A strong discursive component undergirds the exhibitions, public programming, and community outreach activities of the Karachi Biennale.
One of the major concerns that we must grapple with as a postcolonial society is what Gayatri Spivak calls an ‘epistemic violence’ inflicted by foreign oppressors. The residual impact of the vacuums created by this intellectual erasure is felt in the lack of independent documentation and critical research that connects to our South Asian roots.
Prior to the events of the first Karachi Biennale, we planned multiple interventions to address these concerns, guided by the theme – WITNESS. The critical dialogue began with a panel titled ‘Film as Witness’ during the Pakistan Calling Film Festival in November 2016. Following that, our activities in early 2017 commenced with 5 interdisciplinary roundtables of dialogue about the complex layers of activities and experiences that contribute to the vibrancy and turmoil of Karachi. Independent thinkers, poets, writers, musicians, and activists, with diverse interests encompassing the position of women in society, urban interventions, and cultural engagement in the political, economic, and social spheres of urban life came together with artists to reflect on how they collectively experience and respond to their city. The aim was to document ideas, work, and expressions that have emerged in the last two decades, to seek synergies between Karachi’s diver’s actors and contributors, and ultimately forge new frames of reference for researchers.
The South-South Critical Dialogue is another key component of the Critical Knowledge Lab. Designed in anticipation of a panel with Latin American art critics and academics during KB17 in October 2017, this study circle was steered by an academic rigour, focusing on thinkers including Gerardo Mosquera, Nelly Richards, and Walter Mignolo.
South-South study circles constitute vibrant discussions prompted by an eclectic group of Karachi-based art critics, art educators, curators, and young graduates with an inclination for humanistic discourse. The forum seeks to find patterns of difference and convergence with regions that shares in our struggles with colonialism, coloniality, and repeated episodes of totalitarian regimes. Each subsequent iteration of the Karachi Biennale will, therefore, connect with a different region that shares in South Asia’s postcolonial struggles.