Spatial Memories: Narratives of Cultural History in Afrasian Hybridity
Spatial Memories: Narratives of Cultural History in Afrasian Hybridity

The growth of inter-cultural encounters in the Africa-Asia region of the world have instigated the creation of socially, politically, and ethnographically diverse spaces. The waters of the Indian Ocean, carrying remnants of the coast of Africa and the Middle East over to the coast of Pakistan, created an invaluable exchange of what may be one of the most diverse cultures in the Afro-Asian continent. The geographical significance of the coast of Sindh and Balochistan surrounded by the waters of the Arabian Sea, ultimately connecting with the waters of the Indian Ocean, reveals a vast multitude of fragmented landscapes between Africa and Asia. A remediation of these fragmented landscapes requires reflection over current ways of thinking of the past. How did our current landscape come to be, who were the first peoples to travel through these waters, and how did this oceanic exchange give birth to the histories we observe today?  The hybridity of these exchanges turns into what Homi K. Bhaba states as the ‘Third Space of enunciation’, or the creation of third cultures through encounters of multiple communities through artifacts constructed collectively across generations.1 The Afrasian Sea, termed by John Njenga Karugia, acts as this significant artifact itself, carrying with it the names, tastes, smells, and spirits of its cross-continental histories. Karugia looks at the connectivity found in the ‘memory politics’ of the Afrasian Sea, adeptly raising questions about a nationalistic sense of ‘belonging’. 2 How can we trace cultural and national memory retained in a region’s surrounding waters? What is the relationship between Africa and Pakistan with relevance to the Afrasian Sea?

Indigo Waves and Other Stories began as the first iteration of many, hoping to create a transnational project spanning various regions over a period of several years. What the project set out to do was understand the repercussions of movement in the body of water of the Indian Ocean, discovering connectivity between various cultures aligned by its shores. Finding a common denominator of different peoples connected through this body of water, along with the geographical connection of landscapes and coastal communities, artists were invited to investigate and explore links between genealogy and the cross-pollination of cultures between Africa and Pakistan.

Academic historiography often creates binaries of a ‘before’ and ‘after’ in post-coloniality. What can be observed happening in this process is the narration of histories finding the lens of the colonizer as the mainstream. Such is lost in the retelling of these narratives that the multiplicity of linguistic, spiritual, religious, and cultural exchanges may often either get lost in translation, or find it difficult to place altogether. The Indigo Waves project, hence, aimed to bridge that gap and strategically maneuver through these vast multitudes by bringing together the stories of these waters. Oral histories, storytelling, and narrative mapping were some of the key methodologies for incorporating Pakistan’s connection to the Indian Ocean. Therefore, a reclaiming of narratives not only looked at bringing migratory voices to the forefront, but also highlighted the many ways in which the state and general population had somehow managed to overlook an entire fragment of its collective geographical history.

‘The genetic diversity of human populations’ can be witnessed in the admixture and post-admixture of the Indian Ocean slave trade, particularly with the Makranis in Pakistan. 3 The Makranis – a name given to Africans who settled on the Makran Coast of Balochistan – are the result of a genetic admixture between Pakistani Baloch tribes and Bantu-speaking populations from eastern or southeastern Africa, generationally related to fishermen communities of Pakistan because of their spatial relationship with the coast.4 Pakistan’s Sheedi community, considered to be of African descent, was one of the first to travel through the waters of the Indian Ocean from the coast of Africa to Sindh and Balochistan.5 Like other similar historical accounts of African migration, a large portion of the Sheedi community in Pakistan is believed to be directly descended from African slaves who were brought to the Indian subcontinent between 1200 and 1900 with Arab invaders.6 However, what many tend to overlook is an alternate history where the ancestors of Pakistan’s Sheedis were also merchants and sailors who had willingly migrated to the region. Today, the estimated number of people of African descent in Pakistan is roughly around 250,000. 7

With most African migrants finding their residence along the Makran Coast in Balochistan and Lyari in Sindh, their multilingual vernacular consists of Balochi and Sindhi, as well as English and Urdu, with remnants of Swahili in the mix.8 With roughly between 70 and 80 languages spoken in Pakistan, the spoken word also brought along with it an abundance of song and music, which ultimately translated to rhythm and dance. Being one of the oldest populated areas in Karachi, Lyari remains startlingly overlooked despite its diverse indigeneity. It had been plagued with violence and conflict since the gang wars era, most prominently in the 2000s, leaving it to be one of the most marginalized areas of the city.9 Like a line drawn in the sand, Lyari remains almost cut off from the rest of Karachi, a severe lack of engagement between outsiders and insiders of the area, often remaining largely ignored by the posher areas of the city. The genetic cross-pollination that has occurred in the Pakistani population through exchanges of the Indian Ocean merits wider discussions on race and culture.

