Text | Sara Yawar
Visuals | Courtesy of Team IPAF
The International Public Art Festival 2019 was inaugurated on the 14th of March at the Karachi Port Trust (KPT). Organized by I AM KARACHI (IAK) and being the first ever of its kind in Pakistan, this event was curated by Amin Gulgee, Zarmeene Shah and Sara Pagganwala. KPT opened its office to public for the first time in over a 100 years for this exhibition given the title of ‘The Quantum City: Territory | Space | Place’. This exhibition sought to address the spatial dynamics of the great metropolitan city of Karachi, taking inspiration from the Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopias, an idea which links incompatible places such as museums, libraries, ships, theatres etc. to form an alternate reality in which they are brought together on one platform. The curators also mentioned Foucault’s theory of the mirror; a space, which is not only created through reflection – but has the quality of containing and building on its own as well.
Observing Karachi through the lens of these theories, a series of performances and art works were put on display at KPT within cargo containers by various designers, performers and artists to shed light upon the chaotic and happening metropolis. Around fifty artists exhibited their work with a fascinating variety in medium, scale and color palette, using the container spaces as a platform to address individual concerns and which also happens to be the highlight of Karachi’s landscape.
To start off with moving visuals, there were some eye grabbing video artworks on display like Babar Sheikh’s installation piece titled ‘The New Wave’, which comprised of videos being projected on different layers of hanging cloth. The videos playing were of a performance piece conducted back in the year 2013 by the artist, which consisted of human activity happening on various balconies of old buildings; old buildings and neighborhoods being an integral part of Karachi’s landscape. On the other hand, Omer Wasim had also installed video projections suspended in mid-air within the container space. Comprising of forest imagery with sounds in the background, these projections were perhaps a reflection upon the queer encounters that take place within such spaces as the artist’s previous body of work discussed the queer characteristics of forests and plants. Zeerak Ahmed’s video projections titled ‘Aloud’ showed the artist singing out notes from the base, chest, nose, throat and head to discover these spaces within her body. Not only were her visuals interactive but they also make one wonder about the energies that stem from within these spaces, rather meditative energies residing within one’s body.
Performance art was perhaps the second highlight of this exhibition. Acted out by multiple artists, the performances were not only intense but also, highly interactive. Rameez Rehman’s performance piece ‘Rung’ consisted of the artist lying down amongst the moving crowd in a mold, which was studded in colorful glass pieces. While on the other hand Muzzumil Raheel’s performance comprised of people dressed in black, supporting umbrellas above random observers. However, this performance broke the boundary of unfamiliarity between the performer and the viewer, despite intruding each other’s space.
Maha Minhaj’s performance, which was titled ‘Lover’, depicted her sitting, draped in a saree and listening to music through a pair of headphones, almost in a trance-like state. During certain intervals, the artist would break out of her state and offer an earplug to the viewer, redefining her position as an object in the center of the crowd. Munawar Ali Syed’s performance ‘Gasping-II’ was another daring performance in which the artist was enclosed in a large cellophane bag, with a bull’s head pulled over his own head. He was shown ripping out pages from books and piling them within his space, possibly a criticism upon the educational system, which restricts individual growth.
Some other interesting art works on display included Seher Naveed’s painted cum sculptural container within a container space, possibly reflecting upon the object as a barrier as it has been used frequently since the past for blockades to restrain (incite) political instability. On the other hand, Humayun Memon had made a photomontage captioned ‘These Three Streets’ which comprised of various layers of streets present in Karachi city. Sohail Zuberi’s visuals comprised of rocks with images from all over Karachi transferred onto them. With the rocks having an uneven surface, they were possibly picked up from construction sites and could be symbolizing the rapid urbanization in Karachi.
This exhibition was not only put on display to show the diverse activity and culture of Karachi but it was a way to reclaim the city from politics and barriers and for people to move and address themselves freely on a public platform. This will hopefully encourage people of Karachi to serve the city better and motivate them to appreciate art in Pakistan.