Terracotta Hearts & a Plastic Eden: Lahore’s First-ever Biennale

Part ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and part a deluge of contemporary artwork, Lahore’s first-ever Biennale was truly a one-of-a-kind experience. After reading and viewing on social media about the Karachi Biennale, I was quite curious to see what this mix of artists had to offer in Lahore and let me tell you – they did not disappoint!

 

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Library at Bagh-e-Jinnah

 

A friend and I were only able to make it on the very last day, so we covered the installations at Bagh-e-Jinnah ( also known as Lawrence Gardens) and the former Lahore Lit Fest stronghold, Al -Hamra Cultural Complex – both conveniently located on The Mall.

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Lover's Temple Ruins

 

Let it be noted, I risked my life to see Ali Kazim’s Lover’s Temple Ruins public art installation. How’s that for commitment to ‘The Arts”?!  It was upon seeing Kazim’s unusual take on ‘Lover’s Garden’ on Instagram that it was decided to make Lawrence Gardens the first stop.  The risking my life part? It’s coming. A very helpful Lahore Biennale volunteer pointed in the general direction of a tree-covered hill and said that more artwork lies up there. Padding along in my comfy slippers with a thick sole, it was a surprise to find a steep trail comprising of random slate slabs, crumbling red dirt and a few roots branching along the path. With much trepidation, but with an even stronger resolve and a patient fellow-hiker,  we made our way up the hill and eventually to Kazim’s artwork.  On a serious note, future Lahore Biennale events should be curated with accessibility in mind. It does not make sense that any patron of the arts miss out on experiencing an exhibit just because wheelchair ramps, side railings or proper steps are unavailable.  What kind of public art installation is exclusionary?

It strikes you – as if one has been suddenly transported to a remote excavation site. Signs of an older civilization all but gone for some stubborn terracotta hearts. It felt as if one is a giant peering down on a collapsing foundation- moments before all is lost to the ravages of time.

 

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Warda Shabbir’s work at the Lahore Biennale

 

 

A riot of colors enclosed in a life-size version of child’s diorama, Warda Shabbir’s installation instantly engages the viewer and transports them to her version of the Garden of Eden.  Aside from being quite ‘Instagrammable’, Shabbir’s skill at turning ordinary plastic plants and flowers into a breathtaking 3-D mural is noteworthy.

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A close-up of Warda Shabbir’s work at the Lahore Biennale

 

Noor Ali Chagani’s artwork depicts the impact of societal expectations on Pakistani men. I felt that Chagani’s ‘brick wall’ speaks of the hope that perhaps one day more men will feel comfortable sharing their softer sides.

 

I adored, ADORED, Salman Toor’s ARE YOU HERE? installation at the Al-Hamra Arts Center.

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Shezad Dawood’s Neutral Density

 

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Asma Jehangir’s Legacy: Speak in Turn, Rise in Unison!

It has been a trying few days after the loss of true feminist icon and fearless advocate for the unprotected, Asma Jehangir. I tried to capture my thoughts and feelings in poetic form. 

Asma Jehangir’s Legacy: Speak in Turn, Rise in Unison!

Shoulder to Shoulder,

hand in hand,

a name, a presence, a force

that continues to rankles men’s egos and upset their comfortable self-delusions

This time around, Time will not heal,

We will leave this gash exposed and untreated

like the state of women, the minorities, the children, the unprotected

across the land

to twirl one’s mustache and think “ab tho yeh bala tali’

there could be no bigger mistake,

jahaan aik thee, ab hain aik hazaar,

sirf aik hazaar awaazein nahi, par goonjey thi we azaan hai yeh

bohot ho gaya intezar, auratein, miskeen, bachoon ka – Insaaf ke liye!

Asma Jehangir, courage and integrity personified, leaves up to Us

To Carry On,

To Be Strong,

To Be Fair.

 

– Mariam Shoaib

 

Book Review: An American Family by Khizr Khan

‘An American Family’ is literally one of the few Advanced Reader Copies or ARCs that I finished reading within days of receiving it via NetGalley.

I was curious to read the story of Khizr Khan. He is the Pakistani-American man who stood proudly at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 to take Donald Trump to task for his criticism of John McCain and Muslims during the U.S. Presidential Campaign.

