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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The security situation leading to a change in venue and the shift from Alhamra to the Avari Hotel’s grounds ended up making a quite a difference for this year’s Lahore Lit Fest.Not only was the trademark art exhibit missing, there was a distinct shortage of wares and cultural activities to engage LLF-goersnot attending the on-going sessions. I wonder why the Rafi Peer crew were no where to be seen. Their exhibit in the main hall, with a plethora of colourful puppets on display and a variety of publications describing events at the Peeru’s restaurant and theatre, was sorely missed.
Where were the LLF volunteers providing pamphlets and booklets with the programs printed? The LLF stamped mugs, tees and tote bags? The yearly special edition of Newsweek Pakistan with stories dedicated to the event. The offering of books were adequate with Readings and Liberty Books having the widest variety available. However the smattering of complementary stalls were quite sad. Aside from the Desi Writer’s Lounge, the other stalls were boring or had little to offer. Speaking of which, where were the folks from The Missing Slate? This being the fourth year of it’s existence, it may seem a bit extreme to sound so nostalgic, but this gives credit to the organisers who managed the earlier events effortlessly.
A.R. Gurney’s ‘Love Letters’ was performed by Rehana Saigol and Imran Aslam on Saturday, 20th February at the Lit Fest. Looking a vision in her sparkly dangly earrings and ruffly black dress, Saigol effortlessly transformed into the sensitive yet witty Melissa, the heroine in the duo. Aslam aptly played the responsible yet love-lornAndy Lad the Third, whose persistent letter-writing wins the heart and soul of Melissa.
The musical interludes that punctuated sessions of letter-writing were tastefully selected – punctuating the innocence of childhood kinship or heating up the beginnings of a lustful affair-with the musical stylings of the greats such asElvis Presley and Diana Ross at service. Arif Mahmood’s photos were sweet additions to the tenderly enacted romance on the LLF stage, documenting Melissa and Andy’s interactions from the cradle to the grave.
The seating capacity for the play underestimated the demand for live theatre as the organisers hastily lined up chairs to fill up the back of the hall. Even then, another three hundred LLF goers were barely kept outside the hall, with youngsters asked to sit up on the carpet , front-row, to empty chairs for adults.
I hope the play organizers have understood the enthusiasm for live theatrical performances and will stage such performances on the regular, preferably at more easily-accessible venues.
“I don’t disagree with James about the phenomena he observes: a literary industry with white women in gatekeeping roles and with white women set up as the archetypal consumer to be pandered to.
I do, however, disagree with the implied notion that white women are the powerful and designing force behind the institution.
In reality, the literary industry has been forged by a patriarchal system that decides what would be in its own interest for women to want, tells women that they want it and then sells it to us.”
“For many years, people have been asking, “are books dead?” The answer is no, they have just been passed to women like a hand-me-down. The infrastructure and implicit values in the literary establishment guarantee the reproduction of patriarchal values, as Vaye Watkins so clearly identifies. The women in the industry have all grown up in this society, have all been schooled in what makes a “big” and “important” book. Women’s concerns are consistently belittled.
We have a canon of “great literature” that dates back for several hundred years and is etched in stone. So the addition of a Toni Morrison and a Junot Diaz and a Maxine Hong Kingston and a Sherman Alexie can be grafted on as branches of the tree, or perhaps more like leaves. Branches? Leaves? Whatever. The industry’s roots are grounded firmly in Europe and White America and men’s voices. Vaye Watkins said, “I have built a working miniature replica of the patriarchy in my mind.” The literary industry is the same: fully imprinted with the values and preoccupations of the patriarchy. Once that’s firmly entrenched, it’s safe to leave the girls in charge.”