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From bloodstains to graphic art, artists reclaim Karachi's walls

For years now Karachi has found itself in the middle of chaos and terror attacks and the city's walls have been mute victims to hate graffiti, blood stains from murders and what not. But a group of artists have now taken it upon themselves to reclaim the walls by painting them beautiful.

art and culture Updated: Jul 24, 2015 15:29 IST
Karachi,Wall Art,Karachi Artists
Art teacher Nooryya Shaikh Nabi (R) and her daughter Gaiti Ara give final touches to a design on a wall in the southern port city of Karachi. For years Karachi's walls have been spattered with the bloodstains of murder victims and scrawled with graffiti screeds touting everything from sectarian hatred to quack cures for erectile dysfunction. (AFP Photo/ Asif Hassan)

A group of artists and volunteers have joined hands to reclaim Karachi's walls, which have been smeared with bloodstains of murder victims, hate graffiti and quack cures for erectile dysfunction.

Artists are now painting the walls with cheerful designs to bring the lost pride back to an often violent, chaotic and corrupt city.

In the recent years Karachi, Pakistan's economic capital and biggest metropolis, has been been going through a rough phase of extortion, murder and kidnapping -- for religious, criminal, ethnic and political reasons.

Those behind the new project, called Reimaging the walls of Karachi hope that by taking art to the streets they can bring a more positive outlook for its 20 million inhabitants.

Pakistani artists and volunteers paint designs on a wall in Karachi. (AFP Photo/ Asif Hassan)

"We are working together and taking back the city by reclaiming the walls which are filled with hate graffiti," artist Norayya Shaikh Nabi tells AFP while drawing an abstract of the city on a wall along a busy road.

Nabi, an art teacher at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, is one of 200 artists, artisans and labourers taking part in the project.

Artists and volunteers from Reimaging the walls of Karachi paint the walls. (AFP Photo/ Asif Hassan)

With the help of the city authorities to get the permission they need, they aim to repaint walls in 1,600 different places -- from warehouses to schools to flyovers and underpasses.

The scheme is being run by I Am Karachi, a charity working for the cultural, social and literary uplift of the city, backed by funds from the US Agency for International Development.

Rare street art

Pakistan boasts some talented young artists, but public art is rare.

Munawar Ali Syed, who is leading the team of artists, says it is a pleasure to take their work beyond the elite circles of galleries and graduate shows.

Pakistani youths pose for photographs in front of a national flag painted on a wall in Karachi.(AFP Photo/ Asif Hassan)

"It's important for society to remain involved with art and music, but unfortunately such things are waning from our culture," says Syed.

"In my 17-year art practice in the galleries, I have enjoyed working here the most as I am directly communicating with my viewers."

Under Syed's watchful eye, a team of artists use stencils to create images of boys flying kites, donkey cart races and other images of rural life.

A family looks at art work on a wall on a commercial street. (AFP Photo/ Asif Hassan)

Elsewhere, flamboyant, brightly coloured paintings of peacocks and elephants have not only radically changed the feel of Karachi but have also drawn foreigners, who usually move with extreme caution around this seemingly volatile city.

Aside from daily murders, Karachi was hit by two major terror attacks in just over a year.

A Taliban attack on the airport left 38 people dead last year June, and in May this year gunmen slaughtered 45 minority Shiite Muslims on a bus. It was the first attack in Pakistan to be claimed by the Islamic State group.

Munawar Hussain (right), art teacher and supervisor of a wall painting project instructs his team of painters as they put the finishing touches to a design. (AFP Photo/ Asif Hassan)

The project's coordinator Adeela Suleman says she is delighted that the work has brought a less hostile look.

Schoolchildren have also been made part of the project, in the hope of shifting a sense of ownership of the city and its appearance on to the younger generations.

"We included younger people so they can carry this work on further," says Nabi, while working with her teenage daughter on a wall.

"When they grow up they will feel that they are comfortable in sort of working for the city -- this is like planting a seed to the next generations."

Pedestrians walk past a painted design on a wall. (AFP Photo/ Asif Hassan)

The artists hope the project will subtly change people's behaviour after years of violence, softening them a little.

"I believe that this will yield good results in the long term," Syed says.

"When you see positive things around you, your behaviour becomes positive and a big change comes along in one's life."

First Published: Jul 24, 2015 14:42 IST