It has been unfortunate that popular art in Pakistan has been undocumented, uncharted and underappreciated. The city’s large collector base was initially nurtured by renowned artist Ali Imam, when he opened the doors of the Indus Gallery in Karachi in 1970. Today, it is still Karachi that is seen as the artistic hub of the the country, with dozens of art galleries offering opportunities to artists from all over Pakistan and abroad to showcase their art.
Since the 1970s, many artists have emerged, who belong to different disciplines and hone different processes and mediums. Particularly, in today’s modern world, social media has played a strong role in introducing these new artists to a wider audience of art enthusiasts, and has kept everyone up-to-date on the latest trends and techniques in the art world.
However, what was missing was an easy and accessible database, which archived classic and contemporary artists for artistic and academic purposes. Acutely aware of the need for such a place, Karachi Biennale Trust (KBT) decided to take on the mammoth task of documenting the diverse art scene of Karachi as a holistic and a comprehensive online website. Thus, the Karachi Art Directory (KAD) was born.
KAD belongs to the Discursive Project, a committee of KBT that focuses specifically on creating, documenting and archiving art for research purposes. KAD is an online database that maps out the diverse and vast art-scape of Karachi and other towns of Sindh. So far, KAD has documented 157 visual artists, including contemporary artists, calligraphers and truck artists. It has reviewed 47 art galleries and art institutions in the city, and has a roster of 22 art critics and writers from Karachi and smaller cities of Sindh. The user-friendly website uses data visualizations specifically designed to help researchers and students both navigate the site, and find relevant material/experts to consult for their individual projects.
KAD was officially launched on 24th August, at the Ahmed Parvez Gallery, in the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi. This particular gallery was selected because of its historical and pivotal role in the promotion of art in this country. The space was re-designed by Zainab Marvi using a clean, minimal design aesthetic. She used a sky blue and lilac color palate to not only soften the visual appeal but also create a safe and tranquil atmosphere to view and discuss the art within it. Those who attended the launch, also got a preview of the site on laptops and interactive screens.
The event was inaugurated with an address by the managing trustee of KBT, Niilofur Farrukh, who emphasized the need to document and research all forms of art in Pakistan. This was followed by a presentation by the co-chair off the project, Tazeen Hussain, who talked about the process of documentation for the project, and the interesting discoveries made along the way. In particular, she came across an online group of calligraphers, who further gave her access to an even more extensive list of practitioners, who had hitherto been unnoticed in the artistic community.
The launch concluded with a panel discussion of artistic experts and practitioners, featuring Mehr Afroz and Munawar Ali Syed, art critic Nimra Khan, Bushra Hussain and Tazeen Hussain – co-chairs of KAD, and Kashif Khan, who represented the calligrapher’s guild. The main questions raised during the discussion were the importance of, and the ways of making high art as accessible to the general public as possible. This also involves allowing more obscure, small-scale artists to access the site in order to find contacts and collaborators, who may be interested in their work. The discussion also touched upon the importance of social media in general, for the growth and perpetuation of the local artistic community.
KAD will be updated bi-annually in order to accurately reflect the changing face of the country’s art scene. Along with that, the website will document migrations of artists, support and acknowledge emerging artists, and serve as a database for primary research on the burgeoning Karachi art scene. The website can be visited at karachiartdirectory.com.