Against the backdrop of long-standing commercial and cross-cultural exchange between the two metropolitan centres of Karachi and Sharjah, Bani Abidi: Funland offers an opportunity to consider the enduring presence and promise of cosmopolitanism today. Featuring formative video, photography, sound and new commissions, this major survey explores the artist’s practice over two decades and includes a focus on the contemporary art scene of 1990s Karachi presented through archival materials and artworks from the period. The exhibition takes its title from Abidi’s work ‘Funland’ – Karachi Series II (2014), which highlights the city’s fight for survival through vibrant imaginings of a future that is currently being abandoned.
Playing the role of a storyteller and urban archaeologist, Abidi explores an emotional and psychological space of absurdity. She wrestles with the communal amnesia of a cosmopolitan promise that first took hold during the rise of a nationalist, post-independence agenda and was then violently erased by the country’s Islamisation under the military regime. Her works navigate between personal and communal narratives framed by the historical power struggles of South Asia as well as current geopolitical relations between India and Pakistan.
In Abidi’s works, disciplined and defiant bodies confront visible and imperceptible spectrums of power. A cast of minor protagonists embody and critique patriarchal attitudes, aggression and megalomania in everyday scenes involving immigration protocol, traffic jams and whispered conversations in public gardens. The sensorial dramaturgy that animates much of Abidi’s work blurs the distinction between screen time and real time, actors and non-actors, scripted and spontaneous moments. In recognising the representational systems that structure present-day reality, the artist confronts forces that have closed in and endangered the existence of rich traditions and ways of life long a part of the region’s culture and history.
This exhibition follows on from the artist's solo survey exhibition Bani Abidi: They Died Laughing at Gropius Bau, Berlin, curated by Natasha Ginwala, which was on view from 6 June to 22 September 2019.
Co-curated by Hoor Al Qasimi and Natasha Ginwala.