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Spaces and moments of leisure

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/spaces-moments-leisure/#.WPMZEsZRU1k

 

The project used a rickshaw powered projector to show cell phone videos in diverse neighbourhoods where the videos were made. Basheer was the community coordinator for the screenings at Seaview. For Basheer who makes a living by photographing tourists along the Seaview beach, being part of a video project was something that left not just fond memories but a sense of ownership about his city. These outdoor screenings were free of cost and were held in various parts of Karachi, thereby creating an archive of cell phone videos about everyday life of Karachiites.

“This project was not a political reportage. We were not trying to be native informants. This project gathered Karachiite’s spaces and moments of leisure in the city,” says Yaminay Nasir Chaudhri, the key person behind MKMC. Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema was a way of engaging with different publics, explains Chaudhri. “We wanted to change the relationship of people to media. Normally the people we met and worked with were consumers of the media, but did not get to produce it themselves. In MKMC, they had a chance to make media and if they wanted to, to represent themselves.” The approach was participatory.

The MKMC team would teach basic video making and editing techniques using cell phones. Members of the community became collaborators and a part of the creative process. They could, for example, express their choice for music or particular scenes they liked in the videos they made, and want the MKMC team to fine tune that. “We would work on it together. It was a very important aspect of the project to create a sense of ownership and agency over the images we put out in the world,” says Chaudhri.

Karachi is a melting pot of different ethnicities, languages and cultures. This series of videos, though limited in number, were aimed at being snapshots into life of Karachiites from all walks of life. They were produced in response to the question “Home: What did you do last Sunday?” A Mobile Cinema Rickshaw carried around the projector that projected these videos on walls of houses, railway bogies and buildings, added another dimension to it that is typical to life in Karachi.

Karachi is a melting pot of different ethnicities, languages and cultures. This series of videos, though limited in number, were aimed at being snapshots into life of Karachiites from all walks of life. They were produced in response to the question “Home: What did you do last Sunday?”

The project celebrated the life and times of Karachiites, and created a new use of public spaces. This was a use of art that was not a luxury for the elite – it was by the people and for the people.

The MKMC team was headed by Yaminay Chaudhri. Other team members included Cyrus Viccaji, Sadia Khatri, Mohammad Saddique Khan, Khadija Abdul Lateef, Krishna Raju and Farhad Mirza.

Areas that were covered included Ibrahim Haidery, Lyari, Cantt Station and Seaview. Karachi’s migrant communities were also focused upon. Some of them have been living in the city since decades but still do not have legal status here. The videos, simple at a glance, were conceptually layered, tapping into complex themes like identity and ownership. Both regular and irregular settlements were tapped into.

Vernacular aesthetics and tools were used in this project. The rhythm of the city was important. These videos were not made for an international audience, which helped deliver a more fluid and organic narrative. “Often when films or documentaries are made for a global audience, producers end up orientalising, objectifying and exoticising Pakistan, resorting to stereotypes about terrorism, and over simplification of people based on ethnicities,” explains Chaudhri.

“MKMC is an incredibly diverse and inclusive project. It’s so beautiful how it’s rooted deeply in Karachi and its inhabitants, building a poignant and personal archive of all the vulnerable and aspirational relationships we have with the city, its public spaces and communities,” says Abeera Kamran, a graphic designer and web developer who worked on the website of Tentative Collective. She adds that it’s so rare to find artists that are committed to such collaborative intersectional work.

The screening of videos in MKMC created an alternative narrative in public spaces. The screenings fostered new kinds of conviviality in these neighbourhoods and leftover spaces of the city. In Lyari, in one screening, some 300 people, mostly women and children, came together on an empty parking lot and street in the middle of Baghdadi. “Our gatherings never used security apparatus and we never had any problems. The feeling of community and desire to be in a public space together doing something fun was a kind of organiser in itself,” says Chaudhri.

MKMC made an effort to hire a few people from each neighbourhood they engaged with as community leaders. They offered salaries to the ones who wanted salaries and support in other ways to those who were insulted by the offer of money. The project took one year to plan and ran for three years. It involved applying for grants, crowd sourcing, personal savings and getting funding from friends.

The second phase of the project, still underway, involves the showing of previously unshared parts of MKMC, a documentation of the process, and analysing what the team learnt from it. According to Chaudhri, the MKMC team wants to look at what gets deleted, what is deemed screen worthy and what is not. As artists working with new collaborators, they also want to decipher what it was that they saw in these engagements with unlikely friends.