Not only does Khizr describe his own struggle to achieve ‘the American Dream’, from sleeping on park benches to working multiple jobs, he also manages to become a voice of the 2nd or 3rd wave of original Pakistani men who had to leave the newly-minted nation to find work and stability in the Arabian Gulf countries and beyond. This entire generation or two, both men and women born in the early 1950’s to late 1960’s, all chased a better standard of life for their families and themselves, often by being exploited as skilled and unskilled labor in the Middle Eastern nations like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia.

I highly recommend this book for millennial Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans to read to understand life from the perspective of our parents, aunts, uncles and mentors.

 “I wasn’t leaving so much as I was going forward”

“The billionaire’s playground that Dubai would become was light years away, but it was obvious even then that the emirate was making a frantic leap forward.”

Read my book review on Goodreads.

 

City Blog: Joie de Vivre & Lahore Eat

It was supposed to a quick stop. In and out. A check-in. Basically a #keepingupwiththeKhans in lieu of the Joneses. Plus, we didn’t have any other plans this Saturday night.  We trooped into Lahore Eat with minimal expectations and maxing out on  comfy shoes. To our collective surprise, the open-air stadium ground was well-kept, there was a large variety of activities to take part in, from attending a concert to taking part in a renegade rickshaw ride.

W16be412f784aaf1dd9792ef8b7f8bd6d.jpgithout meaning to, our inhibitions started melting away. Something pulled us in… reeled us in. Reminded us of what can not be terrorized out of us. It was our distinctly Pakistani flair for Life –> ZEEST *.

*Zeest is a word from the Urdu language that literally means viability and life. 

We live life to the fullest – it’s a gift. We cherish it in every which way: by wearing the brightest colors, laughing a little too loud, singing off-key in public spaces and spending time with those we love the most. Those couple of hours at Lahore Eat became a testament to our collective joie de vivre. 

 

Re-designing the #Beatme Campaign by UN Women Pakistan

Do watch the #Beatme Anti-Violence Campaign by UN Women Pakistan. What do you think?  I think the campaign deserves a complete re-design.

First off, what an unfortunate choice of words for the hashtag #beatme.  Moving past the words, why is it in English? Who are you talking to? This campaign should at minimum been in Urdu plus all the regional languages like Pashto, Sindhi, Punjabi , Balochi as well as the local dialects. For a clarity in the public service message the campaign designers should have stuck with the national language plus regional languages and dialects. A simple caption in English for non-native speakers would suffice.

This seems to be a well-intentioned campaign made in a hurry, with little thought or strategy applied to communication and social impact.  Pakistani women and men deserve more than a sugar-coating of celebrities and Calvin-Klein-esque black/white filming effects.

Emotional and Physical Abuse is a serious matter. Generational abusive patterns are corroding efforts being made for Gender Equity and Gender Equality in Pakistan. Simplistic PSAs such as this one undermine the cause as well as the intended audience for such social messaging.  I would recommend all groups working for the empowerment of the disenfranchised, women AND men, to seek out Gender Strategy consultants before approving PSAs in the future. 

Taking a page from Edhi’s Book

A few years back I set upon reading Abdul Sattar Edhi’s autobiography, A Mirror to the Blind*, with my highlighter and black pen in hand.  As a Pakistani who has witnessed the extent of Edhi’s humanitarian efforts in action, from fast-responding ambulances to the ever-present cradles at the donation centres, I thought there was little about him that hadn’t become folklore.

13590326_1010126859037163_8249178195416169058_nI was mistaken.

To learn about Edhi, in his own words, is to learn about Pakistan and Karachi with new eyes. His sleeping on the bench outside the very first Edhi Centre, a simple room in Mithadar to his tireless devotion to his mother ; at times such immense acts of humility were casually remarked upon by Edhi that it made me feel ashamed.  Ashamed that the rigmarole of everyday life has taken me so far away from the basic tenets of my religion, that which is based upon community service and peace, that I only take part fully every year in Ramadan. It is during Ramadan that I sense at least some degree of satisfaction, ‘yes, I have given my all to my community’, yet even that is illusory and I know it.  True service is constant, sustainable and hidden.

One of my favorite quotes shares Edhi’s mother’s advice about giving charity explains the hidden concept best:

 “In the holy month of Ramadan she collected other Memon ladies and made bundles of foodstuff, which she sent me to drop through the windows of poor people or needy relatives. All the while her soft whispery voice echoed behind me, “It is charity only when your left- hand does not know what the right has given. When the respect of the receiver is foremost.” 

