Collaborative practices in art date back to avant-garde movements in the early 20th century such as Futurism, Dadaism and Situationism, during which artists began to challenge the sole command of the artworks in influencing/guiding its viewers. These experimental artists demonstrated burgeoning attention to their art-making process and interaction with materials, not as the means to an outcome but as an end product itself.
The shift in their practice and how they negotiate with materials expanded the parameters of art to include more genres, mediums and techniques. This expansion consequentially merged with other historic movements which called for collective resistance and counter-cultures to achieve social, political or economic agendas. Even today, working collectively is interpreted as a form of resistance to the cliched ideal of the individual genius, but the impetus behind artist collectives has a long-standing history.
Several artists, nowadays, focus on relationship-building and socio-political organising rather than ‘producing’ or ‘object-making’. To achieve these goals, artists have begun to collaborate not only with each other but also with professionals engaged in multiple disciplines, whose backgrounds and approaches contribute to the collective assets of the group.
In simple terms, artist collectives are small groups of artists who work together towards shared aims. This trend is now beginning to be documented for its significant imprint in art-making and art history. The last couple of decades witnessed an emergence of several such collectives in Pakistan that follow the same ideology of exchanging ideas, shifting premises and operating in the interest of a socially conscious society.
Mandarjazail Collective was established in 2016 by graduates of Karachi’s Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. It consists of photographers, filmmakers, textile and graphic designers, architects and artists who aim to blur the boundaries between art, design and craft. The artists use this platform to express themselves without the pressure of commercialism and production, while exchanging ideas amongst themselves — an opportunity they felt deprived of by being confined to their own disciplines during the four years of their formal education.
Artist collectives celebrate and support the creative community by working together towards common goals
Originating in India, The Pind Collective is an online Indo-Pak collaborative that showcases stories of Partition and of our shared identity. The young artists who are part of the group are poets, dancers, actors and painters, often using those mediums to respond to each other’s art. Their projects strongly resonate today in a time when the diplomatic conditions between the two countries are tense and hostile.
The Awami Art Collective in Lahore brought together artists, academics, and activists in 2015 whose primary focus was to engage citizens in a dialogue to address violent extremism through public art. Any art that is placed outside a gallery space has the potential to influence and educate the masses, and the Awami Art Collective acts as a catalyst to promote peaceful co-existence and celebrate diversity amidst the growing prejudice in the city.
Founded in 2011, The Tentative Collective also stresses on the importance of free public space. They display art that engages with the community at large by including those from different strata of society such as domestic workers, fishermen and housewives.
Other recently formed collectives include YAR — Young Artists Republic — a group of creative enthusiasts who use both the digital platform and a print magazine to draw attention to their thought-provoking ideas, in order to disseminate knowledge and bring change.
The creative process of collaborative projects gives artists the opportunities to initiate a dialogue that socially and politically disrupt dominant, heteronormative and aberrant cultures. The all-women collective Pak Khawateen Painting Club debuted in the 2020 iteration of the Lahore Biennale, with a project that subverted masculinity by confronting infrastructural projects such as dams and barrages that were mainly spearheaded by men of authority.
The advantages of joining an artist collective are many. Apart from increased exposure, artists gain a formative, professional experience. Well-reputed collectives across the world have created ripples in the global art scene and in their respective societies. They are invited to participate in international exhibitions and biennales, or even be assigned as curators. By joining or establishing a collective, artists can not only activate the public, but also reap the benefits that are otherwise inaccessible through their individual practice.
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 14th, 2020