The city of Lahore will be a medium, not just a site, says Pakistani artist Rashid Rana, as he settles in to discuss over the phone the inaugural Lahore Biennale, set to be held in November-December 2017.
Rana, the Pakistan art world’s most recognisable face, has been picked as curator and artistic director of the event -- which is being organised by the Lahore Biennale Foundation, a body established in 2014 by Pakistani artists, art enthusiasts and members of the business fraternity.
This will be the third major art event launched in the Indian subcontinent, after Bangladesh’s Dhaka Art Summit and India’s Kochi-Muziris biennale, both started in 2012. And this one, Rana promises, will be unlike most biennales.
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For one thing, anyone can submit an entry, not just professional artists.
The broad theme is Beyond ‘Public Art’. “The aim is to create an art event without walls, in every sense of the term,” Rana says. “To expand the production and viewership of art beyond conventional spaces but to do so in diverse ways that go beyond installing large art works around.”
In keeping with this approach, certain slots will be reserved for select artists/practitioners, who will participate by invitation, but anyone who has an interesting idea can apply for the rest. The only requirement is that the art work is visually and functionally accessible to the inhabitants of the city of Lahore.
“We hope to overturn expectations surrounding both art practice and exhibition-making,” Rana says. “While the format of the biennale has proliferated enormously in the past few decades, there are pertinent questions surrounding its workings and critical currency. The discipline of art itself is not a fixed imaginary. Thus, the biennale sets out to challenge the parameters of both the biennale format and the discipline of art itself, seeking to imagine possible futures and potentials in subversive and yet expansive ways.”
Unlike most biennales, the duration of the event will be open-ended too. “While we have announced November 5 to December 24 for art tourists to attend the event, but some projects could go on for days after, some for years, and some could become a permanent feature of Lahore,” Rana says.
Lahore at present is complicated... the world has a very limited view of it, the artist adds. “Its non-linear and peculiar circumstances enable multiple contexts, providing a fertile environment that has produced many creative individuals who have made their mark felt across the world. It’s a city that deserves a cultural event with the ambition and scale of a biennale. I hope that starting with a note of self-reflection will become a sustained practice that allows the event to respond flexibly and urgently to new fields of inquiry for many cycles to come.”
This approach is, in some ways, an extension of Rana’s own art practice, which deals with everyday issues that range from faith to tradition and urbanisation, commenting on politics, society and peoples at large.
“Art in its present state is a social construct spanning only the last two centuries. The wide scope of objects and activity that we lump together as art now was not necessarily seen as such in the past,” Rana adds. “The curatorial premise encourages the artists to explore questions around ‘the function of art’.”