The residency, hosted and organized by Vasl Artists’ Association in Karachi, engaged members of the Sheedi community to act as local mentors, hoping to provide unique insights that would help uncover the missing information needed to create linkages to the history of this oceanic exchange. The list of local mentors included Younus Qambrani, Founder and Chief Coach of Pak Shaheen Boxing Club; Abdul Latif Dorai, social worker and Chairman of Sindh Tech Skill Development Centre; Mohammad Rafiq Senghoor, Senior Vice President of Al Habash Sheedi Jamaat; and Tanzila Qambrani, the first female member of the African-Pakistani community to hold a government office.

In collaboration with the Frans Hals Museum, the Netherlands, Gropius Bao and SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, and Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, the residency also engaged international mentors to advise the artists throughout their process. The list of international mentors included: Natasha Ginwala, curator, writer and Associate Curator at Gropius Bau, Berlin and artistic director of COLOMBOSCOPE, Colombo; Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, independent curator, author, biotechnologist, and founder and artistic director of SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin; Sagal Farah, multi-disciplinary artist, writer and researcher at SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin; and Michelangelo Corsaro, curator and writer currently based in Berlin, and Associate Curator of the 13th Gwangju Biennale.

The diversity of this group of mentors, along with the three Pakistani artists chosen to carry out this research, aimed to integrate stories of migration and sharing of cultures with critical dialogue and creativity. Although distinctly individualistic, a recurring theme in each of the artists’ works was the inclusion of oral histories and narrative storytelling. Even when using different mediums, the main methodology for each artist was formulated primarily by situating their body of work around stories narrated to them by the various members of the Sheedi and fishermen communities of Karachi, where the residency was situated. The interconnectedness of each artist’s work to the landscape and its peoples finds legitimacy in the overarching narrative of marginalization faced by these communities due to the varying socio-political issues of Karachi.

The landscape of Karachi’s vast metropolis is chaotic and constantly changing. The dire repercussions of having an unplanned city as massive as Karachi plagued with capitalist extremism invariably leads to problems of overcrowding, displacement, and severe economic disparity. Luluwa Lokhandwala, an artist whose practice is informed by academic research, employed the process of documentation and archiving through photographs. While playing around with the concept of ‘anti-cartography’, she was influenced by the work of the late Perween Rahman. Karachi’s history of poor urban planning, forced displacements, and land grabbing was something the likes of Rahman had actively spoken out against.10 Therefore, the displacement of indigenous fishermen communities in Karachi and their poor living conditions is something Lokhandwala chooses to highlight. Karachi’s fishermen inarguably have the closest relationship with the surrounding body of water, past generations having had their livelihoods dependent on it. The woes of Karachi’s fishermen have primarily to do with the growth of urbanism and massive housing societies being built around the city’s coast, causing the surrounding body of water to get polluted (in some cases, even with mercury), making it impossible for fishing to continue.11

Google Satellite Imagery of the coast of the Indian Ocean, Luluwa Lokhandwala, digital image, size variable, 2021 (detail)

The disparity in Karachi’s landscape is abundantly obvious when the Dubai-esque infrastructures from the Icon Tower to Emaar housing scheme is held in juxtaposition with the congested and overcrowded urban slums like Lyari. The gentrification of certain areas of Karachi also further indicates the dichotomy between the city’s developed and underdeveloped regions, particularly those where fishermen colonies have been forcibly moved to satisfy primarily aesthetic concerns. The halted mobility of fishermen across the coast comes into question even more when commercial urban development projects routinely cause the pollution of water. Due to ‘ecological neglect and deterioration’, Pakistan’s coastline remains under imminent threat of disappearing.12 The fact that the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) is located at Paradise Point on the Arabian Sea coast, West of Karachi, effectively causing nuclear waste to find its way to the surrounding waters, also mixed with garbage and sewerage, only alludes to the tip of the iceberg that Lokhandwala has tried to portray.13

