Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi’s Lahore Biennale forging a cultural catalyst

An undated portrait of Sharjah's most renowned contemporary art personality, Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, who has curated the 2020 Lahore Biennale, bringing a plethora of international artists with her. (Photo courtesy: Sebastian Bottcher)
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Updated 28 January 2020

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi’s Lahore Biennale forging a cultural catalyst

  • Al Qasimi is credited for transforming Sharjah into an international art capital
  • With her, she has brought a plethora of international artists to the historic city of Lahore

LAHORE: “The world has to understand what the history of Lahore is,” curator Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi said, as she explained how the Lahore Biennale could illuminate the richness and culture of the region and simultaneously foster international dialogues.
Themed “Between the Sun and the Moon,” the 2020 Lahore Biennale is now on view at various venues around the eastern Pakistani city. It is the first time that such a significant number of contemporary artists from all over the world have flocked to Lahore to display their work at historical sites across the city.

Rasheed Araeen's Shamiyaana -Food for Thought: Thought for Change displayed at the National College of Arts in Lahore on Jan. 28, 2020. (AN photo by Aisha Zaman)

In 2018, the inaugural Lahore Biennale attracted 1.5 million visitors according to its organisers-- an extraordinary number for an exhibition that only ran for a fortnight.
But it was Sharjah’s renowned Sheikha Al-Qasimi, considered one of the foremost authorities in the contemporary art world, who proposed the second edition, which launched over the weekend and will run through the end of February.
At the inauguration ceremony on Sunday evening, set against the backdrop of the majestic Lahore Fort, the audience comprised not just a spectacular line-up of local and international artists and politicians, but also eminent Middle Eastern personalities ranging from members of the Sharjah royal family to cultural authoritative figures such as Noura Al Kaabi, UAE’s Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development-- all of them in attendance simply because of their trust in Al Qasimi’s vision.

Barbara Walker’s “Transcended,” a series of site specific charcoal wall drawings depicting soldiers from the Commonwealth in World War I at Lahore’s historic Tollinton Market on Jan. 28, 2020. (AN photo by Aisha Zaman)

“I have blind faith in her curatorial skills. I am here because I know she will deliver a spectacular show,” said Mia Eldib, Sotheby’s Middle East consultant on Contemporary Arab Art, on her first visit to Lahore.
Some of the most popular contemporary artists recognised in the West belong to Pakistan, such as Shazia Sikander, Imran Qureshi, Aisha Khalid and Huma Mulji to name a few.
But, Al Qasimi’s mission is quite the opposite.
“Art is not just for the art elites,’ she said and added that it was not enough to offer international recognition to brilliant artists from the region, but instead to also bring foreign artists to engage with local artists and the community; a herculean task, which could only be accomplished by someone of Al Qasimi’s stature.

 Anwar Saeed’s “Habits of Being II (2011)” at the NCA, Lahore on Jan. 28, 2020. (AN photo Aisha Zaman)

Al Qasimi’s list of job titles, accolades, and collaborations is so long that it is hard to keep track of them all. The President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, she is renowned for transforming Sharjah into an international art capital. She curated the UAE National Pavilion for the Venice Biennale in 2015 and is President of the International Bienniale Association. She also serves on the board of directors for the Museum of Modern Art PS1 in New York, Kunst-Werke in Berlin, Ashkal Alwan in Beirut and Sharjah Architecture Triennial as well as advisory boards for Khoj, New Delhi and Darat al Funun, Amman.
Her vision has led to the formation of the Sharjah Art foundation and other side projects, including the Africa Institute and the new Africa Hall. The Sharjah Biennale is consistently rated as one of the top 10 biennales in the world, which is quite the tribute when there are hundreds of art exhibitions taking place around the globe every year.
Yet, Al Qasimi said many artists were initially hesitant to travel to Pakistan, mindful of warnings that foreigners may be targeted and the threat of terrorist attacks. She managed to convince them otherwise. Now, works by around 80 artists, including 20 new commissions, will go on display in different venues across Lahore. British artist Barbara Walker will also be crafting a large wall mural in the city’s historic Tollington Market.

Inauguration of Lahore Biennale, Hazuri Bagh, Lahore Fort on Jan. 26, 2020. (Image Courtesy Lahore Biennale)

Lahore is new to the curator, which is one of the reasons she accepted the invitation to organise it from Qudsia Rahim, co-founder and director of the Lahore Biennale Foundation.
“I initially stated I will do it if I have the time, but I didn’t have the time, yet here I am,” Al Qasimi said with a mischievous smile.
“I was very interested because there is a long history between Pakistan and the UAE,” she said.
Over a series of speedy visits, she discovered Lahore--- a city with an abundance of historic sites, colonial-era markets as well as interesting modern buildings.
“Originally, I wanted the event to span the whole city, but then I had to cut it down due to practicality,” she said of selecting her venues.
The chosen sites include Lahore’s cricket ground, the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore Fort and various other heritage sites. However, securing the city’s planetarium, which is run by Pakistan International Airlines, was her biggest achievement. It is a place many from the current generation have never heard of.

