On Art & Other Man-Made Objects
On Art & Other Man-Made Objects

The self and its elusive states of autonomy frantically held within an unfolding monolith— a labyrinth of hierarchies neatly stacked upon one another, some in paradox, some in conflict, others in reparation. The nature of hierarchy is especially potent as it is preserved by ascending states of captivity; to extract a tier and position it in isolation would carelessly infringe upon its inherent multiplicities. Using art as a medium to critically disseminate and re-position self also hinges upon a discrepancy. Art, as examined through the lens of post-capitalism, is not hostile toward capitalist sensibilities since it is complicit to using labor as a tool to generate consumption.1 The radicality of the “The Factory” is rooted in the disfranchisement of art from its station as commodity, ironically made possible by situating it within the monolith itself -The Factory. The curator of the project, Rameesha Azeem, expressed a desire to re-think the frameworks that art exists in and explore avenues for allowing for sporadic intervention. From allegory to anarchy the project metabolizes into moments of quiet dissent, the role of the artist too oscillating within the paradigm of the spectator and the author.

Ammar Faiz, The Wise Men of Sundar, Single channel video, 02 minutes, 30 seconds, 2022

In a poignant rendition The Wise Men Of Sundar, Ammar Faiz creates a paradoxical state of order. Faiz recorded 14 laborers from the factory and neatly assembled their voices into a choir who repeat the curatorial text written for the exhibit, translated into Urdu. The video was displayed at the opening of the exhibition. Their chants echoed within the space reverberating in an ominous manner as they repeat after an unidentified voice source. The visual and the sound would welcome any unsuspecting onlooker into a frenzied state of digression. The gaze of the workers directly looks towards the spectator, yet succumbing to another voice which assumes no body. Translating the curatorial note in Urdu becomes the underlying catalyst for allowing the words to exist within another contextual framework. The subtext of the words for a perfunctory observer is held hostage by the presumed implications of language, it feels hauntingly oppressive, however as the sounds filter and arrange themselves into words they become placated. The Wise Men Of Sundar precariously reveal themselves as the object and the subject simultaneously.

Suleman Faisal, Old Enough To Work, Too Young To Vote, Plexiglass, 2’ x 2’ x 3’ (24” x 24” x 36”),2022

Further essaying upon the nature of labor, Suleman Faisal’s installation titled Old Enough to Work, Too Young To Vote, is an assemblage of rectangular plexiglass containers tinted in orange and stacked atop one another. Forming a larger structure, each container showcases a plexiglass hammer. Placed inside a temperature-controlled transportation container on display, the work stood ablaze. A carefully arranged protest that stood cavalier in the face of oppressive hierarchies that exploit labor serves as a metaphor. One of the more jarring nuances of the work lies in Faisal’s statement of how as an artist his act of forging the hammer in plexiglass is a sort of catharsis while for a laborer it is a tool of compulsion. Thus, the work allows for a speculation of labor whilst simultaneously acknowledging the ambivalence of labor rooted in art-making.

Rabeya Jalil – Rabeeha Adnan, I Think I Misunderstood the Assignment, Laser cut alphabets pasted on a wall, Dimension-vairable, 2022

The Factory positions the labor of art-making and the labor of object-making to coalesce innocuously within the consumer-driven efficacy of the factory itself.  I Think I Misunderstood the Assignment, by Rabeya Jalil and Rabeeha Adnan, examined the arbitrary process of art-making as presentation, using laser-cut alphabets produced at the factory, having a worker install it on a wall during the course of the final exhibit itself. Once he was done, he signed the text with his name Allah Ditta using some of the leftover alphabets. For the artists this was a moment of unanticipated resolution, which Jalil referred to as “divine intervention”. Through the signature of Allah Ditta the work outlines the precarious nature of authorship and in a larger framework allows for labor (and its collective states) to become a visible tool. Much like The Wise Men Of Sundar, language too becomes entangled within the chasm, language used to write about art itself is indicative of a specific hierarchy. Ditta not only claims the work but also manages to claim the superfluous nature of the language of art-making— his name becomes the jugular of the work itself. The nature of the project demanded the artists to constantly examine their position as protagonists, thus the spaces they left un-occupied allowed for candor to slip in and create moments for profound introspection.