Scouting the coast of the Indian Ocean, she manipulates the map of the coastline through Google satellite imagery over the course of the past two decades. The gradual change emerging in the coastline is through deliberate erasure of certain icons and motifs related to the fishermen, speaking of the idea of covering up and blackening out. Here, she also incorporates the repetition of patterns, much like the process of hand-weaving fishing nets, to create a visual narrative to indicate the idea of displacement. Among her many site visits and excursions conducted for research, Lokhandwala found herself attending protests held by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and events like Aurtan ji mach Kacheri where she managed to capture images of the fisherfolk of Karachi vocalizing their concerns and problems. She then manipulates these images and blackens out silhouettes of the fisherfolk, their fishing boats, and their protest flags. Citing Iranian artist Shirin Neshat as a reference, Lokhandwala describes this performative work as indicative of the identities of the fishermen being removed from across the coast. Her archive of collected photographs ultimately came to inform her overall approach to conducting research about the plight of Karachi’s fishermen communities, their connection to the waters, and their mobility in the land.

Lokhandwala’s primary mode of research was through conversations and oral interviews conducted with insiders of the fishing communities in Karachi, with frequent visits to ports like Ibrahim Hyderi. However, she chooses to acknowledge her own positionality as an outsider, while also recognizing the difference in privilege that occurs between herself as a researcher and the people she was researching. Her archive of photographs needed to be collected in a way that made sure not to blur the lines between research and exploitation. Ultimately, as an outsider, she creates work that may be sympathetic to the issues she is highlighting, but also self-aware enough to recognize that her experience of the city is entirely different.

Untitled, Luluwa Lokhandwala, mix media, 5x7 inches, 2021

Another artist that incorporates a similar methodology is Danish Bashir. With a background in philosophy and miniature art, he implements his practice of writing fiction. Bashir frequented the same sites and events as Lokhandwala, as the two artists often conducted their research in a coordinated manner. While the two of them were heavily influenced by interviews and conversations they conducted, Bashir materialized the practice of storytelling and narration in a more literal way.

It came as no surprise that both artists somehow ended up creating work that stemmed from similar reference points. However, with Bashir, his deep interest in the process of ethnography led him to create a series of narrations in the form of a book, which aimed to capture the narrator’s story in their exact vernacular. His oral narrations come from conversations with people from these fishermen communities, particularly the Dorai. He also created an installation piece that attempted to replicate the fishing net and process of Dorai, with the net and bamboo sticks placed upright on solid ground. An almost poetic manipulation of the word ‘dor’, meaning strand, the ‘dor’ in this scenario refers to the channels of water.14

According to Bashir, there was no way of preserving this ethnography without distortion taking place, stating that ethnography is problematic because it erases the local vernacular through translation. Going against the standard literary language of the average academic documentary process, his transcription of oral stories purposely remains grammatically incorrect. His approach is informed by the belief that narration by a third person would ultimately be a broken narrative. Therefore, secondhand narration ‘destroys the original story’, making it impossible for him to create a rendition of the stories that would be completely truthful.

Apart from the Dorai, Bashir reiterates stories of the Mahi Gir, net-making processes, and other banned fishing practices. Another interesting interpretation is the story of the naming of Kolachi, and how the city of Karachi was once named after a fisherwoman named Mai Kolachi. The story poetically uses the starting point of ‘900 years ago’ and makes its connections to the fishermen tribes living in Karachi today.15

Untitled, Danish Bashir, digital artist book, size variable, 2021

Interspersed with icons and motifs of the fishing coast, this digitally illustrated book uses the imagery of port maps, fishing boats, nets, and reflections of the water. He also illustrates the banned process of fishing with detailed descriptions. In terms of making, the book wittily uses a mix of multilingual text, using overlaps, repetition, mirroring, and juxtaposition. Again, it breaks all rules of conventional book illustration, deciding on the placement of text and images as needed by the story being narrated. Broken into chapter-wise pages, each chapter, almost completely unrelated to the other, uses a non-linear style of storytelling, with posterized silhouettes and line contours for most of the imagery. The cut-and-paste manner in which the book is made acts almost as a digital collage of identifiable iconography.

