The Alchemy festival brings Pakistani culture to London

Event focuses on showing the positive side of Pakistan to a multicultural United Kingdom.

Saleha Riaz May 10, 2014
As opposed to the regular themes of violence, the festival is much more fun, it includes cricket and satire and performances of South Asian female comedians. PHOTO: PUBLICITY


The Southbank Centre in London is hosting the Alchemy festival – dedicated to bringing South Asian culture to the UK’s capital.

An entire day has been  dedicated to discussing everything in Pakistan, from its politics and satire to art and cricket. It will be curated by author Kamila Shamsie and culminate in a comedy show by Saad Haroon.

Rachel Harris, the programmer of Alchemy, echoed Haroon’s sentiments that the festival does have more of a focus on Pakistan than it did before. “We are aware that there is a certain image of Pakistan in the news and we want to show London an alternative view, the range of work and insight into the amazing creativity that comes from that part of the world,” she said.

In London, she believes, artistes from South Asia can come together in a neutral space which may not be possible otherwise. “The Southbank Centre is a cultural organisation that responds to and reflects its surrounding community, and gives people a sense of connectivity on an international level,” said Harris.

“We want the widest possible audience to attend, not just South Asians who will be familiar with some of the names featured, but also mainstream audience,” she added.

“We want to hold a mirror up to the diversity in the UK,” she said, adding that, “the idea is to do something that resonates with the communities in London.”

Commenting on the free Citizens Archive of Pakistan exhibition, Rachel said that they have an amazing repository of memories, artifacts and oral histories to which she hopes people in the UK may be able to add.

Saad will be performing his show titled Factory Life, which he has previously performed in New York.

He describes it as a one-man show with a mixture of storytelling and stand-up comedy, which focuses on his life working in his father’s textile factory, his experience returning to Pakistan after college and how he broke out of his mould of a young Pakistani born into a business family.

He wrote it keeping a non-Pakistani audience in mind, unlike his previous shows, because he wanted a show “that talks about Pakistan, but is not about terrorism.”

Speaking about Alchemy he said it is great that this time around the festival has more of a Pakistan-centric “because we do not get many opportunities to showcase our art. It always ends up being around the themes of violence, this time around the festival is much more fun, it includes cricket and satire and performances of South Asian female comedians.”

“I’m looking forward to the diversity of voices within South Asia that will come forward,” he added.

Hamza Arshad, a comedian of Pakistani descent, whose online series Diary of a Bad Man has over 50 million views on Youtube, will be performing at the festival as well and visitors will also get to see an art installation by artist Bashar Mahmood.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2014.

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NP | 6 years ago | Reply

Also, the festival is more than just movie posters, its about partition and history of pakistan, and yes pre partition pakistan was india, thus the popularity of bollywood in this country, doesnt make us fake.

Stranger | 6 years ago | Reply I prefer calling it the subcontinent's cultural festival to Pak's festival. Many of these movie posters are Pre or early-independence era.
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