Karachi artists reclaim city walls from hate graffiti

By AFP
Published: July 24, 2015
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A Pakistani family looks at art work on a wall on a commercial street in the southern port city of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

A Pakistani family looks at art work on a wall on a commercial street in the southern port city of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

A Pakistani family looks at art work on a wall on a commercial street in the southern port city of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: For years Karachi’s walls have been spattered with the bloodstains of murder victims and scrawled with graffiti touting everything from sectarian hatred to quack cures for erectile dysfunction.

Now a group of artists and volunteers are reclaiming the walls by painting them with cheerful designs aimed at bringing some happiness and pride back to an often violent, chaotic and corrupt city.

Pakistani artists and volunteers paint designs on a wall in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Karachi, Pakistan’s economic capital and biggest metropolis, has been swamped in recent years by a wave of extortion, murder and kidnapping — for religious, criminal, ethnic and political reasons.

Art teacher Nooryya Shaikh Nabi (R) and her daughter Gaiti Ara make the final touches to a design on a wall in the southern port city of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Those behind the new project, called “Reimaging the walls of Karachi” hope that by taking art to the streets they can bring a more positive outlook for its 20 million inhabitants.

Read: A makeover for Karachi: Artists breathe life into city’s walls, replace hate with love

“We are working together and taking back the city by reclaiming the walls which are filled with hate graffiti,” artist Norayya Shaikh Nabi told AFP while drawing an abstract of the city on a wall along a busy road.

Pakistani youths pose for photographs in front of a national flag painted on a wall in the southern port city of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Nabi, an art teacher at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, is one of 200 artists, artisans and labourers taking part in the project.

With help from the city authorities to get the permission they need, they aim to repaint walls in 1,600 different places — from warehouses to schools to flyovers and underpasses.

Pakistani pedestrians walk past a painted design on a wall in the southern port city of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistan boasts some talented young artists, but public art is rare.
Munawar Ali Syed, who is leading the team of artists, said it was a pleasure to take their work beyond the elite circles of galleries and graduate shows.

“It’s important for society to remain involved with art and music, but unfortunately such things are waning from our culture,” Syed told AFP.

Munawar Hussain, (2R) art teacher and supervisor of a wall painting project instructs his team of painters as they put the finishing touches to a design in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

“In my 17-year art practice in the galleries, I have enjoyed working here the most as I am directly communicating with my viewers.”

Under Syed’s watchful eye, a team of artists use stencils to create images of boys flying kites, donkey cart races and other images of rural life.

Pakistani artists and volunteers paint designs on a wall in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Elsewhere, flamboyant, brightly coloured paintings of peacocks and elephants have not only radically changed the feel of Karachi but have also drawn foreigners, who usually move with extreme caution around what is a volatile city.

Aside from daily murders, Karachi was hit by two major terror attacks in just over a year.

A Taliban attack on the airport left 38 people dead last year June, and in May this year gunmen slaughtered 45 Shias on a bus. It was the first attack in Pakistan to be claimed by the Islamic State group.

The project’s coordinator Adeela Suleman said she was delighted the work had brought a “less hostile” look

Schoolchildren have also been made part of the project, in the hope of shifting a sense of ownership of the city and its appearance on to the younger generations.

“We included younger people so they can carry this work on further,” said Nabi, as she worked with her teenage daughter on a wall.

Read: Becoming an artist: ‘Promotion of art can change Karachi’

“When they grow up they will feel that they are comfortable in sort of working for the city — this is like planting a seed to the next generations.”

The artists hope the project will subtly change people’s behaviour after years of violence, softening them a little.

“I believe that this will yield good results in the long term,” Syed said.
“When you see positive things around you so your behaviour becomes positive and a big change comes along in one’s life.”

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Hyder
    Jul 24, 2015 - 11:46AM

    IncredibleRecommend

  • Shafaq
    Jul 24, 2015 - 1:33PM

    Xcellent idea!……Great work.Recommend

  • Asif
    Jul 24, 2015 - 2:30PM

    Great initiative… Allllaaaa !!!!Recommend

  • HDI
    Jul 24, 2015 - 2:38PM

    great stuff; so proudRecommend

  • Jul 24, 2015 - 3:19PM

    Go Karachi Go!!!!!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • maria
    Jul 24, 2015 - 11:25PM

    This is so good…. me too wants to do something for my country…… Pakistan needs people like u guys….. keep the good work Recommend

  • Ridwan
    Jul 25, 2015 - 1:03AM

    I absolutely love this! Even western media is picking up on this story! Finally, some good images from pakistan.Recommend

  • Shabir Jatoi
    Aug 3, 2015 - 12:34AM

    Love Karachi….
    Kindly don’t forget to paint historic places of Pakistan like Moen Jo Daro, Taxla, Makli hills, Tharr desert, panj aab(five rivers) and Indus river.
    Mountains like KK, and kheerthar, and lakes of Pakistan.

    So nice of yoy guys.
    ThanksRecommend

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