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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Seminar on Empowering Women Coming Up!

Catalyst Woman is going to Faisalabad!  My team is super-excited to be invited to speak at National Textile University-Faisalabad by the Rector, Dr. Arshad Ali.

CW NTU Session FB

Cautionary Tale for Pakistan’s Tech Industry

These are exciting, heady times to be involved in Technology and Entrepreneurship in Pakistan. With many province-backed Technology boards kicking ‘start-up’ incubators and accelerators into high gear (namely Punjab and KPK), while both private and public universities are scrambling to join bandwagon to nurture the next Instagram or Uber, many young Pakistanis are being led to believe that all you require is a dream team consisting of a visionary, a content guru, a multi-tasking programmer/coder and the Fairy Godmother -equivalent of an angel investor to be the next Mark Zuckerberg.* 

After reading this article from Foreign Policy earlier today, I feel that there is much that Pakistan’s fledgling technology industry can learn from Russia’s mistakes.

It seems that our neighbors to the North-East have already been down this road of pre-mature zeal and it would serve us well to identify the red flags.

The political will and, more importantly, the financial capacity to encourage technological innovation are gone. Gone too is Medvedev himself, these days practically invisible outside Russia and eclipsed inside it, with President Vladimir Putin firmly back in the driver’s seat. Skolkovo was raided by anti-corruption agents in April 2013, after which several figureheads on the project were accused of misappropriation of funds. Although officials deny that the investigations were politically motivated, Skolkovo has tumbled down the government’s priority list: This year, the incubator was ordered to cut costs by 20 to 40 percent.

With the controversial Cyber Crime Bill 2015 threatening civil liberties on the web, Pakistanis should take a pro-active approach to securing digital rights by campaigning for their say in the content of the vaguely worded legislation.

Read below, this scenario is unfortunately quite familiar:

Putin’s slow squeeze on Internet freedoms since his return to the presidency puts him further at odds with the IT and web services industry. Legislation passed in 2014 that calls for all Russian Internet user data to be housed on servers on the territory of the Russian Federation paves the way, some argue, for the Kremlin’s control of the “Runet,” as the Russian-language Internet is commonly called. Bloggers with more than 3,000 daily visitors need to register with the country’s media regulator. Meanwhile, major online platforms, including software development network GitHub and video-hosting site Vimeo, have been blocked in Russia — in some cases for seemingly arbitrary reasons, for hosting what the government says is extremist or terrorist material. That security services are playing a larger role in deciding how the Internet functions in Russia isn’t exactly inviting for businesses.

The cautious optimism with which us Pakistanis are eyeing activity in the high-tech industry has been labeled as habitual pessimism, but I strongly disagree.  If we want Pakistan’s nascent tech scene to become a solid foundation upon which societal development  and regional peace can be based, then it is vital  we ensure that the technology industry’s growth is sustainable.  I suggest we, as citizens, be more active in technology scene, participate in the  events and the online discussions.  We can demand more transparency when foreign investors seek to support one start-up over another. If we do not understand the significance behind the promotion of a certain tech-based solution, when a non-technological solution already exists and it will just be a waste of taxpayer’s rupees, we should speak up!  Ask for the spreadsheets, the reasoning.  If we are satisfied with the answers, wonderful!  If we are not convinced, then keep asking questions.  Talk to your representatives in the provincial and federal governments.  Use social media to find clarity, be it Twitter or Facebook.  I implore you, do not let the glamour of gadgets and the sweet chatter of jargon seduce you! Pakistan’s future is at stake and a few hash-tagged buzzwords should not be enough to justify spending.

We can leverage technology to empower our young men and women to choose careers that are fulfilling, to educate the multitudes who live miles away from educational institutions, and to heal those without easy access to medical personnel.   The potential for gain via technological means is immense in Pakistan.  It’s a gamble we are willing to take – I hope we can convert this gamble into a solid investment. 

*insert Silicon Valley Founder-slash- CEO of your choice