This Pakistani artist’s futuristic depiction will blow you away
KARACHI: While the world has adopted and embraced the perks of technological advancements, Pakistan is still in the stage of transition. We are clinging on to our past, and chasing the future while we juggle with our present. Our lifestyle revolves around dealing with power outages while dreaming of the latest phone we are going to order online when the power is back. We have coffee machines and still go to dhabas for that heavenly cup of chai. One will see cars wait for a herd of cows to cross the streets. The contrast is huge and equally mesmerizing.
But it will be fun to see where we are headed as the technology advances in the next several decades. But digital artist Omar Gilani isn’t patient enough to wait and see. Instead, his imagination has taken him to the future already and call it time travel, Nostradamus like prediction or merely an artist’s love of Jetsons, Gilani paints a unique futuristic depiction of Pakistan.
One will find several interesting elements in his art. From doodhwalas delivering milk on hovering bikes and cyborg prostitutes in Lahore to women in stylish attires carrying guns, Gilani presents a distinct and dark yet optimistic version of the future Pak-land.
Although lives have changed tremendously with this growth in technology, it’s accompanied by a feeling of techno-paranoia. And art has deeply explored this feeling, such as in TV show Black Mirror. But Gilani is still quite optimistic for the future. “I’m an 80’s kid, and so I remember being blown away when I saw the first mobile phone and the first image on a computer, and the first time I used the internet,” Gilani told The Express Tribune. “Fast forward three decades and we’re in this world where tech is ubiquitous for the most part. We are effectively cyborgs, with our basic selves extending beyond natural boundaries through the cell-phone/laptop and the internet.”
He continued, “Yet it’s turned out okay, and that’s why I’m fairly optimistic further advancements in tech will turn out okay as well. Until the rise of the T-1000, of course *Terminator music*.”
With optimism for the future and a past in Engineering and Robotics, the 30-year-old artist has a view of a technologically advanced Pakistani where retro and modern come together to form a world, which is apparently based on symbiotic relationship between the two, but could possibly be parasitic. What’s sure is that it shows an amalgam of dystopian and utopian features – a cyborg beggar, children playing cricket in the street, surrounded by dominant skyscrapers, robot waiters at a dhaba and holographic entertainment. “You’re right about there being a mix of utopia and dystopia in my futuristic work, which to me is just an extension of how things are right now,” Gilani said.
“Pakistan is not a singular, but an aggregate of parts that are growing at varying rates. It’s a soup, a melting pot of opposites, where tremendous good is offset by tremendous evil, and the latest tech and obscene wealth is offset by poverty and destitution, and, like you said, development and modernity is offset by clinging to the past.”
As to whether how long the balance can be maintained between the retro and modern, he said, “Cities homogenise their look and basically become giant extensions of airports. Dubai is a good example of this. Over here in Pakistan though, I don’t see that happening. After all, we’re in the 21st century right now, yet we still have electricity shortages, outdated cultural practices, and donkey-carts on the same road as BMWs. This nation spans several centuries all at once, and is a mixture of several cultures.”
Gilani, while always an artist at heart, believes his academic background helped him achieve this vision in art. He quit his job after he realised one could make a career out of making art. But he said, “Engineering has taught me to approach things methodically. There is a misconception that artistic ability is this ineffable gift that some geniuses just have. But really, it’s the science of observation more than anything, and my training as an engineer helps me explore it in that light.”
Working as an artist, he has done many a project, including working with the United Nations and the British Council. Apart from that corporate work, this ongoing sci-fi Pakistan series is what he considers a pet project. “It was, and still is, a pet project that I work on in my spare time to unwind from client work. It’s basically a combination of things that I find interesting to explore – science fiction, and desi culture. The goal is to eventually publish an art book.”