The organizers of the Karachi Biennale on Monday issued a statement on Facebook declaring that a shuttered art installation was “not compatible” with its stated theme of ‘Ecology and the Environment.’
A day earlier, authorities had forced the closure of ‘The Killing Fields of Karachi,’ by artist Adeela Suleman, with the head of the Parks department of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation saying the work amounted to “vandalism” and was “not art.” The move had prompted outrage on social media, with critics slamming the attack on freedom of expression as enshrined in Pakistan’s Constitution.
In its statement, the Karachi Biennale team said it was “against censorship of art and believe(s) that expression is very subjective to the viewers interpretation of the art work.” However, it added, ‘The Killing Fields of Karachi’ was incompatible with the event’s 2019 theme, ‘Ecology and the Environment.’
“[We] feel that politicizing the platform will go against our efforts to bring art into the public and drawing artists from the fringe to the mainstream cultural discourse,” it said, adding, “while art is self-expression, the theme this year did not warrant political statement on an unrelated issue, as all artists have agreed to focus on ‘Ecology & the Environment’ within the framework of cultural sensitivities.”
Further, the team said, the Biennale’s sole purpose was to “promote art to build a large public audience and any public event has to work within certain agreed with boundaries.” Urging artists to understand the Biennale’s platform, it said that “to ensure a sustainable future of Karachi Biennale it is imperative that we focus on its the mandate to connect art, the city and its people.”
The ‘Killing Fields of Karachi’ exhibition was on display at Karachi’s Frere Hall until it was forced to close on order of plain-clothed men on Sunday morning. It features symbolic gravestones representing the 444 people allegedly targeted in extrajudicial killings under the supervision of senior police official Rao Anwar. It also has a video component featuring Muhammad Khan, the father of Naqeebullah Mehsud, whose killing in an allegedly fake police encounter provoked nationwide protests last year.