A visit to the Karachi Biennale 2017 – introduction.

A view of Karachi with a painted cable reel, part of a project to engage all quarters of the city for the Karachi Biennale 2017.

We visited Pakistan this week. It was ‘off duty’ since the museum’s statues dictate that the foundation researches and collects art from Saudi Arabia, but that doesn’t disqualify staff completely from taking an interest in what happens elsewhere and for countries like Nigeria, I checked out their presentation in Venice earlier this year, and Pakistan, one can argue that the close relations they keep with Saudi Arabia imply that what artists come up with may somehow be connected with Saudi Arabia. For example in all its simplicity: in the busy rush hour traffic of Karachi I twice came accross a handsomely painted truck with on its back two swords with a palmtree in the middle because ‘the busdriver likes Saudi Arabia’ is how my driver explained me the significance of the logo. Then there is also the museum’s facebookpage which in the past has been easily liked by really many people from Pakistan. Nevertheless, I didn’t spontaneously wake up thinking about visiting Karachi, but in December 2016, while he was being ushered around Amsterdam by the Dutch government’s Mondrianfund and at the suggestion of one of his own assistant-curators, the chief curator of what was gong to be the first ever art biennale in Karachi dropped by in the museum and seemed to be in high spirits about organizing an event in a city that has for many here a bad ring to its name for both criminal and extremist violence. ‘Don’t go there,’ is what the family advised. ‘You will like it,’ however were the honest words with which a helpful diplomat at Pakistan’s embassy in The Hague arranged for my visa. So I ended up in Karachi for a few days to witness a very first art event of this kind in the context of a city ‘of dreams and nightmares,’ as chief curator Amin Gulgee pictured his hometown at the night of the opening. That was on October 21, 2017. The nexts days I had myself driven past many of the locations and performative events and made some pictures with my iPhone, which are the basis for this report. The biennale organisation distributed for free an excellent guide which I have added to our library and can be linked here: Your guide to KB17.

Truck driving through Karachi with Saudi Arabia’s palm tree and swords in its decoration.
M.A. Jinnahstreet in Karachi, October 21, 2017.

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