On the other hand, this book serves no tangible purpose, as it does not follow any set format or fixed structure. The narrations in the book, being a mix of folklore and storytelling, would not be considered as a citable scholarly resource for legitimate historiography. The book, while trying to break free from convention, severely lacks the scholarly methodology that would legitimize it as an anthology. It would then become more prudent to place the book as a standalone work of art instead, prioritizing the artist’s intervention over scholarly legitimacy. However, it does not negate the fact that these oral narrations exist, and have been carried on for generations. What Bashir’s rendition of these stories does, then, is place them on the periphery of the spoken and unwritten.

Untitled, Danish Bashir, digital artist book, size variable, 2021

Despite the core structure of the book being based on stories by other people, there still seems to be a disengagement between the voices of the people narrating the stories. The text is phrased in a prose-like manner, where the voice of the narrator is unknown. Without any background information, the text is unable to root itself in any one protagonist or story. We are then left to view this work as outsiders, possibly left with more questions than answers.

This lack of personal engagement with narration is something the next artist, Muhammad Faheem, has managed to overcome. A documentary filmmaker, as well as an activist and social entrepreneur, Faheem incorporates the medium of video to narrate his research.

Possibly the most closely related to the Sheedi community in Lyari, having lived a portion of his life there and witnessing the violence and extremism firsthand, Faheem dives headfirst into exploring an alternate side to Lyari. Little is documented about the various groups of artists, singers and musicians situated in the area, with media coverage mostly surrounding its conflict. Faheem, in his own words, looked at capturing the ‘eroding cultures’ of Lyari, particularly to do with its vibrant music scene. Mumbasa Street (now called Bumbasa Street, named after a possible variation of Mombasa city in Kenya) is home to a large number of African immigrants and current Sheedi residents.16 Stories of migration from African countries are highlighted in the narratives of Mumbasa Street in Lyari, with two of Faheem’s key characters – Abdul Latif Lasi “Latto”, and Abdul Rehman “Babu”.

‘Abdul Latif Lasi’, Muhammad Faheem, 6 minutes

Latto’s story spans over the course of 35 years. He describes his background of growing up in a family of musicians, and then professionally playing the Sheedi drums, having traveled out of the country for concerts, and even performing for songs in Coke Studio. He name-drops a few prominent musicians to elaborate on his active engagement with Pakistan’s mainstream music scene. The film goes back and forth from shots of Latto speaking and scenes from his surroundings. His humble dwellings do not give the impression of someone who has had such an illustrious music career. Latto laments over how musicians like him were once called ‘artists’, but somewhere around the 1990’s, the cultural climate began to change. Once a prominent part of Karachi’s music culture, the average Lewah musician was now relegated to the derogatory dhol wala, highlighting the degradation of art and culture because of rising religious extremism. He expresses his disappointment in musicians like him being treated almost like a lower caste, stating that the art form itself is no longer deemed respectable. The film ends on Latto’s comment about contemporary artists declaring that the Lewah ‘is not a part of Balochi culture’. Latto states: ‘Whether it belongs to the Baloch or not, the Baloch have accepted it’. This opens up an interesting dialogue around the intermingling of Afro-Asian cultures, and the acceptance or rejection of diasporic rituals and practices. But before the conversation could dive any deeper, the film abruptly ends.

Newspaper coverage of Lewah performance, Dawn, 2002, Courtesy Abdul Latif Lasi and Muhammad Faheem

The next film focuses on Babu. He talks in more detail about his African ancestry, describing his family ties to the Sheedis. Babu enthusiastically describes the intricacies of the Dhamal, including descriptions of its many rhythms and poetries. Integrating mental health and spirituality, Lewah and Dhamal are one of the most prominent ritualistic practices in South Asia that can be traced to have originated in Africa.17 Using dance and music, the performance is a mix of devotional poetry and spirituality. Traditionally, these are performed during religious processions, weddings, and other celebrations. The most prominent connection to African heritage comes in Babu’s explanation of what these rituals and practices are called in different languages, particularly with the description of the dhikr in Swahili. However, unlike Latto’s narration, this second film does not manage to delve further into the many complexities of how linguistic exchanges have influenced the overall culture and ritualistic practices of the African diaspora in Pakistan. Babu’s professional practice of performing for spiritual ceremonies at shrines is also not discussed, which may have allowed for more cultural and historical research to take place.

