Text | Sara Yawar
Visuals | Courtesy The News, Vasl Artist’s Association, Pro Helvetia New Delhi and Canvas Gallery
Since the emergence of the Coronavirus, the world has been thrown into a social and economic quagmire. Various industries collapsed while the lives of millions of people have crumbled under the weight of joblessness. But to focus exclusively on the art industry, which caters to a specific audience and clientele, it has perhaps suffered the most during the period of this pandemic; organizations like theatres, museums and art galleries, where opportunities have always been quite limited as compared to those of other industries, eventually shut down and people were confined to homes, hence the concept of “working from home” was introduced.
In Pakistan, where the art market is seemingly very niche, the struggle to keep various platforms functional has been nothing short of a miracle; from setting up virtual art galleries to having live talks and webinars, the Pakistani art community not only managed to keep the audience entertained but also rescued itself from languishing, since it was mostly dependent on walk-in venues instead of virtual exhibits. For example the art galleries, which mainly relied on live shows and audience for their earning, were subjected to closure but still kept their operations going by hosting virtual exhibits. Canvas Gallery which is based in Karachi launched an open call for an online show Karo-na to Corona that was supposed to be a creative response to the on-going pandemic, while Vasl Artist’s Association, which had never hosted events online also held its first ever virtual exhibit of the Taaza Tareen Artist’s Residency Program.
Vasl Artist’s Association is an initiative based in Karachi which hosts national and international artists for scholastic and artistic collaborations. For its most recent and flagship program, Vasl had to put up a virtual show which was no less than a challenge, considering that it had never invested money in its social media platform, as stated by Anosha Zia who works there as a graphic designer. This residency program, which has a duration of six weeks was stretched to twenty-six due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, hence the artists were advised to work from the security of their homes. According to Zia, paintings and sculptures were initially created for the live display but then all artworks ended up going as JPEGs on social media; for example one of the artists, who was making sculptures was unable to display his work in a live space so he ended up making digital video loops of his sculptures with dramatic camera angles and lighting.
Through such initiatives, not only has social media been mainstreamed as a source of display but this also led to the inception of virtual museums/gallery spaces. For example, Museum of Scroll is an online exhibition space which has been established during the course of this pandemic by graduates from Beaconhouse National University (BNU). After having hosted two successful exhibitions, this particular gallery not only invited fresh talent but it also gave them a platform to showcase their work, since many fresh graduates do not get opportunities to display visuals in live gallery spaces.
During this period, a project called “Home Not Alone” was launched by Pro Helvetia New Delhi which is an art initiative based in Switzerland. An art program which caters to South Asian artists, Pro Helvetia created this particular form of residency so artists can work on their respective projects while being confined to their homes, which is precisely what Fazal Rizvi intended to do after he got selected for this program. Rizvi, who is an artist based in Karachi was selected for the program for the year 2020 but because he was unable to travel, he had to work from home on “The Sherbet Project”, which was based on a recipe of a sherbet made by his late maternal aunt. In order to rediscover the recipe which was initially lost after his aunt’s demise, he attempted to recreate the drink from his memory, taking him through a nostalgic journey of the times spent with his aunt. This particular form of residency not only allowed artists to work from the comfort of their homes but it also mainstreamed the culture of artistic exchange across borders and continents, despite the distance.
However in the month of August, the first ever socially distant exhibition took place near the Sea view beach in Karachi. Curated by Amin Gulgee and Sara Pagganwala, If These Walls Could Talk comprised of a series of videos that were projected on to a wall in the parking lot of the evacuated restaurant “The Village” and people viewed these projections from the comfort of their cars. This particular display not only aimed to explore ways of exhibiting in such strange and unprecedented circumstances but it also took the viewer back to the heyday of drive-in cinemas, which might just come back into fashion.
Looking back at all these events that occurred during the course of this pandemic, what definitely comes into realization is the importance of social media. Not only did it help artists and creatives to come together on a platform but it also united people from across the world for a cause and that is, to be together in difficult times. Hopefully after this pandemic, there will be ample opportunities for emerging and established artists to showcase their work on various platforms and to be more open to exchange with each other on such universal issues and causes.
- Dorothy Wickenden, Arts and Entertainment in the Era of the Coronavirus, The New Yorker, March 26, 2020.
- Anosha Zia, Personal Interview, October 11th, 2020.
- Pro Helvetia New Delhi, Fazal Rizvi on Home-Not-Alone residency in Karachi, https://prohelvetia.in/en/fazal-rizvi-on-home-not-alone-residency-in-karachi/.
 Dorothy Wickenden, Arts and Entertainment in the Era of the Coronavirus, The New Yorker, March 26, 2020.
 Anosha Zia, Personal Interview, October 11th, 2020.
 Pro Helvetia New Delhi, Fazal Rizvi on Home-Not-Alone residency in Karachi, https://prohelvetia.in/en/fazal-rizvi-on-home-not-alone-residency-in-karachi/.