Outsiders a collaborative exhibition of Pakistan and German artists

Issue | 42
Text | Shanzay Subzwari
Visuals | Courtesy Goethe Institute Karachi


It’s always interesting to see an exciting collaboration between different nations when it comes to various forms of entertainment and culture. In April, Germany collaborated with Pakistan on the art scene when the Goethe-Institut (facilitated by Stefan Winkler), in collaboration with Amin Gulgee Gallery showcased ‘Outsiders’, an exhibition consisting of a curated series of events that spanned a few days, and presented works of artists from both countries together.

Even more interestingly, the theme revolved around subcultures; a group of people within a culture that differentiates itself from its parent culture, and that often develops its own norms and values regarding cultural, political and sexual dogmas. From Germany, the ‘Brilliant Dilletantes’ subculture of 1980s Berlin and across Germany was displayed, curated by Mathilde Weh and Leonhard Emmerling. From Pakistan, Amin Gulgee, Zarmeene Shah and Zeerak Ahmed curated the display of the Pakistani works and ensured a dialogue between them.

The Pakistani display posed as a response to the German exhibition, and explored notions of sub/counter-culture in the country from the 1970s to the present day in a myriad of forms; executed in a number of mediums. The Amin Gulgee Gallery was a humdrum of activity as one could hear and see a flurry of works and sounds overlapping and in conversation with one another, enriched also by the performances taking place simultaneously.

Upon entering the space and beginning to view the works, I suddenly heard a raucous laugh. With my curiosity piqued, I saw a crowd gathered around a table, witnessing curators Amin Gulgee and Zarmeene Shah in white, engaged in what seemed to be a casual game of chess. However, a closer look revealed an abstract game being played with large custom-made bronze pieces. The fact that this was a performance (titled ‘Duchamp is dead’) would be given away when Gulgee would suddenly erupt in his loud, chilling guffaw that uncomfortably went on for longer than expected. The performance evoked power-play, of an evil King and Queen deciding, via casual yet complicated maneuvers, which countries to attack next.

In an adjacent room, a myriad of paintings adorned the walls by artists who choose to break norms and subvert narratives, such as the late Asim Butt, Anwar Saeed, Iqbal J. Geoffrey and Tapu Javeri. In the same room, were lined a series of video installations that were all-too familiar, and fun to watch. Controversial, notorious and fun social media starlets and stars such as Qandeel Baloch, Noor Un Nahar and Areeba Un Nahar, the Kit Kat talcum powder man, and Meera Jee’s interview could be seen on various screens. Ammad Tahir’s piece ‘NA 21’, where he convincingly plays Benazir Bhutto as he relays a speech to his viewers was also notable. These examples of Pakistani counter culture were very current, accessible and familiar to today’s generation. In the same room, performance artist Sara Pagganwala could be seen donning what looked like a fat suit, reminiscent of what a sumo wrester would look like, but which was also largely ambiguous. In an interview with Art TV Pakistan, Pagganwala stated, “This piece is about how saturated we’ve become…it’s like we are bursting, there’s so much. It’s like the anarchy of art, or the anarchy of life”, perhaps referring to the overload of information by the media, and also of people’s opinions and judgments that one has to deal with on a daily basis.

In another room, an interesting piece consisted of a series of 4 prints by Emaan Mahmoud, titled Halal, Champa, Phatyma and Tim. One could see the artist in four different garbs on various art magazine covers (all fictional, created by her). The pieces were satirical and hilarious and reminded the viewer of her entertaining blog that deals with the elitism and pretentiousness of the art world. Further ahead, one could see a compilation of snippets from Pakistani films of the 70s and 80s, more so scenes with female protagonists embracing the screen.

From Germany, there were a number of works and performances that displayed their subculture, with panel discussions by Robert Lippok, member of the legendary East German band Ornament und Verbrechen, and Wolfgang Burat, German photographer and co-founder of the legendary German music magazine Spex, who photographed bands, musicians, fans, live gigs, backstage situations and artists in the 80s. With his work on display in the exhibition, Burat also offered a talk and a workshop on photography at Habib University.

Filmmaker Marco Wilms show cased his film “Comrade Couture”, which gave viewers a peek into the lives of fashionistas and Bohemians of East Berlin in the 80s. The film provided an interesting glimpse into the past when the Berlin Wall still existed, and where within East Germany’s restricted everyday life was a fantasy world that Wilms was a part of, as a model at GDR’s fashion institute. Wilms also offered a three-day workshop titled ‘Guerilla Filmmaking’.

With various film screenings capturing 1980s Berlin, Outsiders also showcased sound performances by Robert Lippok, Rudoh and Alien Panda Jury atop Amin Gulgee Gallery, with people dancing along and enjoying the music – also a first, in a country where not many foreign artists and musicians visit to perform. An interesting initiative, this collaboration between Pakistan and Germany brought to the table how our similarities and differences unite us together, and provided viewers with an array of unique, subversive practices to reflect.

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