In recent years, Pakistani artists and designers have been making headlines on national as well as international platforms. The heart of this development has been the vibrant city of Karachi, which has witnessed an explosion of art galleries, residencies, artist programs and biennales, all stemming from the aim to promote local art and culture. Efforts by non-profit organizations dedicated to historic and cultural preservation, such as The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, as well as art initiatives including Canvas Gallery, Vasl Residency, Art Chowke, Chawkandi Art, Koel, and Studio Seven have been met with a highly encouraging response from art critics and the public alike. In this regard, two institutions are particularly noteworthy: the famous VM Art Gallery, and the more recent Sanat Initiative.
VM Art Gallery is a not-for-profit art space that is part of the Rangoonwala Trust, which has also been running the Rangoonwala Community Centre, an institution specializing in vocational training since 1971. The director and main curator of the gallery is Riffat Alvi, one of Pakistan’s most distinguished painters. Situated in the central area of KDA Scheme near Tariq Road, VM Art Gallery is designed exclusively to promote emerging artists and designers, and to provide a platform where they can exhibit their works for the public through the gallery’s annual Emerging Talent/Art Exhibition.
Zeenat Rizvi, a recent Fine Art graduate from the University of Karachi with a talented art cohort, has exhibited her work at VM Art Gallery multiple times, and was a participant of the Emerging Art Exhibitions a few years ago. “VM is one of the few art galleries in Pakistan that actively promote and exhibit work by our emerging talent every year”, says Zeenat. With its inclusionary approach to art, VM has created a space for itself in the Pakistani art industry. The most recent show at the gallery was held by a group of talented artists whose alma mater is the renowned University of Karachi. Titled ‘Transitions – Renderings of Time’, the exhibition won acclaim from critics as well as art enthusiasts in the city.
The more recent Sanat Initiative, which opened in 2014, is an art studio that aims to promote dialogue between artists and interested audiences on an international scale. It also conducts collaborative research projects and an artist residency that provides a productive art forum. The Sanat Residency, conducted in 2014-2015, saw a group show aimed at fostering healthy interaction between artists and the society. The purpose of an art residency is to bring talented artists together for an interactive dialogue. By actually living in the space provided by the residency, the artists work on their projects either individually or as a group on themes that are discussed throughout the course of the residency. It concludes with a show that brings out the final works of the artists and connects them with an audience for feedback.
Sanat Initiative’s art projects and residency have received critical acclaim, as they touch upon a variety of pertinent themes related to Pakistan’s social, economic and political background. Qualified artists working with Sanat Initiative have credited the institution as highly professional in its practices, with a productive approach towards artists and the public. The upcoming show at Sanat, scheduled to open in the first week of November, will feature a collection of unique artworks by Muhammad Atif Khan. Titled Gardenscape, it will be Sanat Gallery’s 50th exhibition since its launch back in June 2014.
With increasing public interest in art projects by independent galleries and collaborations of organizations with talented individuals, public art and curatorial projects are gaining widespread recognition in Karachi. However, despite these encouraging endeavors, which bring out the best of the country’s aesthetics, art organizations and forums still need to work on their accessibility and the feasibility that they create for local artists.
Many artists and designers still find it taxing to reach out to these platforms due to a host of reasons. These include a lack of personal resources, their socio-economic backgrounds, and in some cases the nature of their work, which might not be in the best interest of current trends. Some artists find the lack of a productive environment and the purely commercial motives of certain art institutions to be problematic and disturbing for their career growth. Many artists also find themselves handicapped without proper representatives, agents or channels to route them towards art galleries and institutions. In this regard, these platforms, both old and new, must take action to facilitate budding artists and designers, so that people from all backgrounds are granted fair and equal access to online and physical art spaces.
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