Perhaps through an inquiry upon the spaces left unoccupied, or rather the spaces in between, one can uncover the notions of tangibility that suffix upon the nature of permanence. The essence of capitalistic enterprise is rooted in efficiency; the intervention of technology, labor and infrastructure is a means to facilitate the same. On the contrary, one could argue that perhaps an artist’s finest tool is conjectural thinking. It lulls with poetry, it seeks magic and often condemned to a state of ambiguity. Sometimes complex to navigate through, since it can swiftly slip into fantasy. To position art-making within the factory cannot escape it’s perceived state of futility. Faizan Naveed’s installation, It Was a Tree of Life, was an astonishing 43ft tall tree suspended from the ceiling of the chemical plant within the premises of the factory. The tree was unsuspectingly removed from an empty plot in DHA which had been designated for construction; the tree was already destined for death before it was stripped and suspended at the exhibition venue. It became a caricature of its forgotten glory, asked to be magnanimous even in death; to astound the onlookers by its sheer scale yet foreswearing its status as a victim. Bitter yet glorious! In its transition, it raised the alluring question that riddled the factory workers, “What’s the point?”2

The point occupies the Spaces in Between, quite literally speculated by Ali Baba who used 3D scanning and printing machinery available at the factory to give form to the residual space that exists between the foot and the shoe. While an object may sit comfortably in vacuum, within space it becomes a residue of its implicit variables. Space is like the word that is spoken, that is caught in the ambiguity of actualization”3. Furthermore speculating the invisible acquiring context, Mahbub Jokhio’s work Art for All, a one-thousand-piece installation comprised two different sizes of cardboard boxes designed by the artist. The box was called Contemporary Art with a tag line ‘Think Inside The Box’. The boxes were displayed empty, stacked atop another. The artist cleverly employs language to interject upon the intangibility that alludes to the manifestation of the work, he sets the conditions for nothingness to exist in.  Equipped with humor he allows the invisible to become actualized through the space it exists in. Baba and Jokhio’s tangible and intangible states challenge the conditions of existence, and in doing so this forged relationship becomes a plausible framework for The Factory itself.

Mahbub Jokhio, Art for All, Printed corrugated boxes, Dimension-variable, 2022

Wrestling with the notions of space and in-betweenness, Rabbya Nasser’s intervention carried a sentience that managed to wedge itself innocuously between art-labor and factory-labor. Situated in the stitching department of the factory amongst four hundred workers Nasser set up a work station where she repaired and ornamented worn-out clothes brought to her by the workers. Operating from a space of mindfulness, the artist absolves herself of carrying any authority and meticulously weaves herself within the functionality of the space. She does it with a quiet compassion, reprieving also the object of any desired visibility. Her work is rooted in the act of making, oscillating between tangibility and intangibility itself. Her work was the anti-thesis of capitalistic labor, as it was rooted in care.

Rabbya Naseer, Mutabadil Raasta, Performance, 2022

Nestled within the visible hierarchy represented by the factory itself, the dalliance of art within it carries its own invisible hierarchal pyramids. It enters in a dizzying swarm, ricocheting off the walls, falling and grappling until it tames itself. The walls suddenly become porous, some walk through, others hang in between, each shedding skin to slip into its contours. The Factory was occupied by a peculiar group, enamored by the possibilities that live within the space; but soon after they left, leaving behind a trail of stories in the minds of those who encountered it and for those who penned them as poems and anecdotes. It is the nature of the factory to paint itself grey again, become somber, become efficient. The art too, untangles itself, returns to its duplicitous state. Until another moment in time someone comes along to re-tell it’s tale.

The other participating artists in the show were Abid Aslam, Ayaz Jokhio, Mohsin Shafi, Suleman Khilji, Rabia Ajaz, Ali Shariq Jamali, Komal Naz, Syed Hassan Mujtaba, Saba Khan, Unum Babar & Matt Kushan. I experienced the works through a collective memory, ranging from the factual to the fictional.  The resources that exist extensively archive the project through a 1 hour and 20-minute documentary outlining the project, and through a 214-page publication that not only shares remarks upon artists’ work but it uses it as a departure point into story-telling and poetry. Hassan Tahir Latif, Arslan Ather, Hassan Rauf, Emaan Maqbool (also the editor of the publication),Mahum Qureshi, Jawad Raza, Syed Uroof Samdani, Baseerat Zehra and Zarmina Rafi were the writers involved in the project.

‘The Factory’ was a year-long intervention conceptualized by Rameesha Azeem, 19 artists were invited to engage with the resources available at the Chawla Footwear Factory in Lahore, Pakistan. The project culminated into a site-specific exhibition on the 30th of January 2022. Following which 9 writers worked alongside the artists to produce a publication as a response. This essay delves into some of the works displayed at the exhibition.

Cover Image Courtesy: Ali Shariq Jamili, ‘Against The Sun’, polyurethance, poly vinyl chloride,  2022 (Images courtesy Rameesha Azeem)


  1. Dave Beech, Art and Postcapitalism: Aesthetic Labour, Automation and Value Production, published by Pluto Press 2019
  2. Quote from the The Factory Project Documentary, shared by the curator
  3. Michel De Certeau, The Practice Of Everyday Life

Ammara Jabbar is an artist and writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. Jabbar graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture in 2015, since then she has displayed her artwork nationally and internationally. She was the recipient of the Imran Mir Art Prize in 2018 and is currently a Visiting Artist Fellow at the Mittal Institute at Harvard University.

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