The Year of the Karachi Biennale

“Artists with passion have always reimagined the world to inspire fresh beginnings with hope. Sadequain communicated through public murals, Bashir Mirza furthered the discourse with the first art magazine and Rabia Zuberi founded the longest running art school. They and other stalwarts of Modernism, like Ismail Gulgee, Ali Imam, Anna Molka Ahmed and Shakir Ali, offered a cultural insight to the people of a young country, learning to be a nation.” (Niilofur Farrukh)

The year 2017 proved to be a very exciting time for art enthusiasts. There were outstanding exhibitions from the city’s art galleries, work of well-known artists of earlier years, who proved once again how they deserved our admiration; as well as young, up-and-coming talents that were much appreciated.

Artists painted giant spindles in various places, a very successful adventure, and the VM Art Gallery showed an exhibition of artwork of Pakistan’s masters, a collection originally belonging to Wahab Jaffer, with the intention of furnishing a future Museum of Art in Karachi.

New galleries were opened in the city, a brilliant show of the late Imran Mir’s work was displayed at the Mohatta Palace, and various organisations recognised the work of artists, writers and curators with awards.

The Biennale, two years in the making, created great excitement and enjoyment, with the chief curator Amin Gulgee, who put together a great curatorial team. There were participants from Lahore; the distinguished man of the arts, Jamal Shah came from Islamabad and put up a great performance event at Frere Hall. One met Masood Kohari visiting from France, a distinguished team of museum and curators from the UK, and the Professor who wrote the first book on art and artists in Pakistan, Dr Marcella Nesom Sirhandi.

The event started off at the NJV Government Higher Secondary School, where artists from various places greeted each other warmly and caught up with their news. Throughout the event, one was aware of the warmth, friendship and happiness of the artists’ meeting. It reminded one of the early days in Karachi, without galleries, when artists met and painted together in various places, often at the artist Ahmed Saeed Nagi’s studio, and appreciated each other’s work.

During the welcome address, artist Ali Kazim from Lahore was awarded the prize by a team of judges for his amazing ceiling based structure made from hair, part of the display shown at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. His name was called out to resounding applause. There were several original pieces on view, including a beautiful embroidered carpet by David Alesworth, whose work was appreciated at the V and A Museum, London in the Jameel annual event. There were many interesting artworks to be seen at the NJV including an art piece by Anum Jamal, whose work was at the same time displayed at the Coventry Biennale, UK, from where she earned a Master’s Degree.

After welcome speeches, the visitors toured the large NJV building to view the numerous art works on display. The most talked of was the classroom where, seated at each desk were puppets that stood up when the door opened and sat down again when it closed. Meher Afroz had created an interesting structure and there was much to see and admire.

VM Art Gallery also showed some unusual and beautiful artworks, and the most enjoyable afternoon was spent attending a talk by Dr Marcella, who is an authority on Pakistan’s early artists and miniature painters. A film was shown with images of A.R. Chughtai’s marvelous work, on which Dr Marcella is an authority.

Other venues included Karachi School of Art, the wonderful Sadequain Gallery at the State Bank Museum, Fomma Art Centre, Capri Cinema, Pioneer Book House, Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Art Gallery at Alliance Francaise. There one saw a very beautiful digital film by Shahzia Sikander. It was announced at the closing event of the Biennale, that Shahzia’s work was awarded the Popular Public vote of the most outstanding piece in show, and with that announcement, a volley of claps and cheers rang out. It was heartening to recognise that the generosity of the audience is the true mark of an artist.

The year ended with the works of Najmi Sura at the Momart Art Gallery, and the inauguration of the Jamil Naqsh Museum in Defence Phase 7, Karachi. •