‘Abdul Rehman’, Muhammad Faheem, 5 ½ minutes

Seeing these two short documentaries, what is apparent is the intermixing of faith with ritualistic Islam and devotional music as a strong part of Sindh’s Sheedi culture. With a large number of Sheedis residing in the Lyari-Manghopir areas of Karachi, the Shrine of Manghophir acts as a bridge between Karachi’s Sheedis and their African ancestry.18 Islamic collective memory connects the Sheedis with the ancestry of Hazrat Bilal, placing the Habshi as the origin of all African racial identities.19 Despite this, the Sheedis in Pakistan, much like the Siddis in India, are viewed as ‘outsiders’ or ‘foreigners’.20 Similarly, Pakistani religious fundamentalists tend to stubbornly regard Sheedi culture as foreign to Islam. Perhaps one of the key reasons for overlooking this portion of population has to do with the increasing emphasis on Islamic religious sentimentality, both in the social and political sphere, which Faheem has tried to highlight in his documentaries. A community that prides itself for its African heritage of music and dance found itself to be sidelined and cast as outsiders in the insistence of Pakistan as an Islamic republic. Little has been documented about Karachi before the 20th century, and even less has been recorded about the ethnographic histories of the region that could help trace this illustrious genealogy. What becomes an unfortunate ramification is the loss of Pakistan’s collective heritage.

As Helene Basu states: ‘memories of an African past are evoked predominantly in an oral environment’.21 The author also talks about specific sites of memory where a ‘genealogical continuity with African forefathers’ can take place.22 The ritual kinship found in the African diaspora is mostly connected to spiritual sites of memory, particularly religious institutions and shrines. However, it can be argued that this ritual kinship can also find its place in the practices of fishing, music, and dance, which also act as sites of memory when looking at the multitude of Diasporas in Pakistan. One consequence of memories of the past being recorded primarily through oral histories is the lack of tangibility when it comes to genetic studies. Observing from these artists’ interactions, it would appear that the assimilation of the various Diasporas in Pakistan caused languages, traditions, and histories of lineage to be diluted.

The stories portrayed by Faheem are fueled with the potential to explore various tangents of Sheedi life and culture, only grazing the surface in the 5 minutes dedicated to each character. Faheem’s method of being up-close with the people he was interviewing allowed him to navigate their stories through a personal lens, instead of that of a passive observer. Letting the narrative revolve around and emerge from his characters organically also allowed for minimum intervention into the original stories. Faheem speaks to them in their own surroundings, keeping the setting as raw and natural as possible. He also brings to light the rich histories of music and dance pre-existing in these areas despite the rise of violence and conflict. The untapped potential and lack of recognition of talent in these underprivileged areas is something that becomes apparent when hearing the stories narrated by Latto and Babu.

While the plight of these musicians is different from that of the fishermen highlighted by Danish and Luluwa, a common factor in their stories is the marginalization of practices and rituals that were brought to this region through cultural exchanges of the Indian Ocean. Communities like the Sheedi musicians of Lyari and fisherfolk of Sindh and Balochistan also share stories of generational histories of migration and kinships with these waters, which the artists have mapped out and narrated.

However, at the same time, a more nuanced understanding of the meaning of culture with regards to the Indian Ocean and African-Pakistani diaspora can be explored through a post-colonial lens. The relationship of the outsider/insider finds similarities in the notion of the colonizer/colonized as stated by Bhabha, wherein the creation of cultural identity is ambivalent, meaning it is often riddled with contradictions and exoticisms.23 He claims that to overcome this ‘exoticism of multiculturalism’, it becomes necessary to recognize this hybridity of cultures as empowering, rather than seeking out cultural diversity as an otherizing force.24 The insatiable need to preserve culture in its original form to keep it from ‘eroding’, inadvertently creates a process that finds its origins in orientalism. The state’s insistence on preserving ‘Pakistani’ culture tends to craft an inorganic notion of what is deemed ‘Pakistani’, often interpreting it as that which caters to the Islamic (that too, specifically Sunni Islamic) sociability borrowed from the Mughals and the Middle East. Remnants of a colonial past often include political ideologies that continue to operate through Western cultural practices, creating an imperialistic approach to identifying the state’s own cultural identity.

