LAHORE: Over the past three days, the underground Metro bus station located at Kalma Chowk turned into a public ‘art gallery’ displaying the documentary photography works that 11 young individuals produced on the completion of a seven-month fellowship here.

The second edition of the Pakistan Photo Festival Fellowship Exhibition – from Nov 25 to 27 – was organised by the Pakistan Photo Festival showcasing photography projects on some of the most pressing social, economic, legal and human rights struggles the people of the country are faced with. The fellows were guided and mentored, online and in person, by international and national photographers.

During the three-day exhibition, commuters travelling on the Metro bus were seen stopping by to look at the photographs – a scene they weren’t used to at such a location. Some visitors took pictures in front of the displays, while others could be seen going through the text of the research collected around the themes each fellow dealt with, and displayed alongside the photographs.

The theme of Waqas Manzoor’s artwork was ‘Project Title: Poetics of Clay, Colors and Chords’, revolving around the folk toys of Punjab, and their culmination into and descent from folk literature. It also explored the experiences of the toymakers, and lineage of the craft.

Talking to Dawn, he recalled how the sound of these toys was vivid in his memory.

“I spoke to a toymaker and then located others for three months. They were initially hesitant, but I developed a bond over time and convinced them to talk. I’ve divided my project into three chapters -- the toymakers and their life stories; the craft and its future, and memories of people with these toys, folk literature and music around the toys,” the professor explained.

Filmmaker Hasan Raza’s work was titled ‘The Wall of Home’ that charted the sectarian war in Pakistan and how it affected the Turi and Bungash Shia communities of Parachinar and Kurram Agency along the Afghan border, through the life of a visual artist from childhood till now and how it’s been shaped amid the violence the region has seen. His photographs depicted the mountainous terrain of the region, the artist’s family life, the toy weapons he used to play with among others.

Corporate person Hira Munir’s auto-ethnography project, ‘Somewhere in Between’, retraced the roots of her hybrid Sindhi-Urdu family as well as other similar families that have been pushed out of their cultures and roots, through their memories, photos and stories.

“For some of us, it is like a partition after the Partition. I retraced the connections of such families with their roots through little things like how they organised and arranged their spaces at homes, cooked and presented food,” she told Dawn.

Nihal Fareed tracked four prisoners of the 1971 war for her work and depicted their survival stories and personal trauma during the imprisonment in the Bareli camp through photographs of the paintings they drew or notes they recorded in a diary.

“My grandfather himself was a prisoner of the 1971 war. For this project, I tracked down his camp mates, some of whom have died or are bedridden or sick. Despite being aged between 70 and 80 years old, some were very eloquent with vivid memories. Many have been vocal about their experiences over the years, written columns. They’re the last surviving generation.”

Festival founder Shah Zaman Baloch told Dawn why he chose to exhibit these works in a metro station. “Photography is not a very famous art or appreciated much here in Pakistan. People think it’s mostly restricted to wedding photography or some elite photographers can exhibit in galleries. We didn’t want to engage galleries as their audience belongs to a certain class. We wanted it to be at a public space where common commuters, who aren’t aware or comfortable with exclusive private spaces, can at least look at the art for whatever time they have. We want to take this art to common people so they can have some visual exposure and learn.”

He said the majority of the visitors have loved the display, as almost all have been those who haven’t been to an exhibition before. “This is just a small effort to visually train people,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2022

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