomes something more complicated: a feeling, a relationship, a memory, an idea, or point in time, something that is a part of you and your identity. For these immigrants, these unknown places of origin can represent a home more real than the home they spent their whole lives in as an outsider. Reconciling both these homes and being unable to fully acquire either is the crisis that defines their experience.

“Arrival City/Seeking Home: The Afghan Narrative” is on display at the Commune Artist Colony from June 8 till June 23, 2019

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 23rd, 2019