British curators take back more than handwoven stoles from Pakistan
By: Zahrah Mazhar
KARACHI: The Ikat dupattas designed by the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture students were sold out on Friday as nine curators from the United Kingdom gushed over the handwoven fabric.
“The curators, unfortunately, couldn’t go to the markets in Karachi on such a short trip but they got to buy these beautiful stoles which were an immediate hit,” said the British Council Director Arts for wider South Asia, Shreela Ghosh, while holding one up.
Ghosh was accompanying the curators on their nine-day trip to Karachi, Lahore and Dhaka under the British Council’s Connections through Cultures programme. Around 10 UK galleries have partnered for this initiative which aims to introduce and create lasting relationships between curators from three different countries.
Five curators from Pakistan and three from Bangladesh are expected to travel to the UK in March next year for the same purpose.
“Initially, the projects under the British Council focused more on showcasing British culture which is very rich and vibrant,” said Ghosh. “But now we want to encourage cross-cultural projects which will hopefully produce bold contemporary work.” The IVS dean of design, Prof.
Shehnaz Ismail, was in agreement that the council was now venturing into more invigorating projects, such as the Reconstruction fashion show earlier this year which brought British designs to Pakistan. “The British Council had gone to sleep but it has started to generate excitement again through such projects,” said Ismail.
Ghosh, being in charge of a region, aims to not only build creative bridges between the UK and each country, but also within the wider South Asia. “Art markets within Europe are easily accessible to each other as there are no borders owing to the European Union but in this region, that is a problem.”
The team met a number of artists on Thursday, such as Amin Gulgee and Sameera Raja, along with visiting different studios and galleries.
Ghosh pointed out that one of the main problems in the art industry in Pakistan is the lack of trained curators, which Ismail agreed with.
This was Ghosh’s third visit in last nine months as she came earlier to meet and finalise the curators who would visit the UK next year – Sameera Raja of Canvas Gallery, Riffat Alvi of VM Art Gallery, Asad Hayee, Qudisa Rahim of NCA Gallery, and Nasreen Askari of the Mohatta Palace Museum.
While choosing the British curators, their knowledge and level of interest in building links in the region was taken into consideration. “We made an effort to narrow down our choices from far-flung areas, such as Ireland, Canterbury and the Midlands,” explained Ghosh.
Building bridges over time
“This venture is not about an immediate partnership or project, instead we’ve kept the outcome open-ended for the curators,” said the art director with reference to the goals of the programme. “If ideas meet, it could lead to articles on cultural vibrancy, exhibitions, internships and residencies – we’ve left the door open for the galleries on how they want to proceed.”
Deborah Robinson, senior exhibitions curator at the New Art Gallery Walsall, was hopeful that the craft element found in Pakistan could be brought to her hometown. “Spirit among the artists here [Karachi and Lahore] is fantastic and we look forward to welcoming them in the UK,” said Robinson.
“The culture and people of both the cities were very impressive,” said Sofia Victorino, the head of education and public programmes at Whitechapel Galllery. “We went to the National College of Arts in Lahore and it was great to see that people who had studied from there are now guiding the younger generations.” Mentoring students or mentoring peers, she said, were after all the only for the arts to move forward.