Day 6 – The Art of Listening

A Zambeel is a bag that contains simple everything the world is offering, still it never will be filled. The owner of the bag was the compagnion of Hamza, the author of the Urdu literature. Visual artist and theater practitioner Asma Mundrawala is also a storyteller in Zambeel Dramatic Readings. We met the teacher of fine arts at the Indus Valley School in the Clifton area, close by the sea.

Asma Mundrawala, below: Zambeel Dramatic Reading Logo

Asma is the one of three founders of Zambeel Dramatic Readings, that was initiated in 2011. With the view to bring texts from the Urdu literature to a live audience Zambeel presents texts from Urdu literature in a dramatised form to a live audience. Have they mainly targeted the adult audiences yet, they began readings for children during the last three years.

Zambeel presents a contemporary form of storytelling – that has its origins in a theatrical background – in a dramatized theatrical reedition and form.

The stories of Amir Hamza (The Hamzanama or the Adventures of Dâstâne Amir Hamze narrate the legendary exploids of Amir Hamza, an uncle of Muhammad) have a long oral tradition, and seem to be most suitable to undergo a transformation that lies in the artistic approach of Zambeel Dramatic Readings.

With the Zambeel Dramatic Readings Asma discovered that a high potential of storytelling also lies in it’s playful way of communicating the literature of a language: Urdu

Two main goals are part of the whole idea: To keep the continuation of the performative theatrical experience alive and to generate the interest in Urdu alive. Initially their audience was limited to a certain age group. Over a period younger people were entering into the audience demographic.

In subordinating her work under the premise of criticism that works with humor and irony, she addresses the young generation. Trough her engagement free from negativism and turning into positivism, she believes in the abilities of children and young adults ready to head a change.


Ouverture, Asma Mundrawala

Asma Mundrawala, Ehteshamuddin performing Aao Manto Sunein by Saadat Hasan Manto

Asma Mundrawala, Mahvash Faruqi, Ehteshamuddin, Saife Hasan performing Taoos Chaman ki Mayna by Naiyer Masud

Shama Askari, Asma Mundrawala, Mahvash Faruqi performing Dozakh by Ismat Chughtai at the Women of the World-Festival, Karachi 2016


Game over, Asma Mundrawala

Zambeel Dramatic Readings at the Faiz International Festival, 2017

Day 5 – Irtiqa – Onwardness

Pakistan’s fashion designer draw on a rich core of cultural heritage and skilled methods to combine contemporary aesthetics with traditionell craftsmanship. Sonya Battla is a designer very much inspired by nature and handicraft and works on the transformation of traditional forms into contemporary formats and interpretations. We met her in smart E-Street in Clifton where she holds a gallery-like space for fashion and design.

Sonya Battla in her office. Below: a detail of a handmade fabric

Battla knows how to speak Urdu very well. That is where her dedication arises from but also her worries. Worries on the encreasing loss of the language’s rich heritage. With the Urdu collection she made a statement, highlighted that aspect and created a work like a testimonial to the dying words of Urdu. For this special collection she incorporated Urdu calligraphy into embroidery and digital prints with a special focus on Amir Khusro, whose poems are revered and relevant portrays of love and high spirituality.

In favor of all the digital forms language undergoes a transformation into a quick time up-to-dating language: „We don’t work on Urdu anymore. You have to work on things to keep them alive and evolving. They have to be worked on with love“, she quotes. Battla’s fashion expresses her thoughts on modern usage, preservation and appreciation. She believes that creativity has the power to make a difference to society. Karachi is the right place to work on that.

The Urdu Collection by Sonya Battla

Day 4 – The Identity of Architecture

We met architect and activist Marvi Mazhar in her studio in Karachi’s Clifton area. Heritage is one of the main concerns Marvie shared with us, followed by an invitation to participate in a Heritage Walk around the Old Town of Karachi. We then undertook, under professional guidance, a tour through old Karachi‘s alleys, streets, building, structures and spaces.

Marvi Mazhar in her studio build around a pisonia tree

Marvi and her team are specialised in restoring historic buildings, managing conservation assessment studies, and conducting social research and documentation. Working with such parameters seem to go hand in hand with a great big amount of activsm as an important asset that comes along with the task. Marvi Mazhar definitely fits the description.

