Right to the City: Travel Guide to Karachi is not a typical guide book that could tell people what and where to eat or shop where to stay or stay away from etc. It features the illustrated narratives of five visual artists namely Bani Abidi Roohi Ahmed Manizhe Ali Seher Naveed and Sara Khan as well as Shayan Rajani a PhD student in History. The guide' reveals aspects of what makes one of the most populated cities of the world Karachi a booming yet polarized city.
For Nukta-e-Nazar the participating artists and curator were interviewed via email by Rumana Husain Senior Editor of NuktaArt for further insights into their selection and the process of this curated publication that ....allows the city to emerge as humanized and lived spaces of sociality and struggle" .
It may be of interest to the readers that Rajani also plans to hold city tours with the artists in Karachi. Viewing the city in the company of one or more of these artists wearing a different set of lens would add much value to the experience.
As its Curator and Editor tell us something about why and how the Right to the City: Travel Guide to Karachi project came about
Shahana Rajani (SR) :Being based in Vancouver for the past two years made me want to explore global circulations of art and find ways of connecting artists/art practices/spaces of the cities of Karachi and Vancouver at two opposite ends of the world. Unlike exhibitions which are fixed in space and confined to a particular audience print and digital mediums offer great mobility. They can circulate and translate in a variety of spatial scales reaching networks on local national and international levels.
It will be interesting to learn about the process and preferences involved in connection with the selection of the six artists who have worked on this guide. Also tell us about the first chapter and the 'Top Attractions' of the city in it as well as the vignettes chosen to describe them.
SR: All the artists who are part of this project have a strong investment in explorations of the socio-spatiality of Karachi. They have embodied practices that resist abstractions and generalizations of Karachi and its spaces. Shayan Rajani is the only one who is not trained as an artist but is rather a historian. The historical connections that he makes adds an important dimension to the project.
I wanted to use a mock format that closely followed the Baedeker/Lonely Planet. For this reason it was necessary to include an introduction to the city rather than jumping straight into the artists' chapters. The "Timeline of Karachi" became an opportunity for subversion a selective retelling of history. It highlights Karachi's multi-cultural histories its transnational connections that predated British colonialism colonial exploitation the US patronage of Afghan insurgents and repercussions of that.
The "Top Attractions" were drawn from travel websites like Trip Advisor and the quotations used were directly inspired from travellers' reviews on these websites. The attractions are intentionally quite random - an inconclusive and fragmentary compendium. Atrium Mall and the Fountain are symbols that convey compulsions of the Karachi planners to create strong narratives around modernity progress and development. Some quotations used are simply bizarre such as those for the Zoo and Mohatta while others totally ordinary.
In the Curatorial Essay you write about the British employing two principal gazes: the scientific and the aesthetic picturesque to look at India as its colonial masters and "as an existential formula for viewing territory where unseen horrors might lurk such as poverty famine or squalor which often confronted the European traveller in colonial India".
In comparison how would you describe these artists' gazes who are all essentially tied to Karachi's umbilical cord either by birth or because of some other necessity such as work.
SR: Representation is always an elite production whether it is colonial travel guides or contemporary Lonely Planet. By producing our own representations of Karachi we are also implicated in the privileged act of representation. Our aim was to make visible alternate realities and geographies that contest the mainstream by claiming the right to represent our city more after our heart's desires. We were aware that this act of "representing" implicated us in that which we were opposing. However we needed to use resources which were inevitably impure in an attempt to turn power against itself to produce alternative political modalities.
How has the Travel Guide been received and how are you disseminating it
SR: The Travel Guide is disseminating in Vancouver through 221A in Toronto through Art Metropole and in Karachi through T2F. The book was published in an edition of 300 copies only.
As one of the contributors to the Travel Guide to Karachi please share some brief information about your respective interests in the city of Karachi links and investments in the city through research and/or practice and why you chose certain areas.
Seher Naveed : Shahana initiated this project as part of an on-going effort to address and destabilize the rhetoric of the resilient city. The popularized notion of rapid resumption of day-to-day routines in the midst of recurring violence has enabled a recoding of a chronically violent divided city into the celebrated resilient city." Each artist was to create one chapter in the travel guide and the compilation would allow a juxtaposition of distinctively different methods practices and points of reference within the city.
