Qudsia Rahim is the co-founder of the Lahore Biennale and also served as a co-curator for the inaugural edition. She is a graduate of the National College of Arts Lahore and is a trustee of the Lahore Biennale Foundation.
1. What was your motivation to work on a Lahore biennale? What was your position/task at the beginning, and what has it become over time?
The motivation to work, and to set up this organization, has come out of numerous conversations that were gradually built amongst friends and professional colleagues since my return from New York about a decade ago. My first public arts project was an elective, Art for Humanity (2011), which I introduced between public-private partners in the form of an arts intervention during my time at the National College of Arts (NCA) where I was curator of the Zahoor Ul Akhlaq Gallery. Students from across disciplines worked at one of the largest community hospitals to see how, through a human-centered design approach, we could bring about the necessary changes for the various stakeholders to function better within their given conditions. After running through a couple of cycles of the elective, we realized that one program per year was not enough and that we needed to do more.
Meanwhile, the pre-existing conditions in the city, with a flourishing arts scene in terms of visual arts, literature, music, film, etc., was the perfect catalyst for an organization like the Lahore Biennale Foundation. The idea behind the Foundation has been to facilitate opportunities for creative practitioners in the field of art(s).
As Executive Director of the Foundation, I have had the great honor to lead multiple public art collaborations, the largest of which of course has been our flagship event, the multi-venue Lahore Biennale that wrapped up in March 2018, and for which I served as Director. Now, we are in the reflective stage, gearing up to plan the next edition.
2. How would you describe the model of the biennial you have worked towards and created, also compared to other biennials you have visited?
It has a very simple premise—to serve as a facilitator to the creative practitioner by providing opportunities for engagement in the field of the arts.
There was a lot of initial preparation. I undertook various study trips, and there was a period of intense study, awareness, and reflection in terms of goals that needed to be achieved and the vision that we had set out for the organization. Our vision for LB01 came from our working in the field for the last four years and was also shaped by what we have learned from our peers in the region and beyond. We consciously focused on issues that make sense in the local and South Asian context and for Lahore, at this juncture. For this purpose, staying true to a regional focus has been very important.
3. What goals/wishes are connected with your Biennale over the medium- to long-term? What should be achieved in your opinion? What were your personal goals at the beginning, and what have they become?
On a basic level, our goal is to create networks of partners and through them generate conversations and bring arts to the public. We have, and will continue to provide grants, commissions, and opportunities either for the production of artworks, or for the creation of new research. In the long-term, our wish is that the Foundation is but one of many other active organizations, collectives, and entities, thus enriching the overall art scene in the city and country, and creating an environment that supports a thriving cultural life.
Overall we are encouraged by how much we have achieved in such little time. It has been four years since the inception of LBF, and we have carried out several successful public art projects in addition to the inaugural Biennale in 2018. We are also happy with the response from both local and international audiences and are in the process of learning from feedback we have received, and with self-reflection, we plan to forge ahead.
4. Biennials have proliferated as the art world has scaled in size and global reach in recent decades; however, very little information exists about the exact number, geographical reach, and funding and governance structures of these arts organizations. Can we compare biennials at all?
Possibly there are shared characteristics amongst some of the major biennials. However, it is perhaps not appropriate to compare biennials that are distinctive in addressing the specificity of their own location with others that are purely international, or very established biennials with emerging ones.
Most biennials do emerge from a strong local context. It is these local conditions that make them special. Since biennials are subject to interpretation, and exist in these conditions due to many factors, it is important that these conversations proliferate and are not simply classified by taxonomy.
5. Biennials provide a point of convergence for the art world, expose large audiences to art (and other disciplines and mediums), and catalyze interest in cities and regions with global aspirations, would you agree? How does the LB satisfy this promise? Do biennials necessarily have a positive social and economic impact?
While the convergence and exposure of the larger art world is important, one must remember to be true to the relevance of the local context. Biennials are celebrations or awareness of the local context in relation to the global. As conditions around the world are increasingly becoming shared, the need for a global dialogue is a necessity. We aspire that the LB will continue to develop meaningful conversations by means of engagement with the “glocal” arts community.
Given that Pakistan lacks public spaces such as museums of contemporary art, one of the aims of the Biennale was to create this type of exposure for local audiences, and to enrich conversation and dialogue within the local, regional, and global art environment. LB01 aimed to celebrate creativity, foreground diversity, foster coexistence and participation, and encourage a multiplicity of representations. In the future, too, we hope to build new conversations locally and within and beyond the region, showcase the rich context of Lahore and the immense creativity of its people and institutions, and through the artistic medium ask new questions about ourselves, our relations with others, our environment, and the urban condition.
6. Can you talk about the funding processes and sources? How do you think these affected the first edition of the Biennale?
We were fortunate to have had sustained relationships with major benefactors from various individual, institutional, and corporate sponsors, as well as governmental partners. They all aided us prolifically in terms of providing support—both monetary and in-kind. In addition, there were several friends of the Foundation, and artists themselves who contributed in various ways to generously support the Biennale.
7. What sort of curatorial, institutional, or technological innovations can help ensure the vibrancy and relevance of art biennials going forward?
Technology is increasingly becoming an integrated part of our lives. As boundaries between the physical and the virtual worlds are redefined, we have so many more innovative ways of engaging with technology. Institutions and art platforms need to engage meaningfully with technology as an artistic medium, as infrastructure, and as enabling new possibilities for engaging with audiences. However, celebration of technology should never be an end in itself, at the expense of engagement with the human and the social world.