In 2012, I started working on social development projects in Machhaira Colony, also known as Machhar Colony, and began to engage with the children and youth in the community.
Machhar Colony is an informal settlement in Karachi of about 800,000 people, next to the harbour and near the old settlement of Lyari. Sixty-five percent of its residents are ethnic Bengalis, most of whom are connected to the occupation of fishing.
Over time, my fascination with any initiative that involved young people in a creative process, allowing them to express their lives through art, grew. Among these community-driven endeavours, the Machhar Colony Facebook page stood out for me. I became increasingly curious about the individuals working behind the scenes to make this initiative a reality.
Driven by my curiosity, I reached out by sending a message to the contact number listed on the page, requesting a meeting with the individuals responsible for this interesting project. Three young men accepted my invitation and made their way to my field office. Qasim Ali was one of them.
In our initial meeting, it became evident that, while the other two were talkative and communicative, Qasim was a man of few words. However, I was keen to delve into the depths of their project, urging them to share their motivations, and the hows and whys of running a social media page dedicated to their community.
Photographer Qasim Ali provides a poignant and insider’s glimpse into the daily life, joys and struggles of the residents of Karachi’s Machhaira Colony. Eos presents a selection of images of a marginalised community, as seen by a member of that community…
Through our discussions, I came to discover that Qasim was the visionary behind the project, serving as its primary manager. As time passed, I had multiple interactions with Qasim, but it was during his tenure as an art teacher for Imkaan Welfare Organisation’s summer art program that I truly got to know him better. Those ensuing months were marked by sheer joy for the children, as Qasim transformed the art classes into spaces of freedom, expression and unadulterated joy.
Qasim Ali — affectionately known as DJ Qasim — was born in Machhar Colony’s vibrant and dynamic neighbourhood. From an early age, he exhibited an innate talent for the arts and, today, he stands as a self-taught artist, photographer and aspires to make his mark as a DJ remix producer.
Qasim’s artistic journey began with a childhood fascination for cartoons. He learned to draw by immersing himself in the details of animated creations. Through diligent observation and practice, he honed his artistic skills, showcasing an early dedication to his craft. This self-driven approach laid the foundation for his future endeavours as an artist, which can be seen in his skill as a photographer. His passion for music mirrors his dedication to art — a commitment to self-improvement and an unquenchable thirst for creative expression.
His life story is not just about personal growth through challenging circumstances but also about his commitment to improving his community and his dreams of exploring the world through his artistic lens.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Qasim’s life is his unwavering commitment to making arts and education accessible to the children in his community. Machhar Colony, like many underprivileged communities, faces its share of challenges — specifically because a large percentage of the community faces issues obtaining identity documents, leaving children out of school.
However Qasim believes in the transformative power of art and education. As an Imkaan Youth Leader, he has taken it upon himself to be a beacon of inspiration for the youth in his neighbourhood, fostering creativity and learning through his art.
Through his Facebook platform, Qasim shares his photographs, capturing the essence of life in his community. These poignant images, unsullied by an outsider’s gaze, provide a unique window into the daily lives, struggles, and triumphs of the people who call Machhar Colony home.
Qasim Ali is a photographer and artist based in Machhar Colony. His work can be viewed on both Instagram and Facebook at @macharcolonyofficial
Tahera Hasan is a lawyer and the founder-director of Imkaan Welfare Organisation. X:@taherahasan
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 24th, 2023