A Call from the Mountaintop
A Call from the Mountaintop

In the digital age, the use of technology opens numerous possibilities of disseminating ideas, art and culture to audiences very quickly and effectively. With the onset of the pandemic, the shift to digital technologies was evidenced in the art industry, as with many other sectors. Due to the pandemic, galleries in Pakistan were also forced to close their doors. As a result, the galleries turned to social media platforms to engage with, exhibit, and sell to their audiences. While there were challenges in this transition, it also brought about an opportunity for the art galleries in Pakistan to connect with its audiences virtually.

The tour of Hunza valley organized by Dastaangoi makes a case for digital space used to promote art and tourism while engaging with the populace on the internet. In September 2022, a group of artists, Phoebe Stewart Carter (UK), Louis Szapary (Austria), Brandon Schaefer (USA) and Saara Knapp (Finland-USA) applied for the first ever plein air painting tour to the Hunza Valley in Pakistan.

En plein air in French translates to “in the open air” and refers to the art movement of the early 1900’s called Impressionism. Artists such as Homer, Van Gogh and Monet are best known for their impressionist paintings that were created outdoors. Their subject was the elusive light itself, while using color theory and movement they tried to depict the essence of a landscape. It is argued that it was realistic in its intent to represent the ever-changing subject in view.

Saara Knapp, plein air painting at Altit Fort, 2022
Brandon Schaefer, plein air painting at Lulusar Lake, 2022

For the tour to be successful, the selection of artists became an integral part of the project; the artists demonstrated a keen interest in travel and art making that corresponded with the assignment of plein air painting. The Dastaangoi team and the four artists traveled to Hunza Vallery1. One of the first places to stay and paint was Batakundi where the artists painted until sunset. The next day, they painted the still, beautiful, and ever so glistening Lulusar lake in the Kaghan Valley. Later in the day the artists resumed painting at Jaglot before arriving at Karimabad, the capital of Hunza District. The artists continued to paint at Karimabad, overlooking the valley. Altit Fort and Baltit Fort in Karimabad, with their breathtaking views, were next stops. The tour ended at the picturesque Attabad Lake before arriving at Gulmit.

Louis Szapary, plein air painting at Kho Village Nagar, 2022

The tour culminated in a one-day show, titled The North, at the Dastaangoi Gallery in Islamabad. The paintings on display were not only the impressions of landscapes of the Hunza Valley but also around its travels. The works from the tour were made available as prints for sale, the value accredited to the prints is beyond that of mere reproductions of the paintings. The idea of prints corroborates with the idea of the image from one’s travels— a keepsake, a souvenir from the Hunza Valley. The prints translate as multiples for the many i.e., the audience that it catered to on Instagram since the journey began. The work in this way becomes a token of cultural exchange. With the intent of sharing Pakistan’s landscape in this way, Dastaangoi is narrating the story of northern Pakistan through the unique experiences of the four plein air artists.

Phoebe Stewart Carter, View over Gilgit, 20cm x 30 cm, oil on board, 2022

Founder and curator of Dastaangoi, Amad Mian, shares the ethos behind the endeavor of Dastaangoi which concerns itself with the intersection of design, technology, human experience, and storytelling in contemporary Pakistan.

In Mian’s words, through a curated experience of the Hunza tour, the intent was to create images of northern Pakistan through the technique of plein air painting. Enabling audiences to see how this journey unfolds through social media. They experienced the process of creativity, skill and textures which frame the vistas of the Hunza Valley. The tactility of paint contradicts the straight lines and pixels of the interface, translating the painting from an object to an experience, one of aesthetically diverse and serene landscapes of northern Pakistan curated for digital media.

During the tour, the Dastaangoi team of Amad Mian and Waleeya Ahmad, made an immense effort to capture and showcase the artists and their works in process2. The captivating bird’s eye view of the drone footage records the artists painting against the picturesque Rakaposhi mountain, Passu glaciers and Attabad lake. Shot in this way, the snippets of the travel take the audience along with them, creating a sense of a larger-than-life experience. Using cinematography, the short film titled The North, is an ode to the north of Pakistan and its beautiful vistas, emotionally depicting the experience of being in a place like Hunza Valley. For anyone who has traveled knows that the journey to the north can be liberating, an escape from the bedlam of city life.

Still Image from the short film ‘The North’, 3:23mins, 2022

The gallery displayed the paintings created by the four showcasing artists who captured the essence of the great outdoors of the valley. Alongside the paintings, on display were artists’ easels, paints, brushes and knives, aptly representing their journey with their tools. The paintings displayed were all in similar scale, a restrained size, again reminding audiences of portability and expediency. One can appreciate how the project also highlights environmental conditions and makes a case for preservation through artistic practice.

Dastaangoi’s efforts to represent contemporary Pakistan offers potential for the cultural industry. The country has a rich visual and oral history and cultural heritage. This is increasingly addressed by the emerging creative activity of visual artists and performers who are sharing ideas, critiquing the statuesque and questioning stereotypes resultantly forming perceptions of Pakistan at large. In recent years, major infrastructure development has taken place in northern Pakistan. As a result, we see an influx of artistes traveling to the areas and documenting their experiences through paintings, photographs, videos, and blogs, encouraging many to travel the scenic up-north. Projects like The North show potential to be transformative and economically resourceful to the overall development of culture.

The plein air tour is different in many ways, it highlights an experience that is not only curated for online consumption, but also combining two economic activities (art making and tourism); thus amalgamating them into a single experience.

 ‘The North’, organized by Dastaangoi, culminated in the form of a day-long exhibition at the Dastaangoi Gallery on 10th September,2022.

All Images Courtesy: Dastaangoi Gallery

Cover Title: Dastaangoi, 2022. Still Image, The North, 3:23 min.


  1. It is about seven hundred kilometers, approximately fifteen hours by road from Islamabad which is the capital of Pakistan
  2. The North, short film by Dastaangoi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR_NI72BsLw

Amina El-Edroos is a visual artist, writer and art educator from Islamabad. Since graduating from BNU in Digital Arts, she has been part of the faculty at SADA, NUST and NCA with focus on art history, image making and the use of digital tools as means to document and archive the art process. Her recent body of work focuses on the suburban landscape of Islamabad. Currently, she is doing a MA in Digital Media from Goldsmiths, University of London.

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