A decaying structure, painted with bright rainbow coloured murals and embellished with dolls and kites, stands a stone’s throw away from the National Museum of Pakistan, Karachi. A burst of childlike exuberance is experienced upon seeing this transformed building, almost as if a secret world has been stumbled upon.
‘Munaqqash’ is an ever evolving, outdoor, interactive art installation, which consists of an abandoned canteen building transformed using found objects. In modern art, found objects can be anything readymade, which an artist selects and presents with minimal modification, as a work of art. In this case, the walls have been adorned with stuffed toys, kites, hangers and teapots among other things.
Curated by Mehreen Hashmi, and worked upon by artists and volunteers, Munaqqash has been initiated by ‘I Am Karachi.’ It was inspired by the Heidelberg project, which took flight in Detroit, Michigan, in 1986. The Heidelberg Project transformed vacant houses and lots into artistic spaces, by bringing them to life with sculptures, paintings and found objects. These spaces inevitably drew in the community and encouraged positive change in an otherwise impoverished area.
The exploration and reclamation of public spaces in Karachi has remained a basic objective of the ‘I Am Karachi (IAK)’ campaign. A central objective has been to encourage citizens to take pride and interest in the already limited spaces for art, theatre and music, which have further diminished over the years. According to Ambareen Thompson, the executive director of IAK, several buildings have been seized by the mafias in Karachi and thus, projects such as Munaqqash are vital in order to sustain the city’s diverse cultural identity.
Munaqqash aims to involve the surrounding communities, allowing them to experience art and culture in an inclusive, creative setting. The project hopes to engage the public in a healthy, constructive manner, inviting them to contribute aesthetically in any manner they wish, possible due to the dynamic nature of the site. The artwork has been developing on site for a few months now, but was officially inaugurated on 14th September, 2017. Karachi’s citizens were invited to observe and experience the rather fanciful installation.
They also saw a presentation on the aims, struggles and hopes of Munaqqash. The artists who worked on the project include Farrukh Shahab, Nashra Saleem, Safeer Sandeelo, Hina Tabassum, Sehrish Willayat and Sabir Ali. Moreover, workshops were also conducted at various institutions including the Arts Council Karachi, The Garage School, SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School and Khatoon-e-Pakistan Government Girls School, to raise awareness and gather volunteers. These volunteers were invited to the site to assist the artists in bringing their concepts to life.
Curator Mehreen Hashmi believes that the close proximity of the installation to the National Museum will encourage people to visit the building. This will create an interest in other artistic establishments as well, inspiring a renewed engagement with the city’s cultural heritage. The curator was selective while choosing the artists, since their aesthetic language had to contain socio-cultural elements and also be able to adjust outside a gallery space, in a public setting.
Elements of Karachi’s socio-cultural and political narrative are embedded throughout the site. Despite the fact that the area is a sanctuary, a multicolored haven amidst the cities turbulent and hostile environment, traces of the latter have seeped into the work. An example is of the whimsical painted vehicle, which sits before the building. Upon coming closer, a withered exterior becomes apparent underneath the bright colors. According to the curator, the car was destroyed during a series of riots, and was discovered in the Ramaswami neighborhood of Karachi. Hashmi decided to incorporate the car in the project, ultimately changing its meaning. Thus, the modified meanings of the found objects intermingle with their histories, forming new, transcendent identities.
The once abandoned canteen has been reclaimed and transformed into a vibrant, cultural space. The dolls are clad in shimmering Pakistani outfits, the teapots adorning the walls are covered in an enchanting palette of local truck art and the kites wink nostalgically in the sun, as childhood memories of Basant are fleetingly recalled. Munaqqash is a gift to the public, a place where people are encouraged to come and explore their creativity in a positive and productive manner, allowing their creativity to truly flourish.
All images provided by the writer and Nashrah Saleem Dudha.
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