Marvi Mazhar was one of the people who assisted in hauling the damage being made to a building which was built in the 1880’s during British colonial government: Empress Market, up until November 2018, was one of the most popular shopping places in Karachi. Then Karachi’s government launched a so called „anti-encroachment” campaign where bulldozers took down what had been an income for thousands of vendors. Just a few weeks ago she managed to stopp “a clean up” that would have ruined the whole building.

The Pakistan Chowk Community Centre was a community dumpster before Marvi Mazhar and her team intervened and turned it into a center for cultural exchange. It is an open-air-platform that provides art, literature, classes and talks to the residents of the Old Town. PCCC aims to bring art, culture and communication to those who do not have the privilege to benefit from its regular consumption.

Apart from the different events the Chowk Initiative hosts, Heritage walks are performances that study and narrate the religious and cultural inheritance the old part of the city still accommodates. Heritage walks tell the forgotten history of Karachi via its architecture.


Ms. Shameen Nauman walks us through the old architectural heritage of Karachi


Day 3 – Always in Flux

Canvas Gallery is situated in Clifton, an area close by the sea, a truly popular residential, commercial and recreational place and a most expensive zone. Needless to say that this makes Clifton to one of Karachi’s most attractive and busy areas as well. One will find proof when visiting its malls, schools, colleges, bungalows, parks, restaurants and certainly all the main galleries of the city.

Clifton impressions

In her 15 years of practice as a gallery owner Sameera Raja has a great share on the visability of contemporary art of Pakistan. She manages to hold the balance between being a businesswoman and promoting contemporary Pakistani art. Her contributions to the visual development of Pakistani art cannot be valued high enough. Pakistan’s most prominent artists such as Imran Qureshi, Waqas Khan or Aisha Khalid have started to gain international attention through and with the support of Canvas Gallery.


Sameera Raja

Sameera has a straight job description when it comes to the balance between art and artists who operate on an international level and those who need support on that. Very eager to transform the perception of art in a country which hardly has a tradition with contemporary art, her engagement goes along with strategies that have reasonable potentials to raise people’s awareness in order to understand the purpose of  art as a record of the time it takes place. As  Pakistanian art is intuitiv with a particular vocabulary, is autonomous at bottom, independent of  trends and the West, Sameera herself works independently in that way too.

Canvas not only shows art from Karachi but also art from all the different parts of the country with it’s multiple ethnics. And Sameera Raja is aware of the vested interests that arise when working on a very high level of art mediation. Whilst the emerging art market has to undergo international pressure, she regards her independency as an advantage and THE big advantage Pakistan has.

The gallery has an multicultural audience, the response artists get comes from the society of Karachi. An important feedback, since works have started to change from the 90ies on, together with the change of sensibility of artists and the way people who are looking at art has changed too.

The forward looking owner gave us an outlook on what will be the next focus point in promoting and mediating art in a city that is and will be always in a flux: A just recently installed programm that will bring sculpture back to art in Pakistan.


Risham Syed


Gallery View

Munawar Ali


Ghulam Mohammad


Safdar Ali

Day 2 – Quiet shouts

We met Nurayah Sheikh Nabi at the Indus Valley School. The school and Nusserwanjee Building are part of Karachi‘s architectural heritage which undertook a unique relocation: it was dismantled from its original site in Kharadar, stone by stone and then reconstructed at the IVS Campus in Clifton, Karachi.

Indus Valley School

Indus Valley School

Entrance door to Indus Valley School

Entrance door to Indus Valley School


Artwork by Zahid Mayo

The printmaker by profession and artist consciously engages in child related and community-building projects which are art-based and interactive with the city. I AM KARACHI is a project where citizens and civil society organizations of Karachi initiated a city-wide movement. It collectively rebuilds the diverse social and cultural fabric of the city by providing a platform to promoting socio-cultural activities and campaigns as vehicles for peace building through arts, culture, sports and dialogue. Nurayah took it by its word and issued activism to encourage and empower her female students.