When news came of Edhi Sahib’s passing, it was a shock. Not only because it seemed that his guidance will always be there but also because in some ways his service had made him larger than life. In life, Edhi had become a legend.  In death, Edhi has become a template for  human development and selfless social work. 

It feels as if we have been given an opportunity, as Pakistanis, to give back to our communities without the shackles of prejudice and intolerance.  The next time a living being is in need, ask yourself, What would Edhi do? and set forth without a moment’s hesitation. I will do the same.

*(This book is meant to read and re-read.  I can not do justice to it with a hurried review. If you haven’t put it on your ‘to-be-read’ pile, do so now.)

 

Meet the Millennial Asian: Over-educated + Under-employed

If you are a Millennial Asian, the newspapers think you are pretty pathetic. Looking at the numbers, you have earned more degrees than anyone else in your family,  are up to your neck in education debt, you are chronically under-employed and will stay so for the foreseeable future.

Yes. Under-employed.

Investopedia defines this phenomenon like so:

Labor that falls under the underemployment classification includes those workers that are highly skilled but working in low paying jobs, workers that are highly skilled but work in low skill jobs and part-time workers that would prefer to be full-time.

The market has few jobs to offer the growing legions of fresh grads and the ones available fail to offer much of anything: little money, little career growth and little in terms of security. These handful of jobs are not what you aspired to back in college. It is highly likely you will be delivering goods ordered online or managing a social media campaign for the local non-profit organisation until a “Real Job” opportunity turns up.

Let’s suppose that you finally get a chance to interview for a “Real Job”.  As a fresh grad  you are facing competition from the people who graduated years before you and have relevant work experience to show for it.

Jobs available in the government sector are scarce, practically impossible to access unless one has a ‘link’ (how I loathe that practice)  and the benefits hardly ever compensate for the dismal pay.

Gordon Orr warns China’s fresh graduates that even the low-barrier, entry-level careers  in bank telling or insurance agencies are going obsolete. Technologies like AliPay and WeChat have streamlined basic banking tasks and banks will soon be a thing of the past – much like post offices.

…there may be new jobs but they are just not the jobs you set your heart on when you went to university: low pay and low security is a poisonous combination of many of the new jobs in China’s “rebalancing economy”.

Orr suggests brushing up on vocational skills that may come into play in the emerging sectors, like learning coding or other such I.T. wizardry. If nothing else, it is suggested that a fresh grad like you should start a business and embrace self-employment as your fate.

The fastest growth category of urban employment in recent years has been self-employment.  While some of this is likely a cute way of describing unemployed, the broader trend that it represents is the growth of small and mid-sized enterprises and their importance to job creation in the economy. 

Next up is the “Has Pakistan overeducated it’s middle class?” article that appeared on Dawn’s website about two days back.  The lack of congruency between the education Pakistani universities are churning out and the jobs available is painfully apparent for anyone who been through a hiring cycle. Not only is the quality of education suspect, the graduates are ill-prepared for the rigours of the job-search and interview process. I am in complete agreement that there need to be university-based career prep centres at both public and private universities. Private universities barely scratch the surface when it comes to preparing their students for the corporate/real world. A mandatory 2 hour workshop in the last week of university does not suffice.  I recommend universities to start students on mandatory courses that cover internship seeking, c.v. writing and interviewing skills from freshman year.

The author, Murtaza Haider,  makes a valid point about how loosely underemployment is tallied and also how faulty the premise is regarding what constitutes a ‘living wage’.

My primary concern is about how the state defines underemployment.

The state considers those working for fewer than 35 hours in a given week as underemployed. This definition assumes that those working for 35 hours or more in a given week are gainfully employed, i.e., they are earning enough to support their families.

The under and unemployment figures are quite meaningless for struggling economies like Pakistan. Even by the government’s estimates, 60 million Pakistanis, 29.5 per cent of the population, live below the poverty line. Experts at Oxford University estimate a much larger proportion of Pakistanis (44 per cent) to be poor.

Thus, boasting about low unemployment rates is rather futile because a large proportion of those considered employed by the government are not earning enough to feed and clothe their families.

Lastly, here is an article from the World Economic Forum warning us that for the millennials post-graduate degrees may be a waste of money.  Lux Alptraum shares that despite belonging to a family accustomed to collecting degrees (the way some collect shares) she ultimately decided not to seek a postgraduate degree.  For her, the math simply didn’t add up!

