In Our Utopias We Unite as One
In Our Utopias We Unite as One

Residencies have taken on a variety of forms; from retreats to exchanges, and from site-specific to those which are studio-based, workshop-oriented and community-based efforts. Inclusive of formats which focus on production and training, with initiatives focused on a group or an individual, those that are regionally specific and/or international in scope. Positioned around formal and informal artist-run spaces, as well as official staterun bodies, at times, these initiatives are also governed by a diplomatic scope.

In my view, residencies remain essentially about experimentation, research and learning regardless of their mission, purpose or nature. The expansion of the realm of art from a fine-arts based practice to one that spills into, and borrows from, the spheres of the humanities and the social sciences is reflected in the development of new models of residencies that are more critical, discursive and ideological.

Dastaangoi is a inclusive organisation that aims to endorse the multiplicity and splendor of the history and culture of Pakistan, by creating a dialogue/ a bridge for people to connect across cultures and borders. It was founded in 2020 by Amad Mian and Waleeya Ahmed on the belief that there was a requirement to revitalize honour and delight within the Pakistani culture. Amad and Waleeya who had spent most of their lives in Dubai contemplated on how they could contribute to the elevation of Pakistan’s culture. The idea of starting Dastaangoi was to tell contemporary stories coming from this part of the world; to showcase a spirited narrative in order to create a parallel force against the stereotypical that gets sold in the news.

While promoting the diversity of Pakistan, the organization also formulates stories and podcasts for their viewers and listeners. Under the banner of Dastaangoi, which literally means ‘storytelling’in Persian, Amad and Waleeya began arranging online events in which prominent artists and intellectuals were invited to discuss subjects pertaining to the cultural heritage of Pakistan. According to Amad, the Dastaangoi Artist Residency evolved out of the need to recognize and bring to the forefront the “tremendous amount of talent in the country”. But due to a lack of resources to support such talent “we decided to leverage and reach out to those whom we knew, and around what we know, to organise a unique experience in the capital of the country where artists could come, work, learn and experiment with their work.”

Coming together by the fire-Image Courtesy Amad Mian

The residency followed by setting up a board from amongst creatives in the art world. The Board of Advisers of Dastaangoi includes Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, Pablo Del Val, Artistic Director at Art Dubai, Sunny Rahbar, Founder of The Third Line, a Dubai-based gallery, El Seed, a French-Tunisian street artist whose works incorporate traditional Arabic calligraphy, Sarmad Khoosat, Director, Actor and Filmmaker and Rami Farook, who is a curator and artist hailing from Dubai.

The program’s intention is to showcase the vast amount of talent by building bridges in communication between Pakistan through the world of art. Such programs open minds and allow experimentation and creativity in unfamiliar environments. The Dastaangoi Artist Residency thus provided the perfect avenue for drawing inspiration from new surroundings and conversations amongst a community of creatives and thinkers.

Dastaangoi Artist Residency-Image Courtesy Amad Mian
Dastaangoi Artist Residency-Image Courtesy Amad Mian

Five artists were selected by the panel to be part of the two-week residency during the months of October and November 2021. An Open Call ‘to all art forms, film, visual, fashion, sculpture to writing’ resulted in applications, portfolios and CVs flowing in. The portfolios were reviewed and candidates shortlisted for an interview. Located in a farmhouse in sector H9, Islamabad, the selected artist residents stayed in a guest house at the farm and used the studio spaces also located in the same vicinity.

Art residencies are considered to be an open and fluid concept, encircling a broad spectrum of engagement and creative commotion. For the Dastaanoi Artist Residency there was no theme decided at the outset. Each artist leaned towards the space and its environmental beauty to create their work, employing and manifesting it in different ways according to their respective mediums.

‘Discover the union between the earth and sky… to create and become one with nature’
Dastaangoi, November 1, 2021

The Dastaangoi Artist Residency was significant within the ecosystem of contemporary art as crucial nodes in international circulation and career development, but also as invaluable infrastructures for critical reflection, cross-cultural collaboration, interdisciplinary knowledge production, and site-specific research. The selected residents, Maryam Baniasadi, Zahra Asim, Dinal Jalil, Mustafa Mohsin and Mubashar Iqbal were offered onsite accommodation, studio space to work and encouraged to spend time exploring and taking in the natural surroundings. The locality itself was similar to a temporary retreat, being removed to an extent from not only the daily life of the artists and their respective community and context, but also their usual art structures and discourses, providing platforms for modes of learning outside familiar frameworks.

