KARACHI: A day after the “Killing fields of Karachi” art installation was forcibly shut down by mystery men at Frere Hall, organisers of Karachi Biennale 2019 came up with a clarification on Monday, saying the exhibit was only removed because “it did not coincide with the theme of this year’s art showcase”.
The installation comprised 444 stone pillars representing victims of the infamous former Malir SSP Rao Anwar, in suspect police encounters. It also featured a short documentary involving Muhammad Khan, the father of Naqeebullah Mehsud who was allegedly killed in a fake police encounter on Anwar’s orders.
Calling it a ‘non-political’ matter, the organisers, in a statement issued here, said the exhibit in question was not compatible with the ethos of KB19 whose theme is ‘Ecology and the Environment’.
“The Karachi Biennale is a platform for artists both emerging and established. We are against censorship of art and believe that expression is very subjective to the viewers’ interpretation of the art work.
“With regards to the exhibit in question, we feel that despite the artist’s perspective, it is not compatible with the ethos of KB19 whose theme is 'Ecology and the Environment', and feel that politicising the platform will go against our efforts to bring art into the public and drawing artists from the fringe to the mainstream cultural discourse.”
Adeela Suleiman, the creator of the removed art installation, however insisted that the concept of her exhibit was completely in line with the theme of this year’s biennale. “They did not refuse the concept of my installation in the beginning because it was the ecology of violence,” she told The Express Tribune.
Mystery men shut down exhibit on ‘Karachi’s killing fields’
“You cannot separate art from politics … art is political, you cannot separate environment from politics. Does everything that goes wrong with the environment have nothing to do with politics or industrialisation? Similarly, the loss of human lives is a loss of the land and it has everything to with politics. You cannot separate any of this from politics which is why it was accepted in the first place.
“But, if they've suddenly decided otherwise then I cannot say anything.”
On Sunday, when the event opened doors to the public at around 12 noon, several cars pulled up as important-looking men swiftly climbed out and strode into the administration office after which the Frere Hall staff informed the organisers that it would have to be shut down. They asked everyone to leave the hall and padlocked the doors to the gallery.
Later, 444 stone pillars depicting the victims of suspect police encounter were demolished by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) staff for ‘being in bad taste’.
As expected the fear expressed in my vlog last night came true. The entire installation exhibition by #AdeelaSuleman at #FrereHall on #RaoAnwar was dismantled last night. Her students worked all day today to resurrect it. Part of the exhibition inside the building remains sealed pic.twitter.com/IIC87kXqu4— M. Jibran Nasir (@MJibranNasir) October 28, 2019
“We have painted with freedom on this canvas, and while art is self-expression, the theme this year did not warrant political statement on an unrelated issue, as all artists have agreed to focus on ‘Ecology and the Environment’ within the framework of cultural sensitivities.”
The statement concluded with an apologetic tone, expressing disdain towards the last minute change of plans, which were rather alarming.
“We hope the artists community will understand that our platform, as has been illustrated through our projects is purely to promote art to build a large public audience and any public event has to work within certain agreed with boundaries. To ensure a sustainable future of Karachi Biennale, it is imperative that we focus on its mandate to connect art, the city and its people.”
Nevertheless, the move may have been aimed at stopping people from seeing the installation but it backfired spectacularly as soon after the incident, it became viral on social media and people are still talking about the ‘controversial’ piece of art that had touched the nerve of powerful quarters.
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