When an artwork lives on a pavement or intersection, should it merge or provoke? Who should it speak to? The woman on the street who never ordered it?
At the T2F on Saturday, speaker Niilofur Farrukh, and panelists Gulraiz Khan and Masuma Halai Khwaja analyzed “Public Art in the Global Context” and unveiled an exciting prospect for Karachi’s art community.
Farrukh showed examples of the power of Public Art around the world. Children in one of Venezuela’s strife ridden neighborhoods were given a creative sanctuary thanks to community Public Art. In Caracas, artists, designers and architects created a whimsical space with books, creativity and learning.
Pakistan’s public space is contested real estate—with the state, extremists and civil society clamoring for a piece. Monuments “informed by state ideology, martial imagery and aggressive religious symbolism” are served to a public that didn’t ask for them. There were exceptions, Sadequain’s state sponsored murals made him an artist for the everyman.
Lecturer at Habib University, Gulraiz Khan, discussed some of the disturbances Public Art can create, and how its architects need to pre-empt the ruckus. Beginning with Richard Serra’s notorious “Tilted Arc” in the 80’s—its 120 foot long, government funded, steel body halving the Federal Plaza grounds of New York City—public art has tricky waters. The sculpture was dismantled following a bitter debate and trial, raising questions on government funding’s role, an artists’ right to his work, and the role of the public in determining the value of a work of art1. The case opened the debate on some of the challenges a designer faces when their work comes in contact with a bystander—a different entity to a gallery visitor. Khan also discussed the importance of designers chatting with the community that will interact with their pieces.
Masuma Halai Khwaja presented how Pakistan views its art—figures are frowned upon, but army friezes work. Pockets of Karachi find varying relevance in wall art—only certain images are defaced. She also revealed Karachi Biennale’s public art project: the ubiquitous cable reel will form the subject for The 100 art objects in the city project. She announced an open call to convert the reel, that spreads its arteries around Karachi, into a vibrant, interactive piece of art by visual artists, designers and architects. Celebrating the ethos of sustainability and eco-friendliness, and the 1960s Italian art movement Art Provera, the Karachi Biennial will recycle waste, and elevate the everyday. The works will be placed around the city, based on their relevance to that community.
The conversation heated when the Biennial’s mandate was to not engage in political or religious controversies, raising the question, should artists censor themselves? In a landscape of communal and sectarian violence, and the Shanakht festival dispute, the audience was divided whether artists should tread with caution or fight fire with fire.