In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said discusses the formation of cultural identities as the product of power, particularly in Third World countries.25 This ultimately causes fragments of culture to become marginalized and overlooked in the valorization of what is deemed to be the country’s ethnic superiority. A deliberate approach to overcoming the exoticism of multiculturalism may have allowed for possibilities where there was less emphasis on the outlook of an outsider, which inadvertently operates in an otherizing gaze, and more interaction with creatives from within the community itself.

A cursory outlook of Lyari often brings forth stereotypical ideas perpetuated by mainstream media – either to do with the area’s history of violence, or, with its relation to music and sports. After hearing of Lyari, the usual response in the collective consciousness of Karachi’s outsiders is to associate the area with gang wars, Lyari disco, or football and boxing.26 What becomes problematic is the 2-dimensional representation of marginalized areas that fails to grasp the multitude of factors that make up the larger framework of these communities. It becomes imperative to create a multilayered interpretation of this marginalization that factors in all its varying tangents. Instead of looking at Lyari as simply a marginalized and underdeveloped slum, an alternate outlook on Lyari is the abundance of hospitality in welcoming immigrants, refugees, and displaced persons into the space, despite its underprivileged resources.

Sheedi Village Road, Lyari, Karachi, 2021, Courtesy Noor Butt

According to Jürgen Wasim Frembgen, Pakistan’s Sheedis have arguably been ‘forgotten and overlooked by the people of Pakistan’, with a large portion of the population being unaware of their rich genealogy.27 One factor that has kept these communities out of the mainstream is the racial discrimination that occurs on a social and political level, with a lack of state funding leaving them in a state of perpetual poverty and keeping prospects of employability and education limited.28

Within discourses of race, the body acts as a site of memory, playing a vital role in Afro-Asian identity, particularly in countries of the Global South. To elaborate, the Siddis in India (the ethnic equivalent of Pakistani Sheedis) face challenges due to the colour of their skin, darker complexions often being associated with lower castes, and occupying a ‘status somewhat comparable to untouchables (Dalits)’.29 The valorization of white skin as the token of ideal beauty can also be considered a repercussion of post-coloniality in South Asia, leading to the discrimination and marginalization of those members of the population with dark skin and non-Caucasian features. What this ultimately led to was the sheer out-casting of the Afro-Asian communities, also becoming synonymous with derogatory terms relating to their visibly African physical appearances. The Sheedis in Pakistan, therefore, have struggled with racial inequality, coupled with the challenge of identifying their race in a land that treats it as foreign. With an obvious dejection, the local mentors also spoke about the derogation associated with the term Sheedi itself, but regardless, chose to proudly identify themselves as Sheedi.

Unfortunately, with the artists’ works, a conversation around race is altogether missing, wherein a more nuanced outlook on the many facets surrounding color, ethnicity, and identity was sorely needed, particularly to do with the relationship between Sheedi identity and Négritude. Ultimately, we are left with stories that are a repetition of the same oral histories narrated by Pakistan’s African diaspora, but still without any tangible connections to its roots in other parts of the world. Discourses surrounding African racial identity are globally prevalent, where social movements like Black Lives Matter protesting against the injustices and violence faced by African-Americans can also be contextualized in South Asian discourses of race and culture.30

While it is notable that the social and economic issues surrounding the fishing, dance, and music communities of Lyari were discussed, tracing lineage in a way that also managed to embrace Afro-Asian hybridity through artistic means would have elevated this creative practice in a more critical way. What could have been interesting to see is a more direct collaboration between the multitudes of African Diasporas with the Sheedis in Pakistan. Had there been more exploration into their direct linkages of Africa and Asia, it may have enhanced the dynamics and knowledge about the exchanges brought forth through the Indian Ocean.

The potential for growth when taking these projects into the future is immense. There remains an abundance of untold stories and narratives from within the Sheedi and related communities in Pakistan that merit mainstream attention. Centuries of oceanic exchanges and cultural assimilation has instigated a multitudinal cluster of ethnicities, languages, and ritualistic practices that can be witnessed in the overlooked and marginalized communities of Karachi, which these artists have tried to bring to the forefront through this residency. The growing need for discussions around culture in its present state can only be met with introspection towards histories of the past that have been forgotten or deliberately erased. The empowerment of a collective cultural identity may then be achieved without fetishizing culture in a manner that could be deemed homogeneous. In that instance, the multitude of cultural exchanges in the form of shared memory and history would inform wider acceptance and celebration of Afro-Asian hybridity in the Global South.

