The first Karachi Biennale concluded this Sunday at the lush green lawns of Beach Luxury Hotel after two weeks of art exhibits and events that focused on arts.
The Karachi Biennale 2017 (KB17) is Pakistan’s largest international contemporary art event, and it seeks to engage the public by using art as a lens to see the city and its concerns. Global art exchange has been strengthened as the work of artists from 34 countries exhibited in Pakistan and Pakistani artist were showcased to international guests from 4 continents.
KB17 is a project of Karachi Biennale Trust (KBT), which is a group of professionals, art educators, and art enthusiasts. Art critic and cultural interventionist Nilofur Farrukh is CEO of KB17 and is also a Managing Trustee of KBT and Amin Gulgee is the Chief Curator of KB17 and a trustee of KBT, these two individuals are involved with Karachi art scene for several decades.
The two-week long programme beginning on 22nd October 2017, included exhibitions by over 160 national and international artists, educational art activities for school and colleges, tours for general visitors introducing them to the works on display, art and cultural performances at public space, a series of discursive sessions on various aspects of arts and society, film screenings were connected to witness the theme of first biennale. All exhibitions and programmes were open and free for public participations.
A reel recycled as a tea stall was inaugurated at the Karachi Zoo during this Karachi Biennale to mark the culmination of its public art project “Reel On Hai” (the largest public art project in Pakistan).
Two prizes also accompanied first Karachi Biennale 2017, which were; KB17 Mahvash & Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation “Juried Art Prize” and KB17 Shahneela & Farhan Faruqui “Popular Choice Art Prize”.
KB17 Mahvash & Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation “Juried Art Prize” was awarded to Ali Kazim at the opening ceremony and KB17 Shahneela & Farhan Faruqui “Popular Choice Art Prize” was awarded to Shahzia Sikandar at the closing ceremony of KB17. The popular award has been determined by viewer’s choice who voted for their favourite art works through secret ballot.
Two weeks of the biennale received an exciting response as visitors from all ages and backgrounds not only visited the international standard exhibitions but they also participated in discursive sessions and saw performative art at public places such as Frere Hall. Capri Cinema screened a special documentary created on this iconic cinema house of Karachi. The event sparked the imagination of the public as large groups experienced art on such large scale for the first time. Whether it was the performances at the Frere Hall, or visits to the 12 venues that were turned into art spaces across the city, the diverse audience was excited to experience culture in an open, secure, accessible and engaging environment.
The biennale is set to stay on Karachi’s public calendar, marking 2019 for its next appearance. While this year, the biennale focused on the theme “witness”, the next biennale’s theme and curator will be finalized in the upcoming months.
All over the world, the biennales – held over 100 cities so far, play an important role in connecting cities with art and highlighting its cultural character to the world. The Karachi Biennale opened a new lens to view the city through its culture, and this is particularly very important because of its recent history of violence.
The Karachi Biennale offered the Karachi public an opportunity to engage in on their visions and aspirations for the city, and found much scope for continuing this endeavour. However, organizing an event at a scale that could reach out to the 20 million population of Karachi requires support, not only in terms of resources and finances, but also a conducive and encouraging environment. The KB17 trustees hope that such support will be forthcoming from various stakeholders of the city and its communities and professionals. Citizens that have a desire to help Karachi heal from its turbulent history and regain its position as a city that celebrates culture, dialogue and public spaces.