Interested in maps manuals travel guides and the city I was enthralled to be one of the artists to collaborate in the project. I feel that while the gallery is an imperative space to encourage dialogs through exhibitions as a book this project affirms an unusual more dynamic kind of dispersal. It serves as a hand-carry gallery where viewers are not viewing the city within the walls of a gallery but can take the book with them while making their own journeys into various spaces.
Inspired by a conversation I had with a shop owner of Zainab Market in Karachi (once a tourist shopping hub) about the rapid decrease in tourism due to security concerns - and collecting the crimes and miscellaneous maps of Karachi published daily in the Express Tribune newspaper I based my research on the year the city experienced the most number of terrorist attacks.
The idea was to identify the locations where the blasts occurred and mirror-image or flip these sites on the map of Karachi. The new sites were then going to be the discourse for my chapter. Using humor and sarcasm while commenting on the complacent attitudes of many inhabitants in the city and the escalating law and order situation; I decided to label these mirror-imaged locations as the Safe Map of Karachi and my chapter was titled Seeking a Safe Karachi'.
Collecting information while visiting news paper offices researching archived facts and urban myths I made carbon drawings of the map and other various subjects which were then further worked on in Adobe Photoshop. Using found images and note book drawings I made illustrations incorporating text.
In 2011 Karachi witnessed its highest number of terror attacks. Bomb blasts and targeted political and sectarian killings are usual occurrences as are gang wars robberies and kidnappings. But life somehow goes on. Contradiction you see is no stranger to Karachi the city of lights'as it was once known and more recently Pakistan's dark heart'.
Shayan Rajani: I guess I'm a student of history and am interested in bringing the past and present into conversation. But in some ways Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is already very much a part of our present in Pakistan. He is part of the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves and a key figure in the narrative that links the middle class today to the modernizing ashraaf of the late nineteenth century. What really interests me about him is that Sir Syed allows me to think about our own roles today as spokespeople. I wanted to explore the privileges that come with this (self-appointed) role but also the anxieties around it. Most importantly the role of a spokesperson requires the creation of an abstract category of people on whose behalf you speak. This always entails silencing other voices and often allows spokespeople to pass off their particular interests and perspective as general or universal ones.
With respect to Karachi I have long felt that the conversation around privilege and representation tends to work broadly on the axis of English vs Urdu upper class vs upper middle class Defence vs Gulshan. But Karachi cannot be contained or understood within these parameters. At many forums we have intense debates about the privilege of English language speakers. These are valid critiques. But they mask the privileges of Urdu and of the upper middle class. They keep hidden the voices of Pakhtuns Baloch Sindhis Punjabis and all the other communities and neighborhoods of the lower middle class working class and the urban poor. These very important voices are missing from representations and understandings of Karachi.
While recognizing this gap I cannot fill it myself. That would entangle me in the same problems of spokesmanship that I want to call into question. The strategy that made most sense was to subvert the role of the spokesperson. Satire and mockery have really come in hand for this project. Hopefully recognizing our own privilege as spokesperson will allow us to step back and create space for other voices to speak about their Karachis.
Manizhe Ali: I came to Karachi when I was two years old and have since called this city home. Growing up our house was open to people of all religions and there was always discussion and debate but through it all we had a very strong sense of our own religious identity. However outside it was the opposite.
Karachi has many faces and not all of its faces are visible. It was while I was researching on Shia rituals of mourning for my MA thesis that I realized the ground realities of what it is really like to be Shia in Pakistan. Since the 1990's we have heard of Shia doctors being targeted and many migrated out of the country for fear of their lives.
When the news first hit the TV channels that there were twin blasts at Alamdar Road in Quetta there was no mention of the fact that the targeted were Shia. It was only later when the protest grew nationwide that the TV channels started saying that those targeted were Shia. While one community of Muslims sat in the cold to protest there were those who were upset by the fact that the roads were blocked and bodies lay unburied. They obviously had missed the point about why the families of the victims were sitting in the cold with the bodies and why many people all over the country were sitting in protest to support those families.
In Karachi Numaish Chowrangi (roundabout) became the area were protestors came together to sit in a peaceful demonstration of sheer helplessness.