Vasl Artists’ Association’s four-month Research Residency ‘Indigo Waves & Other Stories’ ended with an open studio and artist talk at the Haji Mohummad Abdul Latif Vocational Training Centre in Lyari, Karachi, on December 10, 2021. Performances of Zikr and Dhamaal were performed by elders of the Sheedi community Latif Urf (Latto) & Abdul Rehman Urf Babu followed by Lewah dance performance by Abdul Latif Lassi & group. This project was carried out in collaboration with Frans Hals Museum in The Netherlands, Gropius Bau & Savvy Contemporary in Berlin & Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town.

Title image: Google Satellite Imagery of the coast of the Indian Ocean, Luluwa Lokhandwala, digital image, size variable, 2021


  1. Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.
  2. Karugia, John Njenga. ‘Connective Afrasian Sea memories: Transregional imaginaries, memory politics, and complexities of national “belonging”. Memory Studies. 2018;11(3):328-341 doi:10.1177/1750698018771864
  3. Laso-Jadart et al., “The Genetic Legacy of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade: Recent Admixture and Post-admixture Selection in the Makranis of Pakistan”, The American Journal of Human Genetics (2017),
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ahmed, Feroz. “Africa on the Coast of Pakistan,” New Directions: Vol. 16: Iss. 4, Article 5. (1989),

  6. Laso-Jadart et al., 2017
  7. Paracha, Nadeem F. “Smokers’ corner: Sindh’s African roots”. Dawn (Published August 26, 2018).
  8. Robbins et al. African Diasporan Communities Across South Asia: Afro-South Asia in the global African diaspora, Volume 2. University of North Carolina at Greensboro Ethiopian and East African Studies Project, 2020.
  9. Kirmani, Nida. “Mobility and Urban Conflict: A Study of Lyari, Karachi” Crossroads Asia Working Paper Series, No. 28. Bonn: University of Bonn, 2015.
  10. Gayer, Laurent. Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  11. Mazhar, Marvi, Anushka Maqbool and Harmain Ahmer. “Reclaiming Karachi’s Edge”. Dawn (Published August 23, 2020)
  12. Ibid.
  13. Hoodbhoy, Pervez, Zia Mian and Dr A.H. Nayyar. “Nuclear Karachi”. Dawn (Published December 16, 2013)
  14. Khan, Shaheen Rafi and Shahrukh Rafi Khan. “Fishery degradation in Pakistan: a poverty–environment nexus?” Canadian Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1, March 2011, 32 –47. DOI: 10.1080/02255189.2011.576140
  15. Excerpt from untitled artist book by Danish Bashir, Indigo Waves and Other Stories, 2021.
  16. Robbins et al. 2020.
  17. Salman, Peerzada. “Striking Balochi dance performed” Dawn (Published April 24, 2017)
  18. Ahmed, 1989.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Robbins et al. 2020.
  21. Böck, Monika and Aparna Rao, eds. Culture, Creation and Procreation: Concepts of Kinship in South Asian Practice. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000.
  22. Böck and Rao, 2000.
  23. Bhabha, 1994.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1993.
  26. Yusuf, Suhail. “The Untold Tales of Lyari” Dawn (Published May 7, 2012)
  27. Robbins et al. 2020.
  28. Yusuf, 2012.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Buchanan, Larry, Quoctrung Bui and Jugal K. Patel. “Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History”. The New York Times (Published July 3, 2020)

Noor Butt is an artist and writer. Her ongoing research interests and creative practice include South Asian and 20th century art, with a focus on gender, nationalism, and image-making in the photographic age. Recipient of the Abu Shamim Areff Award for Best Research, the Sher Asfandyar Khan Award for Academic Excellence, and the Daniel Peltz Scholarship for postgraduate study, she has a BFA with distinction from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) and an MA in History of Art with Merit from the University of London, Birkbeck College. Noor currently teaches art history at IVS in the Liberal Arts programme.

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