IPAF 2020 Karachi Ki Khoj . Re[defining] the Metropolis
“We are living in the age of cities. It is an urgent time, and an uncertain one. Never before have human beings built so much with such haste. Yet we understand so little about how our urban world grows — and sometimes — declines.” 1
The visual and textual narratives about this city are numerous. But do these accounts portray this unique and multi-layered metropolis in a manner which is honest, truthful and more importantly real, or are most of these stories imbued with nostalgia and steeped in romance? By examining the city through multiple lenses — historical, geographical, political, economic — one can have a better, and more holistic understanding of how all these factors are interconnected and how they influence in creating this unique urban milieu called Karachi. Karachi is also a prime example of what in urban studies is termed as an ‘instant city’. “Instant cities are spaces that result from mass, rapid migration from disruptive circumstances. These spaces have a sizeable population with food, shelter, water, and other living needs but limited or no supportive physical infrastructure.”2 The unprecedented growth of Karachi from a city with a population of less than half a million in the 1940s increasing thirty fold by 2010 has not only created immense challenges for city planners, but this very fact has also opened up Karachi as a laboratory for experiments and research for social scientists, anthropologists as well as artists.
Artists and other visual practitioners play a crucial part in defining the complexities of a city. Art in the public realm can be a catalyst in not only presenting those complexities to a larger audience but simultaneously, brings joy, interaction and inspiration to the masses. Public art in a city like Karachi is potentially a means of celebrating its unique culture, diverse communities and differing histories. It can seek to offer shared symbols which build social cohesion, contribute to much needed civic pride and help forge an alternative identity for the city.
Sohail Zuberi Curator IPAF 2020
1 Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management and Data and Society Research Institute, New York University. http://www. cities of data. org/wp content/uploads/2015/04/ Making-Sense-of the-New-Science-of-Cities-FINAL-2015.7
I started photographing hoardings in 2009. The scale of the metal grid and how it framed the sky fascinated me. I felt these empty frames mirrored the perspectives of individual lives that see a slice of the picture, not the entire panorama. Through the frames, I would often watch the grey Karachi sky change colour. Occasionally, I would spot kites glide through them, never knowing on which side of the structure the birds were until they became larger or smaller. Some disappeared. Soon, the breathing space that allowed reverie was occupied and the sky in my eye shrunk.
Due to the absence of a local government system, there was no regulator to oversee the mushrooming of billboards in the city. By 2015 Karachi had almost turned into a giant advertisement with every street littered with huge hoardings, many on structures so flawed they led to repeated loss of lives. On May 5th 2016 The Supreme Court maintained that there was no law that permits installing outdoor advertising on billboards, hoardings and signboards on public property and ordered the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, the Defence Housing Authority and all the cantonment boards to remove hoardings across the city by June 30th 2016. They were taken down but left by the roadsides and empty plots. A year later, some still lie there.