In his work titled Curating Doubt, JJ Charlesworth ponders the concept of curation. While the term curator is fairly understood, the role or job description that comes along with, it i.e. curating, is still being considered a neologism. As Charlesworth put it, the role of the curator is constantly evolving and shifting to take on a multitude of roles that often blend into each other, such as that of the artist-curator. Therefore, he questions whether distinctions can be made when discussing the act of curation.
Keeping this in mind, this review explores a group exhibition held on the premises of Arshad Faruqui’s design House, Copper and Steel. Here, in the open space of the building, Faruqui displayed a selection of sculptural copper works created by a group of artists, architects and designers of diverse backgrounds.
Throughout his prolific career, Faruqui has worked long and hard to revive the use of copper in Pakistan. Alongside his role as Architect, Educator and Artist, he has been working with local copper-craftsmen for over two decades to create tableware, fountains, and furniture designs. As a curator, Faruqui took his long-held relationship with copper even further through his latest project Something Borrowed, Something New.
The title of the show, itself, reiterates the overall premise of this exhibition. The project reflects a collaboration between the curator and a group of creators who have been a part of his personal and professional life in one form or the other. Through continuous discourse, Faruqui worked with each artist, designer and architect, abetting each one in manifesting their vision through the form of copper. Local artists were asked to choose one of Faruqui’s unfinished copper pieces and recreate it into something new, while international artists were given the opportunity of corresponding their ideas with Faruqui, through online methods of contact, who would then bring each into fruition using copper as the base material.
The idea for this show emerged as a result of how severely Covid-19 affected all of us. With protocols of social distancing, the world entered a daunting new era of isolation. Resilience is the keyword Faruqui uses in his curatorial statement; one which is also characterized by copper— a physical manifestation of resilience; an analogy. Throughout history and over time, copper has come to symbolize, amongst other things, human connection and collaboration. This becomes relevant in the case of Something Borrowed, Something New; just like how copper must work together with other metals to create an alloy, Faruqui and his selection of artists came together to create a three-dimensional hybrid of their combined ideas.
The works are carefully placed within an open space, where each one responds and reacts differently to the space. Alongside each work, viewers also have access to view the written conversations held between the curator and creator; a unique, exclusive, and intimate insight into the overall process of the work.
Keeping in mind the questions raised by Charlesworth in his writings about curation, one observes how they seem to manifest through this exhibition; particularly the queries around an individual who blurs the lines between the role— as both curator and artist. In this exhibition too, it becomes tricky to figure out where Faruqui the creator ends and his part as curator begins.
Entering the display and being given the opportunity to see how each piece is made, one can’t help but view Faruqui as the ultimate architect of this exhibit. He efficaciously engineered a distinct show which had its own set of challenges that included not only working with artists from across the globe, but also with those who were unfamiliar with the material being used. This is not to overshadow the importance of each artist involved, but rather to emphasize the fact that Faruqui went well beyond his role as curator, acclimatizing it with his role as a creator, thereby broadening and adding a new definition to curation.
For local artists, Faruqui’s borrowed unfinished work became the starting point, while for foreign artists, he became the architect and maker of their ideas. Though the works are all unique and equipped with their own distinctive concepts, Faruqui essentially became the reason for each creation. The exhibition almost functions as a self-portrait of Faruqui, as he has often mentioned understanding copper as part of his own identity. With that in mind, one may look at the display as a presentation of the multi-facets of Faruqui through the eyes of creators that have known him and been a part of his life, at some point or the other, and contributed in being a part of his journey.
Looking at the varied list of artists and works, it was initially unclear and quite perplexing to understand what unifying force cemented this display into one. While some created pieces were simply hung and/or attached, others went further to provide functionality to their presence. The artworks became installations that conversed with and unified the space as one. Through a deeper inspection and exploration of the display there appeared to be several layers to it, that needed to be peeled carefully to reach the underlying narrative . While all participants of the show should be highly commended for their exploration of copper and ability to adapt their practices to fit with the premise of the show, Faruqui and his role as the ultimate driving force is what truly stands out.
The role of curation is ever-evolving, especially in Pakistan, where it is a fairly nascent concept. It can be noted that in Pakistan the role of the curator is most often taken on by the artist; whether this is a successful model or not is a matter of compelling discussion that must take place. However, in the case of Faruqui, he has managed to add a new layer to that discourse; contributing to the growing definition by blurring the lines, as both creator and curator.
The artists who contributed to, and became a part of, the exclusive exhibit included David Salkin, Andree Meyerhens, Naiza Khan, Ronald Van Der Hilst, Aamir Habib, Affan Baghpatti, Akeel and Noorjehan Bilgrami, Ayessha Quraishi, David Alesworth, Mark Sexton, Dirk Denison, Nurayah Sheikh Nabi, Thomas Daniell, and Rahol Mehrotra and Nondita Correa Mehrotra.
Something Borrowed, Something New was displayed at Copper and Steel, Karachi from 31st March to 4th April 2022.
Title image: Untitled, Circular Copper Disks, Size Variable, David Harris Salkin (USA), Architect, 2022
Buchan, Suzanne, et al. ‘Issue in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance’, Intellect Books, 2007
Artist Statements and Discourses, ‘Something Borrowed, Something New’, 2022
Faruqui, Arshad, Interview via email.