Aiming high: Karachi Biennale to put city on global art map

The Express Tribune looks at the event slated for last quarter of 2017.

Minerwa Tahir February 28, 2016
The Express Tribune looks at the event slated for last quarter of 2017. PHOTO:

KARACHI: Karachi Biennale, a mega art event slated for the last quarter of 2017, is all set to bring art out of galleries and living rooms, and into the public sphere to put the city on the global art map.

Freelance digital artist Atteqa Malik, a member of the executive council of the Karachi Biennale, told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview that the event, scheduled to start in November or December next year, would connect the city to the prestigious global biennale circle.

The Karachi Biennale is part of the British Council's biennale circle, in which they aim to partner Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan with three cities in the United Kingdom.

The council has decided to twin the Karachi Biennale with the one in Manchester for an exchange of artists and dialogue. The event is being organised by the Karachi Foundation for the Arts.


"Basically, we are hoping that the people of Karachi are going to fund it," said Malik. "In this country, there is no government support for art and culture. So, whatever funds are needed will have to be generated either through corporate sponsorship or individual, private [or international] donors."

She explained that many people would contribute in different ways. "We have a fundraising committee," she said, adding that "The amount of funds we get will determine how big or small this event will be."


The theme of the event, as described by art critic and the biennale's executive council member Niilofur Farrukh in her statement on the thematic focus of the biennale, is 'witness'. "When an artist, as a witness, becomes the author of a counter-narrative to resist erasure and misrepresentation, a visual space of defiance is created," she writes, adding that the biennale would "explore the idea of revitalising the city by strengthening its spirit of resilience and give agency to the audience as participants in this act of reclamation".

We expect 20% participation of international artists at the event, she said.


According to Malik, the whole idea of biennale is to engage Karachi with art. "Usually in Karachi, there are some excellent artists and art has got a very good market value. But it's all inside galleries. So, we want to bring art out of the galleries [and] into public spaces and have everyone interact with it. We want to expand the art audience to at least 20% of [the total population of] Karachi."

Citing the examples of Huma Mulji and Imran Qureshi, she said there are a number of Pakistani artists who are known internationally but have not been exposed to the Pakistani audience.

She believes that the biennale would help residents engage such artists. "A very select few get to see their works in the galleries. It would be interesting to see how the public responds to their work, because internationally they get rave reviews."

Another salient objective of the event is to put Karachi on the global art map. Malik explained that with organising the event every two years, Karachi's art scene would get worldwide recognition.

She does not think that it would happen immediately after the first biennale, but she hopes that with repeated events, Karachi would demarcate its territory on the international art map. "Maybe we will start getting more international visitors. For example, I just returned from [the] Dhaka [art summit]. All the hotels were full; all the venues were booked. It was all because of that event. They got a lot of foreign publicity. So, this is one of our long-term goals after it becomes a regular thing."

The final objective of the Karachi Biennale is to change the city's perception. She said "If you talk to anyone who doesn't live in Karachi, they think that - which is true to a certain extent - there is a lot of violence, unforgiving people and terrorism. But that's not all that happens [here]. And Karachi's people are very strong and resilient. They always get up and carry on."

Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th,  2016.


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