Research

  • Barrages and the Fragmentation of the River Indus
  • GRANTEE
    Pak Khawateen Painting Club:
    Malika Abbas,
    Saulat Ajmal,
    Amna Hashmi,
    Saba Khan,
    Natasha Malik,
    Zohreen Murtaza &
    Emaan Shaikh
    GRANT YEAR
    2020

Pak Khawateen Painting Club, Expedition 01 on mega hydropower dams, Tarbela Dam, Swabi, Pakistan, 2019. Courtesy Pak Khawateen Painting Club

The Indus River, dotted with ancient towns and forts, formed the basis for prosperous medieval trading routes to Arabia and China, allowing syncretic Sufi and Buddhist traditions to travel and influence communities. With the arrival of capitalist colonialism and later in a postcolonial nation, large corporations and banks attempted to tame its waters with modern engineering of building dams and barrages—in a bid to maximize agricultural output while disturbing natural ecosystems. Indus will soon be reduced to a trickle at the mouth of the sea, killing its protective mangrove forests and aquatic life. The effects are already being felt in the form of the displacement of indigenous populations. These concerns will be realized in the form of an exhibition rooted in field research that will provoke and question the building of more structures on the river for economic development and water conservation—an agenda fanned by nationalist rhetoric.

Pak Khawateen Painting Club (translated from the Urdu as Pure Pakistani Women’s Painting Club) was formed by invitation to create a new commission at the Lahore Biennale 02 (2020). It is an arm of the Murree Museum Artist Residency, a yearly artist-run initiative that invites practitioners to examine postcolonial conditions and the decay of the British-Raj era hill station Murree, a microcosm of municipal, bureaucratic, and ecological issues. The Painting Club investigates powerful mega structures that lead to problems at a transnational level, resulting in the displacement of indigenous populations. The unequal division of resources and the inundation of histories, hydrological engineering finds an unexpected foe in its (not so) “Pak” provocateurs (more simply, members): Malika Abbas, Saulat Ajmal, Amna Hashmi, Saba Khan, Natasha Malik, Zohreen Murtaza, and Emaan Shaikh. The artist collective was founded in 2020 in Lahore, where some of the members live and work.

Malika Abbas is a visual artist living and working in Karachi, Pakistan. She received her bachelor’s in fine art from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi with a major in literiature and a minor in photography. She has been working with White Star Photo (pvt) Limited, a sister concern for DAWN Media Group, since 2009 as a photographer and archivist. Her work has been published in Herald, DAWN Newspaper, DAWN.com, Destinations Magazine, First Post (India), and Parsi Khabar. She has a book to her credit and has participated in various group shows. She also works as the curator for AAN Gandhara Art Gallery, Karachi, and curated the Badal Do, exhibitions for The School of Writing in 2017 and 2019.

Saulat Ajmal is an artist, educator, writer, and curator. She went to Virginia Commonwealth University for her master’s of fine arts and Hunter College New York for both of her undergraduate degrees, bachelor’s of fine arts and dual bachelor’s of arts in sociology and studio art. While she has studied and practiced in the US for most of her life she now lives in Lahore, Pakistan, and teaches at the National College of Arts as a permanent faculty member. Her practice includes paintings, performances, and installations that investigate the overlapping of social constructs such as feminism, religion, sexuality, and the idea of the “other” in a rapidly evolving global society. Where form and function are at odds with rationality is where her works enter the space of the feminine sublime. Her writing and curatorial work furthers this research through the lens of contemporary art and criticism and culminates as public events and publications.

Amna Hashmi is a an art educator and visual artist, specializing in the art of miniature painting. Combining her interest in historical illuminated manuscripts with her love for Japanese manga, her work revolves around her interest of storytelling and recording historical events—resulting in work that explores the boundaries between facts and the creation of myths, magical, and collective imaginary spaces that are often neglected in our present-day, media-saturated lives. Her works have been shown in From the Scroll to the Book, He Yuan Peace Garden Museum, Beijing, China (2017) and Ato Nexus, Embassy of Pakistan, Tokyo, Japan (2016). After being inspired by trees during Murree Museum Artist Residency, she now tinkers with interactive design, circuits, and coffee, inspiring To the Coffee Cave, Satrang Gallery, Islamabad (2019). Hashmi teaches as an assistant professor in the Department of Architecture and Design at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad.

Saba Khan is a visual artist and founded Murree Museum Artist Residency, an artist-led initiative in 2014 in the British colonial hill station, Murree. Her work varies from painting, sculpture, and photography, to installation, used as tropes to comment on the emerging aspirational class. Recent thematic residencies have been on ecology, investigating the impact of development and mass tourism on the town of Murree, turning it into a tiny hill metropolis in disarray. In response to top down bureaucratic decisions creating class divides and taxing  the environment, she formed a satirical collective of female artists as the Pak Khawateen Painting Club. Together the club visits monumental, ambitious sites—such as dams and barrages—that have transnational effects on the environment. She has been awarded grants from the Foundation for the Arts Initiatives, the Fulbright Program, and Sharjah Art Foundation, and exhibited at Karachi Biennale (2018) and Lahore Biennale (2020).

Natasha Malik received her bachelor’s in fine arts from the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, and her master’s from the Slade School of Fine Art, London. She is an artist and curator. Her first solo show, entitled a cage elusive as a shadow (2016) took place at Sanat Gallery, Karachi. She received a Special Commendation from Dentons Art Prize (2016), London, and was nominated for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize (2018). Her second solo show, the soul breathes differently, took place at Satrang Art Gallery in Islamabad. She has regularly exhibited her work, including at Asia House, London and COMO Museum of Art, Lahore. Malik founded The Creative Process (2017), a drawing and reading group of artists, writers and researchers. Under The Creative Process, she curated Of Other Spaces. She cocurated River in an ocean as a collateral event of the Lahore Biennale 2018, and cocurated Unmaking History (2019) which took place in Lahore.

Zohreen Murtaza is a lecturer in the Cultural Studies Department at National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore. She is also a graduate of this institution and completed her master’s in visual art from NCA. Her interests are wide-ranging; she is a visual artist, academic, and writer. Murtaza is currently writing on art with a regular column in a national newspaper called DAWN, she also reviews exhibitions. She has assisted in the research and writing of a book on a famous Pakistani landscape painter The Marvel that is Khalid Iqbal; Murtaza also contributes to other publications, prominent amongst them is an online publication on contemporary Pakistani art called artnow. As an artist, Murtaza works with a variety of mediums and is interested in delving into memory and history, text and image, and where she shifts between everyday reality and imaginary/invented worlds.

Emaan Shaikh is an artist and conservator and holds a bachelor’s in fine arts from the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, Pakistan. Her work has been exhibited at the Taseer Art Gallery, Punjab, Pakistan (2014, 2016), and at Zahoor Ul Akhlaq Gallery, NCA (2015). She has participated in residencies with the Nordic Artists’ Center Dale, Norway and with Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan at the Shahi Hamam for the conservation of frescoes; and has taught and curated at the National College of Arts and Taseer Art Gallery.