Two-day workshop on Karachi begins
KARACHI, Jan 1: A two-day collaborative workshop titled ‘Rethinking the urban in Pakistan’ began on the NED university’s city campus on Tuesday.
The first of the four sessions was presided over by Dr Noman Ahmed and the first speaker was Fariha Amjad. She gave a presentation on the impact of violence on Karachi and the resultant spatial transformation. Among other things, she said she believed that owing to the volatile situation in the city public spaces had either disappeared or interiorised.
Dr Nausheen Hafeeza spoke on ‘mobility, risky ventures and constructing house and home in Karachi’s frontier’ referring to the peripheral zones such as Gadap and Keamari towns.
She touched on the different dynamics of displacement integral to the expansion of the city. She rounded off her paper by suggesting that in the process of migrations the migrants searched for instruments to re-imagine social order.
The second session, chaired by Naiza Khan, had two very interesting presentations. One was by Prof Itikhar Dadi on ‘site-specific artistic interventions in Karachi’ and the other by Dr Noman Ahmed on wall chalking and graffiti in the city.
Prof Dadi said since the 1970s images of politicians, Sufi saints and advertising pictures had become readily visible. He then brought out some interesting pictures of Saddam Hussain’s posters used during the first Gulf war in 1991. He juxtaposed it with the posters of Gen Ziaul Haq in the same postures and mentioned that Saddam’s posters were secretly commissioned by Islamic parties and had commercial motives as well.
Prof Dadi ran a particular image in which Saddam was in the lower half of the poster whereas in the upper half there was a saint (unidentified) counting beads over Saddam’s head. There was another image in which Saddam was seen on a white horse, charging, which looked quite similar to Jacques Louis David’s artwork of Napoleon crossing the Alps.
Dr Noman Ahmed began his presentation by saying that wall chalking and graffiti had taken over all the vertical spaces in the city. Describing the difference between chalking and graffiti, he said the former was done in a hurry while the latter, a populist art form, was a result of a thought process.
He lamented that the walls in Karachi had become ‘notice boards’. He showed a grab of Jigar Muradabadi Road which was marred by posters of clinics that claimed to have cure for impotence, not to mention a series of wall chalking about faith healers, beauty clinics and people in love communicating their messages through the walls.
He concluded by stressing the need for a legal and statutory revision through a consultative process to address the issue.
The post-lunch session, chaired by Kaleem Lashari, generated quite a bit of debate.
Kamran Asdar read out a paper on cinemas in Karachi in the 1960s. He told the audience that it was a rudimentary study and showed clips from the 1968 film ‘Bahen Bhai’ directed by Riaz Shahid.
The film shots had the Karachi of the ‘60s in it and Asdar tried to make the audience guess what areas of the city they were. He said in those days films were discussed in every household and women went to cinemas without chaperons. Then things changed and in Ayub Khan’s era the city became the microcosm of development. He remarked: “The cinematic image came out of the urban experience.”
Asif Farrukhi spoke on ‘reading Karachi in/as Urdu novel’. Beginning with the story of a whale in one of Shah Latif’s surs, he gave examples of novels like Aag Ka Darya, Khuda Ki Basti, Chakiwara Mein Wisal and Aage Samandar Hai and argued that Karachi was a city of absences, a city whose ‘action’ was not written about.
Gyan Prakash spoke on the city of Mumbai ‘as home more than housing’ with a ‘fuller sense of belonging’. To make the audience understand his view, he said the subject could be understood in terms of the idea of the concept city (macro terms, urban planning etc) and in terms of the imagined city (a realm of experience, aspirations etc).
He showed a song from the 1955 film CID ‘Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan’ and called it a love song to Bombay, a celebration of the street, of texture of the city.
After that he took the talk to the post-1947 twin city of Bombay, where a different approach to the city was adopted because of modernist planning. The state started to employ urban planners and by the ‘70s modernist planning ran into disillusionment and the planning was handed to the private sector controlled by the market, private capital.
Naiza Khan and Asma Ibrahim were the speakers of the last session of the day.