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Lahore Biennale democratising art one billboard at a time

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Lahore Biennale democratising art one billboard at a time


If you’ve noticed the fascinating billboards that are unlike any others gracing the buildings of Lahore then you’ve seen the Lahore Biennale Foundation’s (LBF) latest project, Zinda-dil-a’an-e-Lahore. It is a meant to be a homage to the city of Lahore and its residents, and the aim is to connect the people together by way of art that reminds them of their shared humanity. The LBF and the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) collaborated to put up 16 billboards across the city which display thought provoking pieces from 16 artists.

Still Breathing by Imran Qureshi

Still breathing a commentary on the ongoing pandemic and its central motif is a gold mask. Imran Qureshi has covered a mask in 24 Karat gold leaf to symbolise how valuable the humble mask is in this pandemic. He said, “transforming the entity of the Mask into a metallic surface similar to a shield or armour, which protects a warrior in a battle ground. Yet at the same time, flakes of gold leaf may be seen floating around, giving a sense of uncertainty through their fragility in a rather poetic way, symbolic of the uncertainty that we are all experiencing in our lives”.

Film Still 48 by Asif Khan

This picture of the founder of the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was taken from an old documentary film rescued by the artist from the waste archives of the government offices in Lahore. The film that the documentary is on is from the time of the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent. The washed out black and white tone manages to evoke a sense of nostalgia for an era long gone, and the fact that the Quaid-e-Azam is seen gesturing in the picture creates a sense of movement that feels at odds with the nature of this moment frozen in time. This contrast between what was and what remains of it is something Asif Khan himself felt as well. He remarks, “going through 35mm film frame by frame without hearing a sound, allowed me to look at the images more deeply to relate with the different stories I have heard or read about the partition of British India.”.

How young is your tap water? by Saba Khan

This unique piece of art addresses both history and environmental degradation. Saba Khan comments on the miserable and filthy state of the once great river Ravi, whilst placing it within the historic context of previous man made destruction. She says, “We learn from the tritium levels that Lahore’s aquifer is supplemented by ‘young waters’ of River Ravi which has become an unfortunate dumping ground.”. Water absorbs tritium, and the large number of nuclear tests that the U.S carried out in the 1950s released a vast amount of tritium that was absorbed by the world’s waters.

Bridge on the canal by Atif Khan

This fantastical and wonderful depiction of a day to night scene on a bridge is a joy to look at. This piece, in the artist’s own words, “is a visual story that depicts a romanticised and imaginary landscape. The single image shows the transformation of day into night, a sign of the rhythm of nature”.

Outsider by Masooma Syed

Outsider is based on this Jose Saramago quote, “Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are”. The piece itself is comprised of translucent subjects grafted onto a background of newspaper clippings. Outsider is spellbinding in its multilayered complexity and hard to look away from.

Pause by Nazish Ata Ullah

This piece hangs like a giant pause button in the sky, depicting the mood the entire year. In a year filled with lockdowns, social distancing and the general severing of human connection this piece is a reminder of how things may be on pause right now, but this oppressive state of affairs in only a brief interlude and not a complete stop. “As if there is a momentary pause that will ‘play’ in time once this pandemic is over.”, said the artist.

An essence of time by Ruby Chishti

A beguiling piece that invites the viewer to continue looking, Ruby Chishti says “An essence of time” is musing of my lifelong experimentation in melding the material of found garments and social memory. Here it is: ‘An essence of time’ is musing of my lifelong experimentation in melding the material of found garments and social memory”.

Oran-Chard by Warda Shabbir

Warda Shabbir has drawn inspiration from the foliage of Lahore to depict the myriad of struggles that Pakistani woman face. The piece used carefully placed details to depict the numerous challenges women have to face in society, as well as the changeable nature of the human heart. Commenting on her work Warda Shabbir said “Each and every detail is a symbol of my subjective experiences as a female Pakistani artist- an interactive imagery that unveils itself gradually to the observer’s eye”.

Color by Hamra Abbas

This wonderfully bright and eclectic piece is more than it’s lovely colours, it is in fact a statement of the unachievable nature of perfection. The slightly off centre lines make the viewer question what is wrong and what is right, opening up a conversation on why we consider things to always be defined by this hard binary. Hamra Abbas says, “I have repeatedly used the image of a misprint, or misaligned CMYK layers, to question the ideals of truth and perfection through the notion of an ‘error’ as a metaphor.”.

Rahbar se apni rah juda kar chukay hain hum by Shah Abdullah Alamee

One of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s seminal poems has been rendered as calligraphy in this beautiful piece. Shah Abdullah Alamee said “My Calligraphy is informed by classical styles with frequent usage of the Siyah Mashq Technique.”.

Breath of compassionate by Waqas Khan

The two melding spheres depicted in this aptly named artwork are reminiscent of the breath of two people intermingling. The artist says “Let it sail organically…Maybe you will see inwards, maybe you will drift across an outward introspection – who knows!”.

Khaat/Line by Ayesha Jatoi

This powerful statement refers to the smog and pollution that has choked Lahore. The artist’s statement translates to “Even the horizon is no longer here”. Ayesha Jatoi said that “On the surface, the smog and pollution have rendered the horizon line unseeable. At a deeper level the global pandemic has challenged us to question our inner horizons. Life, as we knew it, has been recalibrated.”.

Jester by Faiza Butt

The subject of this work looks to be dressed in traditional garb at first glance, but on closer inspection one can see that is not the case and what appears to be a cap is actually a butterfly. Faiza Butt expounded on her piece, “I use the human face as a physiological space to discuss my politics. The man defies references as to be framed culturally, ethically or as by time period”.

The conference of the birds by Ali Kazim

This piece even if taken at face value is beautiful, but its message is even more so. Ali Kazim depicts the bird from The Conference of the Birds, by Farid ud-Din Attar and shows them out in search of the mythical simurgh who they want to be their leader. But while on this journey they realise that they, themselves, are the simurgh.

A poem for Zainab by Salima Hashmi

This gripping piece of work is hard to look away from despite how unsettling it can be. It deals with domestic abuse and repression, and the unease it evokes in the viewer t does so subtly in order to shed light on this horrible practice that is still alive and well in society. Salima Hashmi says, “The work was originally a response to the trauma of a woman named Zainab who suffered unimaginable sadistic violence by her husband way back in the 90’s. Today the image takes on new meanings. In the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic, women all over the world are again being subjected to domestic violence at the hands of their partner, or other family members.”.

Basant by Ajaz Anwar

This artwork shows the banned festival of basant, which was once a source for great joy and connection for the people of they city. And, now it is relegated to the past. The artist says with regard to his own work “I choose difficult subjects”.

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