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Lahore Biennale director on the inaugural edition and challenges it entailed

The inaugural edition of Lahore Biennale concluded on a promising note on March 31, 2018. But the art gala underwent initial hiccups when Pakistani artist Rashid Rana stepped down as its curator. The dark clouds of uncertainty had hovered around the Biennale, but quick thinking and coming together of everyone on the board salvaged the situation. Despite the tumultuous relationship India and Pakistan share presently, artists from India went to the other side as participants. Shining light on the past, present and future of the event with ACF is LB01 director Qudsia Rahim who points out “LBF has been facilitating such action by providing opportunities to creative practitioners in the field of arts”.

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The adage ‘all’s well that ends well’ is befitting to describe the events that unfolded before the inaugural edition of Lahore Biennale kicked off. So, what was the strategy you employed after Rashid Rana stepped out? How did you address the crisis situation?

Our vision for LB01 was a decentered one – meaning that instead of curatorial authority being divested solely in one person, we chose to work through collaboration. For this reason, the biennale engaged multiple curatorial voices, and a dedicated academic advisor. In our programme, the city of Lahore emerged as a point of complex focus, and as a node of exchange between the region, and the rest of the world. Keeping in line with the very active public arts mandate of the Lahore Biennale Foundation (since 2015), segments and projects within LB01 were developed with the city’s various organizations, institutions, and individuals, harnessing various public resources as well as being shaped by them.

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It indeed is incredible how you pulled out the edition without it plunging into any controversy. What kind of support did you receive from the Pakistan government? Also, in terms of security arrangement and visa process, especially for the Indian delegates?
 
The Lahore Biennale Foundation is supported by government bodies, and has developed relations with local and international partners in order to bridge institutional gaps between Lahore and the rest of the world. We were fortunate to have had the full support of the artists and the various local and international institutions along with the local government, the Department of Information and Culture, the Walled City Authority Lahore and the Parks and Horticulture Authority, alongside the Government of Punjab at large, with whom we have collaborated on public art projects since 2015.

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Unlike literature, music and even fashion, do you think that Pakistan’s contemporary art is yet to move beyond the state boundaries?
LBF was constituted in direct response to the necessities of the thriving art environment in Pakistan. we want people to take ownership, and to take charge of their own narratives. The idea behind the foundation is to facilitate creative practitioners in the field of art(s) by bringing opportunities in the medium. LBF has been facilitating such action by providing opportunities to creative practitioners in the field of arts.

Many Pakistani artists are part of the glocal discourse and have certainly surpassed national boundaries in terms of recognition – major international institutions, museums, art fairs and galleries have supported and exhibited works by contemporary artists at various stages in their careers, not only those from Lahore but from all over the country. The biennale worked with many young emerging and globally celebrated artists.

How dynamic is Pakistan’s art community and how do you see the Biennale contribute in developing an interest in visual arts?

With its numerous educational and cultural institutions, Lahore has produced some of the most internationally acclaimed artists of the region. However, what is often lacking in Lahore, and to a larger extent in Pakistan, is that local artists rarely have the opportunity to view and engage with the works of their counterparts from the city, the nation, and the region in public settings. Our biennale aimed to do just that at a larger scale, as well as to extend this engagement to more diverse publics within the city, and regionally.

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Now, when you look back, is there any aspect that you wish you could have added or bettered?

There were some rookie mistakes, which were expected, which our generous audience was very forgiving of. In the future we would like even more inclusion of the various aspects of the city, so the overall experience becomes more immersive.

What is your plan for the next edition? Will you still go by multiple curators’ vision or would you follow the tradition of ‘one curator, one vision’?

It is perhaps too early to comment on the selection of curator and the curatorial process for LB02, we are at this time in a self-reflective stage and are making notes for the next edition of LB.




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