Knitting Beliefs in Pakistan Chowk: Photography Exhibition
At a busy bustling chowk in Old Town, Karachi, a young man uses some wooden easels, carpets, a few chairs, hanging light bulbs and several images to tell a story. It is an inclusive story of minorities, told to an audience across a range of gender, language, status or occupation categories.
And few people are able to just walk past. Why? Because this storytelling hits a sweet spot; a combination of elements in a very clever synergy – a subject as unique as co-residing minorities in Muslim-majority Pakistan; a medium as universal as photography; a public space with as relevant a heritage as Pakistan Chowk; and a talent as raw and genuine as Salman Alam Khan. This is Knitted Beliefs @ Pakistan Chowk – an exhibition of Salman Alam Khan’s photographic journaling of Pakistan’s largest minorities compound in Karachi held over a weekend this July.
Narayanpura – Home to minorities
Narayanpura, the subject of the exhibition, is home to Hindus, Christians and Sikhs who live together, alongside neighbouring Muslims. A home where every day is eventful – a wedding, a festival, religious prayers, a death, a birth – and there is always something either to celebrate, or mourn. Salman’s pictures show Hindus, Sikhs and Christians sharing not just a physical space, but also the time and life in that space – waking up, getting ready for the day, cooking, washing, cleaning. Living. A living which spills out of the doors of individual homes. Onto shared lanes. Where neighbours sit side by side sharing their joys, sorrows and frustrations.
Salman’s subject strikes a strangely familiar chord in us because, at some point or another, we have all either been around minorities, or been minorities ourselves – as a gender, a race, a skin colour, an educational qualification or even a marital status. Narayanpura is a subject that hits hard because it hits home.
Pakistan Chowk – A Fitting Location
And what more apt a location to tell this story of inclusiveness than Pakistan Chowk? Its history as an educational hub made it the perfect spot to restore as a platform for community participation today. Today, an art enthusiast with branded-bag on arm takes her time to read the typed-out text on Knitted Beliefs. While not too far away, an Afghani rubbish-collector, rubbish sack held behind his back, asks energetically about the picture of a Sikh gurdwara.
Pakistan Chowk is like a time capsule in which the past and present mix in a blatant yet comfortable way. Adding to this enigma is an awkwardness – one wouldn’t imagine this physical environment to exhibit art, given that on both sides are noisy, smoky print presses and car mechanic workshops. It is this unexpectedness, this pleasant odd-ness, which serves to blur boundaries further … quite like they are blurred in Narayanpura. It is a space as public and open as can be – no walls; only a low-lying, yellow fence, more a communalisation than a divide, welcoming with open arms, anyone who chooses to be open in return. Which, in the case of Knitted Beliefs, ranged from researchers to social activists to photographers to car mechanics to rubbish-collectors and taxi drivers. Today, every weekend sees Pakistan Chowk hosting artists, writers and activists from Old Town – how is that for telling an inclusive story?
Salman Alam Khan – The Man Behind the Lens
And, finally, the man not just behind the lens, but behind the bringing together of these elements, in partnership with Pakistan Chowk Community Centre. In a society of expectations for our sons to be doctors or engineers, Salman Alam Khan has been confronting pressure head-on every day for 6 years, to be a storyteller instead. In the field of storytelling, Salman Alam Khan seeks to capture minorities, transgenders, obscure peoples, female fighter pilots, children of slums and orphans.
Salman’s eye for composition is undeniable. He finds and captures several layers in single frames, allowing multiple narratives through one image. His use of light and colour, both in excess and moderation, helps the audience connect to the mood in the picture, sometimes festive, sometimes muted. And finally, he does well to capture faces as windows to souls, each expression the story of a rich, seasoned life. These are the stories that Salman wants to tell – untold stories, stories that could possibly inspire and maybe even change the world. His genuine intention to build a more connected, more aware audience comes across strongly in the form of real, raw, honest and transparent images – an honesty lost on few eyes, hearts and minds.
Knitted Beliefs @ Pakistan Chowk – A Story of Resilience
And, finally, when you take a step back having experienced Knitted Beliefs @ Pakistan Chowk, you are struck not just by the story of inclusiveness … but also one of resilience. The resilience of minorities existing against the odds of challenging circumstances. The resilience of a physical space restored for the sake of community and the arts. And the resilience of an artist’s genuine honesty in a world rife with the façade of expectations.
About Sidrah Ahmad
Having written casually for informal audiences through her blog for several years, she now writes for herself, and edits for FUCHSIA. Sidrah’s favourite things include spending time with her crazy family (the Pagalkhana), photography, poetry, reading, music, dance, clouds, rain and the night. She has a deep love for connecting with strangers, and believes that stories, and story-telling, have the power to change the world. She dreams of a world where boundaries and differences are only celebrated, and not a cause for divide. She currently works for the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), planning and developing social services for vulnerable children and youth.