Art scene in Karachi is having a spectacular moment; my city has been home to many influential modernists and contemporary artists and its gallery circuit is unrivalled in the country – and one of the most vibrant in South Asia.

Recently, the culture editor for Deutschlandfunk was tagged in pictures in Karachi, and that’s how I found out that he had travelled from Berlin to Karachi to attend Karachi Biennale 2017. He educated me what’s going on, in my city.

The first Biennale in Karachi, KB17, is Pakistan’s largest international contemporary art event and a platform that focuses on innovation, excellence and criticality through curatorial strategies that brings art from Pakistan and the rest of the world together.

The city-wide celebration of art is being held from Oct 22 – Nov 5, at multiple locations across Karachi, and has brought over 140 artists from Pakistan and across the globe, who respond to a common theme: WITNESS. The theme has been chosen for its strong relevance to politics of representation, erasure and selective documentation.

Chief curator Amin Gulgee has conceptualized KB17 exhibitions with performances, screenings, and dialogue for charting new movement through familiar spaces.

Gulgee commissioned and selected works for the Biennale that are both political and personal. The issues addressed by artists based whether from Pakistan or abroad have a resonance for Karachi.

Some are a commentary on the times and others explore the artists’ own inner dialogues. They are acts of defiance and celebration that will take viewers to places unexpected and unexplainable. The aim is to ponder not only our times, but also the narratives surrounding them.

Visual artists are not the only ones invited into this discourse; architects, filmmakers, photographers and professionals engaged with fashion and theatre are also included. This cross-disciplinary approach reflects the ethos of Karachi where there is a great deal of interaction and collaboration among creative communities.

The artists for KB17 have come from Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, the Far East, and various parts of Pakistan. The works of internationally renowned artists like Yoko Ono, Shahzia Sikander, Richard Humann, Michelangelo Pistoletto, ORLAN, Bani Abedi, Meher Afroz, Miro Craemer, Bankleer, and Ruby Chishti, among others, would be on display for a large audience. Click here to visit the complete list of participating artists.

The work at display at KB17 is innovative, experimental and calls for creative introspect – commendable works include Syed Safdar Ali’s installation made with crutches, who created a matrix, or a matrix-like big piece that no one could miss. The use of crutches as the medium is indicative of an existence with limited freedom.

Ali Kazim, teacher at NCA and Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation Juried Art Prizewinner, used human hair to create a three-dimensional drawing in the space. The work derived from the artist’s interest in the complexity of the human body, both in its physiognomy and as a thematic concern.

Another exhibit that stood out was ace film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s venture entitled ‘Look but with Love’ – a Virtual Reality (VR) documentary series – projecting distinctive stories of five extra-ordinary individuals who aim to bring about a change in the country through causes they are deeply passionate about.


KB17’s two-week long, free public exhibition at 12 venues, is an occasion to take part in an aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional survey of the city. It is also an occasion to revisit our histories, review our present, and reimagine our future with greater optimism.

The main venue of KB17 is the 160 year old, NJV School building which is located within the historical precincts of one of the most populous cities of the world. This will give easy access to new audiences and also bring into discussion Karachi’s history, which has been often overshadowed by tensions of rapid growth.

Graphic courtesy by Naseem ur Rehman – The News


Unbounded by a canon, Karachi is unique for her persistently altering memory. A maritime metropolis that embraces independent thinkers like the Modernist Masters of the 1950s, outfitted with three major art schools, and site of South Asia’s most dynamic art gallery circuits, Karachi is among the Art world’s best kept secrets.

Gulgee commented that despite continuous bloodshed, violence and crime, the metropolis has resiliently grown and thrived. “It’s also true in the scene of arts. Karachi today has an active commercial gallery scene,” he added. “It is the hub of contemporary art.”

According to him, it is imperative to establish a large-scale art event that engages both local and international audience in Pakistan’s largest city. We will have museums of contemporary and modern arts as the event would create awareness among people, he said.

For venues and performance schedule, please click here.

For complete program, please click here.

It is not very often that Pakistan, and Karachi in particular, makes headlines for a good reason. It is the first of (hopefully) many such events, and I hope all art-aficionados in Karachi will be visiting one of the many venues to support this wave of change and progress.

The closing ceremony of KB17 will take place at Frere Hall on November 5, 2017.