What I find most interesting about this area is that it is the geographical center of the city and is also where the mausoleum of the founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah is located. This area changes its face to represent what is happening in the city in particular and the country in general. With the Imambargah Shah-e-Khurasan of the Shia sect on one side and the Masjid-e-Khatamay Nabuwat of the Sunni sect on the other side of the main road this area is the main route of the Moharram procession and more recently has become part of the Yum-e-Umar procession and the Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi procession as well.
Numaish Chowrangi encapsulates the politics of religion in Pakistan in that one area and since I have been doing extensive research at the Azakhana-e-Zehra which is located right behind Imambargah Shah-e-Khurasan there is a certain level of comfort in knowing the area and seeing its many changing faces and that was the choice of subject I made for the Travel Guide.
Roohi Ahmed: My memories of growing up in Karachi suffuse me with a warm and positive feeling. Being in Karachi is as comfortable for me as being in my own skin. Although I have lived in other cities in Pakistan and abroad I feel a connection to this city that brings me back time and again for comfort and breathing space. It defines "home" for me and a number of individuals living here. It is an interesting patchwork of ethnicities and eccentricities of people. I love the bazaars the madness the ability to recycle and bounce back again and again after turmoil. The city and the people never cease to amaze me there is always an element of surprise and positivity hidden in-between copious folds of unrest and violence. This is the aspect that I wanted to highlight with my chapter. Hence the narrative revolves around the areas which I know like the back of my hand and they are spread around the Mausoleum of Jinnah the pulsating center of the city.
During my art practice I have made a number of artworks highlighting different aspects of this city.
Box these brief Bios
Right to the City: Travel Guide to Karachi Curated and Edited by Shahana Rajani
Shahana Rajani (Please see in the Contributors' section at the beginning of the magazine).
Seher Naveed (Seeking a Safe Karachi)
Born in Quetta Pakistan and now working in Karachi artist Seher Naveed received a BFA from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVSAA) Karachi in 2007 and an MFA from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (University of the Arts London) in 2009. She uses drawing paper cuts screen and digital print to explore issues around the archive utopia and everyday life. She has participated in various local and international group exhibitions and is currently working as a senior lecturer in the Department of Fine Art at the IVSAA.
Shayan Rajani (Sir Syed we have an image problem again!)
Born in Karachi Pakistan Shayan Rajani received a BA in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard University in 2009 and is currently a PhD student in History at Tufts University. His research interests include space and empire in the nineteenth century and the intersection of politics and religion in Pakistan.
Manizhe Ali (Twilight in Broad Daylight)
Born in Lucknow India artist and filmmaker Manizhe Ali received a BFA from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture Karachi in 1996 and an MA in Visual and Media Anthropology from the Freie UniversitAt Berlin in 2012. She was associated with the KaraFilm Festival as a member of the organizing committee and was part of the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2010. She has a constant need to tell stories and each story demands its own medium. The medium may vary but the heart remains constant. She calls the city of chaos Karachi her home.
Roohi Ahmed (Homing In)
Roohi Ahmed lives and works in Karachi. She teaches fulltime at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. As a multi-disciplinary artist her work often draws upon cartographical references in order to investigate the ontological realities of human existence in a degenerating political social and religious environment. Ahmed has exhibited widely throughout Pakistan and her work has been featured in the 11th Asian Art Biennial in Bangladesh and numerous other international exhibitions. She has been invited to artists' workshops and has been an artist in residence at Cicada Press (Australia) Coast (UK) and Vasl (Pakistan). She has also curated exhibitions in Pakistan and abroad.
Sara Khan (Bunder Road to Kemari)
Born in Karachi Sara Khan Pathan received a BFA from Karachi University in 2007. Her art is born from her desire to see Pakistan's artistic traditions mainly miniature painting evolve to address the socio-political complexities of its contemporary reality. Her practice explores the meaning nature and impacts of violence within the context of Karachi. She currently teaches miniature painting and animation at the Visual Studies Department at Karachi University.
Bani Abidi (Security Barriers A-L)
Karachi-born Bani Abidi is currently working out of Berlin. She uses video and photography to comment upon politics and culture. This is often through humorous and absurd vignettes. Abidi received a BFA from the National College of Arts Lahore in 1995 and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000. Her work has been exhibited widely in solo and group shows internationally. Her work was shown at the Documenta in 2012 and is in the collections of the MoMA NY Guggenheim NY Tate Modern The British Museum The Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and the Devi Art Foundation amongst others.