Installation by Khadim Ali at Summer Palace , Lahore Fort in Jan. 26, 2020. (Image Courtesy Lahore Biennale)

With Rahim’s help and countless negotiations, Al Qasimi persuaded the national carrier to open the planetarium’s doors to a new commission-- an immersive multimedia installation created by Berlin-based, Kazakhstan-born artist Almagul Menlibayeva, that was inspired by the astronomical discoveries made by Islamic astronomers in ancient Samarkand.
It will include site-specific performances by the Amsterdam-based sound artist German Popov and Russian artist Inna Artemova. 
This work befits the title of the biennale: ‘Between the Sun and the Moon,’ although the exhibition’s main focus will be on earth, and in particular, on the ‘Global South,’ which is the curator’s longstanding area of interest.
Commenting on the theme, Al Qasimi said: “For centuries, inhabitants of these regions oriented themselves with reference to the sun, the moon and the constellations. How do we reflect on our place within the universe today, at this junction of climate crisis and polarities between societies?”
“I wanted to do something about identities and connecting cultures because of the diaspora of British Asians and South Asians in the Middle East,” she said. 
Given the relative scarcity of regional dialogues within South Asia, the Biennale aims to foster a deeper and multifaceted exchange within Asia and the rest of the world; where physical boundaries are blurred to initiate conversations and to embark on a global mission to carve out a sustainable future.
At the same time, the city of Lahore becomes a wonderful catalyst for engaging local audiences with contemporary art and incorporating regional artists into the global art scene. 
“It is time to celebrate the opening up of this rich country,” Al Qasimi said. “With its plethora of artists, institutions and cultural heritage.”

Zalmi crumble to limp defeat against Multan

Updated 26 February 2020

Zalmi crumble to limp defeat against Multan

  • Sammy’s utter cluelessness against spin made his team look exposed
  • The match was Zalmi’s second loss

KARACHI: The city of Multan hosted its first ever PSL match on Wednesday, and the home fans were treated to an absolute thrashing as the Sultans crushed Peshawar Zalmi by six wickets, with a quarter of their innings still to go.
A capacity crowd had reason to shout right from the start, as Peshawar’s opener Tom Banton was dropped off the very first ball — a tough chance at slip. But as Multan’s captain Shan Masood later noted, it was enough to signal their intent. Mohammad Irfan, the player bowling, had his revenge as the same player was dismissed in the same over thanks to a sharp catch by Shahid Afridi. That set the tone for the rest of the evening, as Zalmi kept losing wickets at regular intervals. Perhaps the most crucial of these losses was that of star opener Kamran Akmal. Zalmi have often lost their way at the start but have regularly had Akmal bail them out. His dismissal was the first notice that tonight was not going to be the Peshawar team’s night.
For a brief interval though, all those thoughts were put on hold as all of Pakistan swooned collectively over the batting of Haider Ali. The Zalmi youngster showed an impeccable touch, taking full advantage of a track that was far better to bat on than the score suggested. Not only did Haider have the ability to have the purists purring with the beauty of his shots, but he also possessed the ability to go big, effortlessly scoring boundaries when needed. In the commentary box, southern Punjab native Waqar Younis had barely concealed his bias for the Multan side, but even he was left raving as Haider’s batting carried the Zalmi innings. But just when it looked like he was going onto something huge, he holed out to Rile Rossouw in the deep.
His loss exposed Peshawar’s all-rounders, who had to bat much earlier than expected. It meant that Zalmi’s talismanic skipper Daren Sammy was forced to bat against the spin, and in a torturous display he went eleven balls without scoring a single run, or even really attempting to do so. But when the pacers returned, Sammy immediately got out and with that ended any hopes Zalmi had of posting a total that at least flirted with competitiveness. The 123 that they ended up with also came before the team had faced its full quota of 20 overs.
But such disappointment was banished at the start, as Peshawar Zalmi replicated the Sultans’ first over with the ball. James Vince was dropped at slip off the very first ball, but then holed out within the circle to be dismissed in the same Hasan Ali over. Moeen Ali followed him back to the hut soon after, hitting one straight to the fielder off Rahat. With the team sniffing the kill, Sammy brought in his third senior Pakistani pacer and leader of the pack Wahab Riaz, and he responded by getting rid off Shan Masood. Newcomer Zeeshan Ashraf showed sparkling touch in his brief innings, but a wonderful diving catch off Wahab’s bowling meant that he was the fourth wicket to go, and the match suddenly felt wide open.
Unfortunately for Peshawar, that was as good as it got. Rilee Rossouw shrugged off the disappointment of his PSL so far and looked in control as he got the runs flowing. The paucity of the target meant that he never really had to worry about the asking rate as much as he needed to stabilize the innings, which is exactly what he did. An edged hit to his body left him struggling briefly in the middle, but by then Khushdil Shah, the young batter had spent enough time to take control. He smashed down the remaining target to give the win the emphasis it needed.
Although this was their second loss, this might be the first one to actually worry Zalmi. Their batting looked lost when Akmal fell cheaply, with Shoaib Malik’s woes in the middle order continuing. Tom Banton, their much hyped opener, has also struggled to make his mark on the league while Sammy’s utter cluelessness against spin made his team look far more exposed than it had been so far. But they would know that their ceiling is much higher than those of their opponents, and tonight’s loss was a lot less about their overall strengths and a lot more about failing to apply them.