Dinal Jalil, ‘Grow Anywhere’ 2021, Black ink and gold leaf on archive sheet, 21 x 21 inches
Zahra Asim, ‘Savari’ 2021, Oil on brass sheet, 3 x 3.5 inches

A retreat refers not only to a place and a time but also to an act, perhaps even a state of being or movement. In a similar fashion, residencies can be understood to be often intense experiences of self-reflection, at the same time all forms of critical encounters also take place. For all five artist residents, the Dastaangoi residency was seen as an active site of transition; with them being the mediators connecting places and people, cultural contexts and shared experiences. They gathered ideas and were challenged and influenced, they created connections amongst the local community in their work.

At the end of the residency, a show titled Baad-e-Saba (Morning Breeze) opened on November 6th 2021. The final production were pieces from each artist’s respective journey through the two-week period and their unique representation of an alliance between the earth and the sky — how nature was portrayed in the works. “Baad-e-Saba was a collective impress that we wanted the showcase. To express new beginnings for all of us” recollects Amad.

Maryam Baniasadi, ‘The Cypress Tree and Red Bricks’ 2021, Gouache on wasli, 13 x 10.5 inches
Mubashar Iqbal, ‘Untitled IV’ 2021, Cyanotype print on soft Italian paper, variable
Mustafa Mohsin, ‘Watering Cans’ 2021, Oil on Linen, 6.5 x 11.5 inches

Zahra Asim painted on brass sheets to capture realistic images of what appear to be a visual diary. She fused her personal experience with the artistic outlook at the residency as a source for her creations. Dina Jalil’s intricately patterned pieces are comparable to those found in nature. Living and working in a natural environment facilitated her in comprehending her surroundings in an exploratory manner. Mubashar Iqbal used cyanotype, a photographic printing process which produces a cyan-blue print, to depict images of moments which he captured from his surroundings. His images feature people, trees, twigs, and leaves, but his most interesting works capture non-descript voids. Nature serves as the muse for Maryam Baniasadi, an Iranian miniaturist who lives in Lahore. The cypress tree is a symbol of eternality and an important pictogram in her work. Being a frequent subject matter in miniature art, it is one that does not bear fruit but stands strong. Conducive to Syed Mustafa Mohsin, light and its interaction with the environment and objects was a great source of inspiration. He regularly paints landscapes, using oil paints during different times of the day. His fervent observation of the way light exposed his subjects is very persuasive.

Dastaangoi’s initiative is an essential part of a cultural journey in the capital; alongside with providing a rich and diverse intellectual discourse within a community— the greatest impact being on the individual artists themselves. Such an impression on communities and audiences can prove to be extremely tangible. In terms of future plans, Amad and Waleeya aim at constructing an annual residency in Islamabad with the plan to open it to international applications in 2022. Dastaangoi is also launching a new gallery space and will be engaging in showcasing more exhibitions on the farm itself. Currently they are in the midst of planning a sculpture garden.

Works of the resident artists of the Dastaangoi Artist Residency were showcased within the studio space at the farm in a one-day exhibition that took place on November 6th, 2021.

Shireen Ikramullah Khan is a Pakistani artist, art critic, educator and museologist with a background in painting and printmaking. She completed her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from the National College of Arts in Lahore in 2006. In 2009, she completed her Masters in Art Gallery and Museum Studies from The University of Manchester, which included an internship at the Manchester Museum to profile gallery visitors and assess improvements. She is an active member of AICA (International Association of Art Critics) and writer for several art publications worldwide. Based in Europe since 2017, Shireen continues to maintain her own visual art practice, participating in several exhibitions across Pakistan and other countries. She is, in parallel, working with international artists to curate shows in Pakistan as a means of building stronger bridges for sharing of culture and knowledge.

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