February 02, 2020


Hand-embroidered installation at the Lahore Fort, Khadim Ali / Temporary Situations I, Anwar Saeed
Hand-embroidered installation at the Lahore Fort, Khadim Ali / Temporary Situations I, Anwar Saeed

The Lahore Biennale Foundation (LBF) is a non-profit organisation that collaborates with international partners and government bodies to support art projects across Pakistan. It facilitated the first ever Lahore Biennale (LBO1) in 2018, and has now organised LB02, which is yet again a mega art event with more than 70 artists contributing their work from January 26 to February 29, 2020. Curated by Hoor Al-Qasimi, the director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, LB02 brings forth an ambitious, yet thoughtful array of creative discourse from around the globe.

The LB02’s theme — “Between the Sun and the Moon” — evokes a cosmic, universal approach to humankind. It promises to embrace diversity and indicates the desire for harmony, as opposed to the polarisation rampant in our contemporary social and political narratives. More specifically, it focuses on the ‘Global South’ and its inspiration is drawn from “the intellectual and cultural exchanges between South and West Asia”.

Not only social and political crises, but also climate change and its impact on the human predicament, are part of the stated concerns of the LB02. The narrative appears to be deeply reflective, almost mystical. Visitors can also expect the richness of diversity, as artists from more than 30 locations, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan, the UAE, Turkey, Sudan, Lebanon, Palestine, Morocco, Kuwait, Ethiopia, Argentina, Syria, Tunisia, Cyprus, Damascus, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Uganda, Sudan, the Netherlands, Paris, Canada, Los Angeles, New York, the UK, Australia, Berlin and Russia have been invited. Paintings, sculptures, installations, videos and even online public programming are part of the endeavour. Venues include The Punjab University, the National College of Arts, the Punjab Institute of Language and Culture, The Lahore Museum, Tollington Market, Mubarak Haveli, the Naqsh School, Summer Palace, the Lahore Fort, the Alhamra Art Centre, the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium, the PIA Planetarium, the Irrigation Department and the Pak Tea House. Assorted collateral events are also a part of the mega month-long event.

Lahore Biennale 02 is expected to open new possibilities for interactive discourse, collaboration and critical thinking

While Lahoris are fortunate to have this creative endeavour spread out in its midst, an event such as LB02 tends to have elitist overtones, even though this may not be intentional. The inaugural events, as in LB01, had a very select audience and security concerns further detracted from the mobility of the invitees. The more important aspect, however, that needs addressing, however, is the rather weak link with the common public in terms of communicating the meaning and essence of this large-scale endeavour. Both social media as well as the electronic media could be better used to reach out to people from all walks of life.

Interestingly, however, the ethos of the event also comes across as an opportunity for individuals to get out of their comfort zones and to explore ‘old Lahore’ in a new context. Whether it is the Lahore Fort, Mubarak Haveli or the Pak Tea House, or even venues such as the PIA Planetarium, one does indeed marvel at the ingenuous use of these historically rich venues. Some of the collateral events are particularly engaging, such as the one at the old Plaza Cinema, and another in the outskirts of Lahore, in a private studio near a brick kiln.

The new commissions for LB02 explore the core theme in a variety of contexts and mediums. For example, an immersive multimedia installation by Almagul Menlibayeva from Kazakhstan is inspired by Timurid ruler and astronomer Sultan Ulugh Beg, while a film by Alia Farid, from Kuwait, is shot in the alluvial plains of the Indus River and explores humanity’s multidimensional relationship with animals and the environment.

Taus Makhacheva, a Russian artist, has displayed bronze sculptures depicting 12 fictional female characters, each accompanied by sound and poetry by women writers. From Pakistan, the Pak Khawateen Painting Club has ventured into a study of traditional and modern distribution of water for irrigation and urban purposes, and policies of colonial and post-colonial hydrology. While installations as a medium seem to dominate the creative discourse, there are also sensitive displays of drawings and paintings by various artists, including Ali Kazim, Mudasar Rashdi and Anwar Saeed which explore the dominant narrative of the LB02.

A mammoth event such as LB02 is one that opens new possibilities for interactive discourse and critical thinking. Whether amongst the artists from diverse backgrounds or citizens of the host country, the meeting of minds through creative discourse does provide an opportunity to bring together people in a positive way. However, how all this reaches out in a more meaningful way to the common citizen, in a country where both economic and intellectual polarisation is rampant, is a challenge that needs more introspection. Educating audiences through the media or engaging art educators who can reach out to the public and help enrich the viewing of art, may be helpful in making such mega events inclusive in a mindful way.

“Lahore Biennale 02” is being displayed across cultural and heritage sites throughout Lahore from January 26 to February 29, 2020

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 2nd, 2020