Social Performance, 20 participants, 2 hours, Lahore, Pakistan 2016. Video by Kashif Saleem.
We Walk Lahore
Art and Public Space Pakistan
Lahore Biennale Foundation and
The Goethe Institute Pakistan, Oct–Dec, 2016
A book on this project was published in 2017, the digital version is available here.
We Walk Lahore is an artistic research project I led with the Lahore Biennale Foundation and the Goethe Institute, Pakistan, that culminated in a change in government urban planning policy to include more footpaths in central Lahore. The project, titled Urbanities: Art and Public Space in Pakistan, invited two artists to work in Pakistan’s two largest cities, Lahore and Karachi, as sites of urban exploration and artistic research. I was posted in Lahore, where I researched the complexities of being a body in public space in Pakistan, especially for women, through walking practice. My research methodology was to walk the streets of Lahore with local people, learning the city scape from their perspective, and talking about ideas of what walking meant to people, in a performative research process called Subjective Geographies.
Later I mounted silent group walks which activated deep listening in the city. Called Walking Presence, these walks were led by local women, and attended equally by both genders.
We walked slowly
We did not speak
We did not consume anything
We wore white clothing binding us together, and like individual cells of the blood pulsing through the veins of the city, we walked together.
In Pakistan, a procession in white symbolises a funeral, however unlike our walk, women do not attend a funeral procession. So the onlooker would have questioned the female presence. A sense of ritual accompanied us on our walk, balancing a delicate blend of hope and futility that far surpassed the philosophical futility I have played with in the past in order to welcome failure – this futility threatens hope. Walking silently, slowly, we lost the boundaries of ourselves to each other, and to the space.
We dropped a line of marble dust to mark our way. These trails of pale marble dust marked the observation and presence of the citizens in their public space. In Lahore, when an urban area is being surveyed by the government, white powder is dropped in lines in the area. So, it also communicated to the local community that we would be working along this route this week.
The route we walked was developed in collaboration with a local urbanist think tank Occo, who were key collaborators in the next stage of the project: Footpath Feasibility - the public installation of a temporary footpath as action research into the use of designated walking areas in the city. The site was chosen for the fact that it facilitated the convergence of a range of demographics and urban uses. It was through the process of getting permission to install this public art installation that we communicated wth the government and initiated a change in the urban development plans in the area to include 7ft wide footpaths. As at the time of writing, August 2017, this work is yet to begin in Lahore.
The Urbanities project culminated in a four day symposium and exhibition at Alhamra, Lahore Cultural Centre, in which I presented the work in a panel with international Urbanists and held a performative presentation in form of an urban walk. For the accompanying gallery exhibition, I brought the contents of the Lahori streets into in the museum — inverting the process of taking the white space to the streets in the prior performances. Photo and video footage of the public art actions were also installed in Alhamra.
During the residency, I also taught a course ‘Performance and the Art of the Everyday’ at the National College of Art in Lahore, and gave artist talks and critiques at two universities. Education remains the most urgent issue in Pakistan, and any gestures to teach and share are welcomed and necessary.