I had been researching a lot of public art projects and they inspired me to recreate the idea that public art can break walls. Literally. So the first thing I did when I landed in Karachi was go and buy bricks. Yup. 500 red bricks which we then painted a pale terracotta and stenciled with ‘The Untold Edition” name. The idea was to build a wall out of them along with 500 plants and to invite people to pick up a brick, take home a plant and plant it with the brick placed next to it. Symbolically, and literally, public art would help the city of Karachi blossom while breaking barriers.
The project took place at NJV school run by Akhuwat Foundation. NJV is the largest government school in Sindh, with a gorgeous victorian building of historical significance which has been neglected, like so many other things in Karachi. I reached out to them through an acquaintance Uzair Qarni who had returned from California to become Academic Director at this school only to be faced by extraordinary circumstances. I visited him at the school, took a tour and a short interview asking him about how the school had changed overtime and how he had accomplished it.
It was astonishing and eye-opening to hear that the school was in complete shambles when he arrived, lacking basic amenities such as plumbing and with staff that did not deign to be present. He was asked to focus on solely on academic direction but soon realized that that was impossible in a place where the students didn’t have access to a toilet. He turned the school around by first making it a safe haven for the students who were from extremely underprivileged, often abusive, backgrounds, further abused by their teachers. He got people involved, he found like minded teachers, found funding for proper classroom setups, a solar paneled roof, a whole football ground! And he essentially turned NJV into a school worth going to! Here are some snippets of my interview with him:
Anyway, at this location we put up our 500 brick wall along with a variety of plants that blossom in Karachi. I coordinated with a couple of organizations such as FIXIT and PATO to donate the plants. I invited some noted humanitarians like Shabina Mustafa (founder of The Garage School), Jimmy Engineer (renowned artist and humanitarian), Abdul Hamid Dagia (an advocate for civic change), Ambreen Usman (environmentalist) etc to come and talk about their work and start the tree planting ceremony.
It was genuinely heartwarming to see how many people turned up to support the cause. Here is a short video of the highlights of the event.
The best part was that so many people contacted me to continue such events and that it was so motivating to see that my work resonated with people and gave hope to others who were involved in humanitarian efforts. Kiran Foundation were among the people who contacted me and I hope to do a project with them very soon, funded by Indus Motors Pakistan.
After the event, we planted 200 more plants and bricks. 45 sunflowers at a school, a couple of plants by a group of doctors, and a whole bed of plants for a government school in Karachi which was located in the midst of a dump site.
So, all in all, it was a hugely rewarding experience. Not just because I impacted so many people but also because I can’t describe the amount of learning that followed from this experience. I just grew as an artist, as a person and it was apparent to me. From the planning to harnessing the resources to execution, it took so much bravado in the face of uncertainty to even get this show on the road. Even writing this blogpost was difficult because it was hard to put into words this reflection, but I have been trying over the past few blogposts to build up to it and I hope I did it justice.