The success of any artwork largely depends on the reaction of its viewers, for what is art if not a surveyor of the present time. To truly gauge its success, the work must escape the safety of the gallery and make itself known to the real world. In recent years, this has been made possible by several organisations, one of which is ‘I AM KARACHI’, a movement aimed at redefining the cultural fabric of the city through various social interventions. Recently, the organisation inaugurated its second iteration of the International Public Art Festival (IPAF) at the historic Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw (NED) University, situated in the heart of Karachi.
The university is one of the oldest institutes in Pakistan and, therefore, a fitting space for the IPAF to explore its current theme, ‘Karachi Ki Khoj: (Re)defining the Metropolis’. Through the curatorial efforts of Sohail Zuberi and assisted by Humayun Memon and Ali Rezza Dossal, the works of various international and local artists illuminated the grounds of the university through the week-long exhibition.
The artworks exhibited in the university’s courtyard and classrooms, blend into the building’s rich and cultural aesthetic. Similar to the beckoning of a fictitious siren, the sound installation of Wajiha Ather Naqvi, placed near the entrance of the compound, invites the audience to draw closer. With recordings of familial sounds of worship from multiple religions, sects and denominations that played from two attached speakers, the onlooker is presented with an aural experience of the diversity of the city.
Further exploring that multiplicity are the canvases of Sarmad Hashmi, which invite visitors to colour the printed drawings in their unique ways, thereby producing a collaborative final outcome by the week’s end. The meticulously curated photography section explores the distinctive aspects of Karachi. Zoral Khurram Naiq presents a deeply personal investigation in to the fire stations and fire fighters of the city. His works unearth the challenges these men face because of lack of water or safety equipment.
This year’s International Public Art Festival illuminates Karachi’s NED University with a diverse range of untold stories
Heartfelt series by Saadat Ali follows the private lives of young men of the Hazara community who left their tumultuous hometown, Quetta, for education opportunities in Karachi. Haider Ali’s metallic line drawings mimic the works of residents he met while en-route the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine and the surrounding urban developments.
Dismantling infrastructures into basic line-work are the paintings of Seher Naveed that look beyond the excessive use of concrete within the city. They explore the tones, forms and repetitions that occur within these architectural structures. The upstairs placement of Naveed’s work gives the audience a stimulating vantage point to view Seema Nusrat site-specific installation. Using the iconic yellow-and-black tones found on barricades placed all over the city, Nusrat paints structures onto the university’s façade, reminding her viewers of the levels of obstruction and security measures they are forced to endure and internalise, and the lack of control they have over their present environment.
Lastly, Sheema Khan and Noman Siddiqui’s intricately drawn clay works map iconic sites of the city, retelling viewers of its beauty.
Exhibitions such as these are much needed in Pakistan, where constant turmoil and divide pose continuous threat. The event brings together a diverse group of artists and viewers alike, and reminds them of the power of their own voices, and the strength one can find in togetherness.
“Karachi ki Khoj: (Re)defining the Metropolis” was exhibited at NED University city campus from February 7 to February 16, 2020
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 1st, 2020