Every time I’ve considered going back to school, I’ve done a cost-benefit analysis—and for me, that analysis has never worked out in academia’s favor. My law school dreams died when it occurred to me that the kind of do-gooder law I was interested in would likely leave me in debt for the rest of my life (and also when I realized that “liking to argue” is but a small part of a law career). My potential public health degree stopped making sense when I realized the small salary bump I might secure wouldn’t balance out the money—and time–I’d spend getting the Master’s.

As a fellow Millennial Asian, I feel your anguish.

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I also sense your need to reach for the nearest tub of ice cream to drown your sorrows.   Hold off on that for a second.  There has to be a Plan B.

Will it be running our very own Food Truck? Maybe.

Can it be starting up a coaching centre for the chronically under-employed and helping them loosen up via improv sessions?  Could be.

The beacon of hope lies in our ability to carve out careers, create brands  and provide services in emerging markets – despite the nay-sayers and dismal statistics. 

Drop me a tweet @marsonearth.

I write about financial empowerment, digital literacy, and educational technology at my blog called Catalyst Woman.  Who am I? I once described myself as a Communications consultant who conducts trainings focused on Women’s Empowerment, Employability Skills and Educational Innovation.

More than Desks: Co-Working Spaces in Lahore

Co-Working  Spaces need to be More than DesksSCC00WCQ3I

Listen to the Podcast on Soundcloud  or iTunes.  

Don’t forget to rate the podcast on iTunes! 

I pick up where I left off on the topic of Co-working Spaces in Lahore. I talk about one of new spaces I visited upon invitation in April, Forrun Office, as well as what is still missing in these spaces.

Read the original post  on the blog or on Medium.

Check out Forrun Office’s website here: forrunoffice.com/ .

 

 

Comoyo: The New OTT Messaging App on the Block?

With a  precious few minutes remaining on the battery, I was quickly scanning my timeline and saw Telenor’s announcement about launching S7 with VR Gear in Pakistan.  Not only do you get the gear for free if you are Telenor customer, you will get an opportunity to try out the Comoyo app.  Comoyo? I hadn’t heard of this application as of yet. I did what any self-respecting geek would do – I googled.

Comoyo is an OTT , Over-the-Top application, that bypasses traditional distribution to deliver a media and communication product or service over the internet.

You can think of an over-the-top application as anything that disrupts traditional billing models – from telcos or cable/satellite companies. Examples include Hulu or Netflix for video (replacing your regular TV provider) or Skype (replacing your long distance provider).  Source: Techopedia

The more I explored the features, Comoyo appears to be a sticker-heavy messaging + commerce platform that is emphasizing the use of digital Urdu font. Comoyo was developed by Telenor’s very own design/dev team at Telenor Digital.

Anyone else reminded of Line Pakistan?   Line Pakistan has been making it’s presence felt by utilising traditional media such a television adverts as well as social media campaigns centering around crowd-pleasers such as the Pakistani cricket team.

Line also offers voice calling,  messaging and video calling to it’s users for free.  In addition to that, the app is meant to be a platform for businesses to interact directly with consumers via ‘channels’ – from taking orders for a pizza to booking tickets to an upcoming movie release.    Any takers for Comoyo? Line?  I am willing to test out both simultaneously just to see how the experiences line up.

f04da2db11221329e9dd0bWhat would actually be exciting is when we get our digital payments issues sorted  in Pakistan and can start using OTT apps for a marketplace at the gargantuan scale of WeChat.  WeChat has captured the Chinese market by enabling users to make peer-to-peer payments as well as offline payments to participating retailers via WeChatPay.

Are we reinventing the wheel with Values-based Education?

Do we need Values-based curriculum when we can modify Faith-based curriculum ?  Every resource I have come upon during my research still quotes the ‘Golden Rule’,which for the unfamiliar is ‘Do unto others as you want others togoldenrule-2 do unto you‘, and has it’s origin linked to one of the major world religions (Christianity).

Intuitively, I think that a Faith + Ethics component or learning philosophy that promotes positive human values is an adequate solution in lieu of Values-based Education.

That’s my working hypothesis.  As I continue to research and develop a teachers’ guide to character development and global citizenship in the classroom, I look forward to gathering more facts and figures to support or defeat this hypothesis.