As often happens, lack of funds eventually became a reason why the project had to be discontinued. “We got offers to turn this project into a brand, and were offered funding from dubious sources, but we turned it down. It was important to us that the agendas of funding bodies were not reflected in the outcomes of our project. That would defeat the purpose of making a project like this with its open-ended outcomes and flexibility of programming,” says Chaudhri, adding that by the end of the project, the structure of the videos had changed dramatically based on the groups they met and their desire to make media a certain way. “The project went in all of those directions happily. With big funding, branding, and foreign agendas, none of that would have been possible.”

MKMC was a project of the “Tentative Collective” — a collective of people who share resources to create critical works of art in public places. The Tentative Collective is currently working on a project exploring some of the outcomes of modernity and development, working with literal and metaphorical notions of waste and wasted lives.

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Frida Kahlo’s art: Ribbon around a bomb

Published: November 9, 2014

‘Frida with magenta muffle.’ PHOTO: NIKOLAS MURAY

‘Frida with magenta muffle.’ PHOTO: NIKOLAS MURAYThe entrance to La Casa Azul. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.” — Frida Kahlo

It doesn’t make sense that I relate so strongly to her. Barring the gender, we have nothing in common. She was from Hungarian-Jewish-Spanish-Mexican Indian descent; I am as Pakistani as it gets. She lived decades ago in Coyoacán, Mexico; I live in Karachi, Pakistan. She was a Communist political activist; I am not. I have no uni-brow or a muralist called Diego Rivera as my life-partner. Nor do I live in La Casa Azul (The Blue House). Yet the complex and multi-dimensional Frida Kahlo talks to me and I hear her.

‘Frida with magenta muffle.’ PHOTO: Nikolas Muray

An exhibit of one of Frida’s self-designed dresses

Frase celebre — a famous quote by Frida

An oil painting titled Marxism will give health to the sick.

Frida suffered from polio as a child, had a bus accident as a teenager that left her crippled and underwent 30 surgeries. She had multiple miscarriages and could not have a child. Chained in that crippled body was a feisty uninhibited spirit, who said “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Her restrictions were very real. But within those restraints, she lived life to the fullest and asserted who she was. And this is the bond between Frida and so many women throughout the world who have no commonalities on a superficial level. But somewhere, in a parallel world, they hear each other. The chains maybe different, but for most women, they are there. And when they soar as high as they can, while tied to the ground, that’s the point where they meet Frida.

For art enthusiasts and Frida lovers, La Casa Azul is a must-do on the bucket list. Now that I was in Mexico City for a conference, how could I go back without visiting her home? Luckily, I met an American and a South African woman who were equally eager to go there too. The eclectic nature of this troika did justice to Frida, who embodied as much diversity within herself — equal parts muse, artist, writer, fashionista, lover, activist and saint. I tried speaking my broken Spanish to give directions to the taxi driver but he understood nothing. Eventually, I just ended up saying, “Frida” and he knew where to take us.

A display of creative footwear

A prosthesis from the exhibition ‘Appearances can be deceiving’

A papier-mache sculpture on display that symbolises an empty womb

La Casa Azul is snuggled away in a darling neighbourhood called Coyoacán in Mexico City. It is also known as Museo Frida Kahlo, as it was converted into a museum in 1958. Even on a weekday afternoon during lunchtime, there was a long queue of Kahlo-enthusiasts outside on the street. The one hour wait allowed us to explore the Colonia del Carmen neighbourhood. The vibrantly painted yellow, orange and blue homes, hand-painted addresses on heavy wooden doors, and imperfect but beautiful architecture — this had to be Frida’s street.

Our homes are places where bits of our souls rest in our belongings and our choices. The walls of our rooms witness our inner turmoil and the doors hear our laughter. A part of us lives in our homes even when we are not there. “Her feel is so much alive in this house” is what one of my two companions said as we entered. This is her ancestral home where she was born, where she lived part of her married life with Diego, and where she died.

The house, built around a sprawling courtyard, has cobalt-blue walls, small fountains and a lot of plantation. It is creative yet simple, and is very obviously conducive to art.

The wheelchair that helped Frida get around

Farida’s workstation

The yellow kitchen

The museum showcases most of Frida’s work. In her lifetime, she produced over 140 paintings, and 55 of these are self-portraits. Clearly in touch with herself, she had once said “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Her paintings are, thus, her biography. Some seemingly unfinished paintings show faceless children, and some almost grotesque sculptures show an empty-wombed hollow woman. Here, Frida shares her unfulfilled desire of motherhood. While many see her work as surrealist, she had vehemently called her work her reality. French writer and poet André Breton had once described Frida Kahlo’s art as a “ribbon around a bomb”. That is also a very apt description of Frida herself.

