By Minerwa Tahir
KARACHI: Karachi is witnessing a time when a poll undertaken by the Thomson Reuters Foundation concluded that it was the second-most dangerous city for women across the globe. Until a few days back, knife attacks were rampant here. Garbage and sewerage issues mar the city while banned religious outfits openly operate in Karachi despite heavy presence of civilian and paramilitary law enforcers. All of these issues are a reality. However, there is a group of enthusiasts who dreamt of providing the city some form of respite – their dream finally materialized in the form of Karachi Biennale 2017.
Karachi Biennale 2017, commonly known as KB17, is Pakistan’s largest international contemporary art event. It is set to take place every two years in Karachi. Over 140 artists are participating in the event, under the theme: WITNESS. In line with this theme, Karachi Biennale’s Reel On Hai project allows the public to ‘witness’. Niilofur Farukh is the managing trustee and CEO of KB17 while Amin Gulgee is the chief curator.
The Reel On Hai project was supervised by the Public Outreach Committee. Masuma Halai Khwaja is the chairperson of the committee, while her team includes Nasheed Imran, Bina Ali, Khushbu Shaukat, Ali Imani, Mohsin Sayeed, Shehzar Abro, Fatema Mandviwala, Zoya Nasir Iqbal, Safa Fareed, Ambareen Kazim Thompson and Ainee Shehzad. Pakistan Cables Pvt. Ltd was their main activity partner.
The team’s vision was to put cable reels, which are commonly seen lying on roadsides after being rendered useless once the cable is taken off, to use. After an open call to and selection of artists, these reels were recycled into artworks “to give the public space a creative vibrancy”. While the main venue of KB17 is the 160-year-old NJV School building, the reels, which have been transformed into works of art, have been installed at different public sites. One of them was also present inside the Alliance premises.
On Monday, a panel discussion was held at Alliance Francaise de Karachi on the Reel On Hai project. Designer Mohsin Sayeed, a member of the Public Outreach Committee, was moderating the event. According to him, the first reel was installed at the office of Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Orangi Town.
He shared that there were occasions when their reels were vandalized. “It was a barbaric act to steal and sell parts of the precious reels,” he said.
Sayeed then spoke about the second reel’s installation at St Patrick’s cathedral. According to him, they chose Saddar as the venue for the second installation as everyone from Karachi doesn’t go to Orangi.
This statement did not sit quite well with Aquila Ismail, an author and the sister of late Perween Rahman. She pointed out that 10% of Karachi lives in Orangi Town. “There were 300 people who came to the opening [of the reel at OPP office],” she said.
To this, Sayeed said, “Saddar represents Karachi.”
Ismail again pointed out that 10% of Karachi’s population dwells in Orangi.
“It’s not about percentage; it’s about the importance of the place,” said Sayeed. “Saddar is historic, you know. The new Karachi started from there.”
“But the diversity we see in Orangi –” said Ismail, only to be interrupted by Sayeed, who said, “Diversity of Karachi. We’ll go further.” He regained control of the conservation after that.
Later, Father Mario Rodrigues of St Patrick’s Cathedral appreciated the team’s efforts. “It was great working with the whole biennale,” he said.
Speaking on the occasion, artist Feica said that we have just begun with this kind of art in Pakistan. “In my studio, I never stop children or adults from touching my markers or other items,” he said, adding that he let children of different schools participate in the activity at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
When asked to talk about his reel, he said that his artwork will speak for itself. “Visuals cannot be explained, they have to be seen,” he said, explaining that every viewer has their own interpretation of art.
“The mischief-mongers are afraid of just one thing: peace,” he said. He then spoke about how he fixed the walls of Karachi Press Club after they were defaced by members of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah.
Another artist, Abrar Ali Qazi, was also a panelist. Talking to the audience, the National College of Arts graduate said, “[The Reel On Hai project] is an experience in the open for the locals.”
Two members of Pakistan Cables, Fahad Chinoy and Mariam, were also on the panel.