Nurayah and one of her artworks

Bridging old traditions with contemporary art, promoting craftsmanship and the indigenous art coming out of Pakistan is an issue she features within her own artistic work. The amalgamation of the traditional with the contemporary seems to play a constant role in the mutual understand of art in Pakistan. Sheikh emphasizes this understanding in her own teaching practice. It is important that art students do not surge into Western or other value systems, at least not before they gain strength out of their own traditional value systems. A basis that lays the foundation when deciding to become an artist.

Once a month Nurayah opens her class to the very little ones, she believes that, “It can’t be too early to confront them with the creativity art and culture offers”. We were lucky to be there at the right time and follow a lively, excited but still attentive bunch of kids.

Day 1 – Turn that country

Art Council Pakistan, Karachi, is the largest council made for the purpose of promoting art and culture in Pakistan. It is located in Sadar town, a central part that also accomodates most of the cities historic colonial core and is the largest concentration of Bristish colonial architecture in Karachi.

Art Council Pakistan, Karachi started eleven years ago in an “ugly“ pre-historian building at a time when nobody cared for the down driven citizens and for the younger generation. A time when the only “engagments“ offered to the youth were made by religious extremists whilst misusing the naive to benefit their own malicious activities. Ahmed Shah told us the story of a blasphemic matter accompanied by an immense abuse of power.

Mohammed Ahmed Shah in his office at Arts Council

The Art Council had to start without money, without infrastructure and without an auditorium. The strategy to engage in rebuilding Karachi with the means of art and culture was simple: Arts Council slowly started to change the scenery in order to recreate the city into a liberal, secular and decent place. Shah and his team at the Arts Council work on the socio-political turn that the country is  now taking. Their responsibility is to foster art with the approval of the people and the support of the young generation.

The Urdu conference was the starting point – Urdu as a common means, as a collective property, as an opportunity to welcome prominent writers from international origin. The next festival Arts Council installed was the Karachi Literature festival. Now Karachi has 10 different festivals, all of them focus on all the disciplines within arts and culture. Every single year an Arts Council charity project gives 20 underpriviledged youngsters the opportunity of gaining art training at the Council‘s academy.

Shah named the problems Karachi’s majority is facing: extremist religious fundamentalism, ethic extremism and politically motivated vested interests due to ethnic groups that play a prominent role in influencing the country’s policies. While doing so, he pointed out his disagreements with the Americans and the impact they have had on Pakistan.

However, Shah still accepts their help to support his projects., believing that it is only right for the Americans to have invested in education and culture on a society like Pakistan‘s. And he claimed for it, knowing that the youth here had all the necessary tools for change. And they have the think tanks, the cooperations and all the instruments of management to support a country like Pakistan.

Shah’s strategy is a successful one: The ugly pre-historian building has turned into a thrilling place for art, literature, theater, performance, music, art training, culture and communication with the ambition to grow and play a role as part of the cultural international civil society. A dream every country’s society in the world is dreaming of!


Who we are and why we are here

We, the artist couple Christina Zurfluh and Bernhard Frue, journalist Sabine Kienzer and graphic designer Veronika Illmer, visit Pakistan for the first time. In Karachi we are going to  meet in a situation characterized by relatively unknown religious, political, cultural and geographical realities.

With karachidiary – an artistic/journalistic blog – here, we reflect our encounters during 24 days where we target to visit 24 diverse people and locations recommended by people living or having lived in Pakistan from different walks of life. Our project is part of a residency program hosted by Vasl Artists‘ Association, an international network of artists and art organisations.

„Suddenly Pakistan – my life in the most dangerous city in the world“ is a book by German journalist Hasnain Kazim. We all read the book before leaving Vienna – ranked the most liveable city of the world 2018. Kazim though writes about the danger the world faces for Pakistan probably being one of the most dangerous nuclear power countries.

But also media warned and still do, our government has a so called part-warning put on its website, friends and family called us crazy to go there. Now, we obviously weren’t listening, and we are so happy and glad we didn’t.

Karachi is not frightening us, we are not permanently getting controlled nor do we have to face restrictions – on the contrary. Karachi is not what one would call a beautiful city. But its rickshaws are, the buses are, its trucks are, the food is … and Karachiites are – beautiful, bright, communicative, open-hearted … Well, you might just want to have a look yourself.