Karachi: The first Karachi Biennale concluded on November 05, 2017 after two weeks of art exhibits and events focused on art. Aimed at connecting art with the public and reaching out to Karachi’s diverse communities, the Biennale stayed true to its mandate.
Famous Pakistani artiste Masood Kothari was the guest of honor on the occasion. KB17 Shahneela and Farhan Faruqui Popular Choice Art Prize was announced on the occasion, which carries specially designed trophy and a cash prize of RS. 500,000. The award went to young artiste Shazia Sikandar.
The Karachi Biennale 2017 (KB17) is Pakistan’s largest international contemporary art event. 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 artists were showcased to international guests from four continents.
KB17 is a project of the Karachi Biennale Trust, a group of art professionals, art educators and enthusiasts. Art critic and cultural interventionist Nilofur Farrukh is CEO of KB17 and Managing Trustee of KBT and Amin Gulgee is the Chief Curator of KB17 and a Trustee of KBT, two individuals involved with the Karachi art scene for several decades.
The two-week long programme beginning on 22 October 2017, included exhibitions by over 160 national and international artistes, educational art activities for school and college students, 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 art and society, film screenings were all connected to ‘Witness’, the theme of the first Biennale. All exhibitions and programmes were open and free for public participation.
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, the KB17 Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation Juried Art Prize and KB17 Shahneela and Farhan Faruqui Popular Choice Art Prize also accompanied the Biennale to acknowledge outstanding works created by the participating artistes. The KB17 Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation Juried Art Prize was awarded to Ali Kazim at the opening ceremony. The winner of the KB17 Shahneela and Farhan Faruqui Popular Choice Art Prize will be announced at the closing ceremony at the Beach Luxury Lawns on November 5, 2017. The popular award has been determined by viewers’ choice who voted for their favourite art works through a secret ballot.
The two weeks of the biennale received an exciting public response as visitors of all ages and backgrounds not only visited the international standard art exhibition, they also participated in discursive sessions and saw performing 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 a large scale for the first time. Whether it was the performances at the Frere Hall, or visits to the 12 venues 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 in 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. This is particularly important because of its recent history of violence.
The Karachi Biennale offered the Karachi public an opportunity to engage 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 the city requires support, not only in terms of resources and finances, but also a conducive and encouraging environment. The KB17 Trustees hope that such support is 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.