While her art equipment have a strange glamour to them as one realises that these are the paints, brushes and canvas-holders which helped her create her lasting pieces, other belongings like her wheelchair and crutches also make one sense her disabilities. No matter how much we celebrate her disability as part and parcel of the great artist, and no matter how much she fought it with bravery, it must not have been an easy life. No matter, how emblematic, original and ethnic her ensembles are, but at the end of the day her wardrobe includes corsets, leg immobilisers, prosthesis and special shoes. It must have been tough to be in Frida’s shoes.

Her choices were not run-of-the-mill either. She loved Diego for his art and his mind, and it was a difficult on-again, off-again relationship. But they were each other’s muses. While she and her terribly gifted husband were intensely in love, Diego could never pledge fidelity, though he promised her loyalty. Loyalty, as Frida once said, was more important to her than fidelity.

The Pakistani woman today is in a transitional flux. She admires Ismat Chughtai but is also solidly rooted in tradition, sometimes out of coercion and at others as an informed choice. She is complex, and learning, and evolving. She is coming of age. She is paying the prices for her choices. Yet, she is living a full life, or at least trying to. Frida Kahlo, in her own unique way, did the same. She exemplified, somehow, what mystic teachings say — that none of us is perfect, yet there is so much perfect in each of us. She once said, “I think that little by little I’ll be able to solve my problems and survive.” That is what all of us are trying to do, every day of our lives.

Farahnaz Zahidi is a senior subeditor at The Express Tribune. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 9th, 2014.

‘Wood’ you decorate your home with the whimsical?

Owing to dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. PHOTOS: JAMAL ASHIQAIN

KARACHI: Yaar ko hum ne jaa bajaa dekhaKabhi zaahir kabhi chupa dekha (I saw my Beloved everywhere, Sometimes apparent and sometimes hidden). Unassuming at first glance, there is a rectangular wooden table with immaculate finish. But upon closer inspection and you see the preceding couplet written on both its sides in delicate brass inlay work. “This is called Khatt. I name each of my pieces,” says architect-turned furniture designer Zahra Ebrahim. Each of her 100 plus pieces of furniture on display are decorated with subtle detail.

With a multitude of furniture shops in Karachi, Ebrahim, seven years into the business, is still operating from home and her workshop, with one to two exhibitions in a year. And to highlight the contributions of local artisans, Ebrahim and her partner Rubain Ali Amir make sure they hand a paper to each potential client titled ‘Celebrating our artisans’.

Owing to dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. PHOTOS: JAMAL ASHIQAIN

It states the various techniques and forms of craft they use including wood inlay, brass inlay, and rilli qulits (quilts) from Sindh, which Ebrahim utilises as upholstery. “The rilli is whimsical in nature,” its says. When mentioning the blue Hala pottery, she makes a special mention of Jaan Soomro from Hala and other artisans like him.

The collection comprises chairs and sofas upholstered with kilms, rillis from Sindh, and Kashmiri and Swati embroidery. It also offers a variety of lamps, trolleys, wall hangings, almirahs, levitating corners and shelves, sofas and tables.

Owing to perfection in the finish and dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. But what rivets their attention is the thematic and cultural influences in her work.

Owing to dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. PHOTOS: JAMAL ASHIQAIN

With names such as Aztecs (Mexico), Khul Ja Sim Sim (Middle East), Dancing Gopis (India), Alhambra (Spain) and Tutankhamun (Egypt), her furniture pieces are analogous with travelogues.

A resident of Karachi, Ebrahim celebrates the sights and sounds of the metropolis through her work, for instance, a thematic set of trays with black crows, bougainvilleas and landmarks, which represent the city.

Seeing Persian and Arabic poetry and phrases carved on some of the pieces, one wonders how her clients respond to the presence of these inscriptions in a land where these languages, especially the latter, is venerated. “I have never had a problem because I make sure I use only vernacular phrases on my pieces and nothing religious,” she explains. The only place where she may make religious references is in wall hangings and lamps. “Usually, clients do not want anything like that on tables.”

Owing to dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. PHOTOS: JAMAL ASHIQAIN

Also mentioned are woodcut or xylography and geometrical designs. When it comes to calligraphy, Ebrahim prefers the Kufic script. “The low vertical profile and horizontal variations in it are beautiful. I enjoy the vagueness in Kufic script, where the boundary between word and design disappears,” she says.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2014.