Interview with Atteqa Malik in Karachi, Pakistan by Gemma Sharpe
Tea with Atteqa Malik from Mauj: 6th August 2009, Karachi, Pakistan. By Gemma Sharpe.
Main Mauj links:
G: So you’ve given me a diagram here, would you call this a ‘manifesto’ for the project?
A: Originally it was a manifesto. I wrote it in 2005 and I presented it at a conference on ‘Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology’ in Banff. I was talking about how media art is not going to evolve in Pakistan in the same way that it does in the West. The manifesto is about trying to identify the markers of it being different. It’s also about defining the third world media artist. So what we realised was that in the future we need some kind of institute, or an infrastructure from where media art discussions are going to take place; where there can be dialogue. In Pakistan we’ve had years of censorship – particularly in the eighties – pages were literally ripped out of history books. So for my generation, now in their late 30’s, there’s a blank. We don’t have a history. Yet all of a sudden with the internet coming in, there’s so much information and what’s happening is it’s all getting mixed up: past, present, everything. And it’s an amazing time to be here but it’s very confusing for someone who would want to be an artist or would want to know “which genre am I from?” Are you music? Are you this? Are you that?
So this document was made to help clarify those ideas. As far as an institute goes, I was in touch with someone from Belgium and he read this manifesto. He was an organiser of a summit on new media art called Practice and Policy. His name was Rob van Kranenburg. He suggested that I actually set up this institute. But I found that the problem with setting up an institute in this country is that you need support. If you get government support and the government changes, then that’s the end of your institute. If you have a space and you don’t have the funds to run it then all the time you’re just worrying about funds. So we decided as Mauj that we would be fluid. We would use all the empty spaces that are in this city for our meeting spots. So sometimes we meet in cafes, sometimes in the park, other times we meet at someone’s house. It works for us. That was the whole idea: to make it a grassroots yet sustainable collective that’s low profile and so ends up achieving much more.
G: How did you select the group that would become Mauj? And what practices – including your own – do you all come from?
A: Well I did my masters online in Media Studies in 2002 from the New School in New York . It was the first degree of its kind that had been completed online and at the time no one here had even started a Media Studies programme. The only place that would have media art events was the Goethe Institute.
[Tea arrives: “it smells good!”, “this is Tamarind juice”]
So what the Goethe would do was show us German media art. They would try to have a Pakistani media art event but they were mostly experimental short films. The audience would be like, “what is this? we don’t understand this!” It was there that I met two other members of Mauj because I saw their work and I approached them and said that I was interested in starting this project. One was a filmmaker and I’d seen one of her short films at the Goethe. Another there approached me as he’d read one of my papers and he had a group called Hill Park, and they used to meet in the park and discuss literature and poetry. And then people kept introducing other people. So at the moment we have thirteen members who have been introduced and they have been interested enough to be on the mailing list and participate in projects. So that was the beginning. Some are quiet members, some are more active.
This [referring to laptop] is the postcard for the first media arts panel we had at the Arts Council of Karachi and we designed this poster and these were the eight members at the time:
Now there’s: Sameeta Ahmad
Suzanne Hogendoorne from the Netherlands, who came here to make a documentary on Mauj.
Amber Rana is a filmmaker and is part of Mauj also.
G: So everyone has a practice of their own, be they an artist or not. They feed that into Mauj when appropriate. So how does it work when you’re in the middle of making work; like this weekend you have an event? Do you have a collective authorship, or smaller groups and individual projects within Mauj?
A: Well at the moment we’ve got two projects running. So when there’s a project you propose it on Maujmail, for example. Whoever’s interested will show their interest and participate. Whoever’s not will stay silent. So two of us are doing one project this weekend and two others are doing a filmmaking project this month. Whenever we make a proposal under the name of Mauj we do throw it open to everyone, so that it’s a collective opinion. It’s tough though! And having worked on my own for the past ten years I find it difficult to slow down!
G: You describe a couple of recent projects. I was looking at one you’re running with a pinhole camera, and also the collaboration with students in Denmark that I was interested in.
A: We’ve been holding a workshop in a high school in Karachi, where we’re teaching the students how to use cameras and video-cameras – introducing them to media art theory, music festivals, etc. Part of this was a Skype exchange with a group of high school students in Denmark in three sessions. We introduced ourselves and told each other what we thought of the other person’s country. It was interesting because neither group knew much about the other person’s country, except for this Danish cartoon incident. So that came up. They had just been seeing a lot of bad coverage of Pakistan on their TV. The second step was based on the Skype conversation we had, each student decided to show a certain part of their city in a certain way. They either photographed it, they created a montage, or they collected images and texts. Then we created a blog where we put up all the student’s work. The Danish students also put up their work. We saw the blogs and for the third session we commented and had discussions as to “what is this?”, “why is this man standing like this?!” The Danish students were very interested to see women fully covered walking across the school courtyard, for example. Afterwards the Danish students wrote a little bit, because it was their English class. They were amazed that our students could speak English so fluently! The English teacher asked me for some names of Pakistani books that she could look at putting into the school curriculum. So I think overall it was a great success and it broke a lot of stereotypes.
G: There seems to be a real interest in the city of Karachi in the work. How do you imagine Mauj would travel outside Karachi, even to another city in Pakistan? Because it seems that so much of your content is rooted here in this city.
A: I think if we even just stay in this city itself – a city of more than 20million people with I don’t know how many ethnic groups and diverse cultures – we’d be happy for a few years I think. But at the moment we are actually doing a project beyond Karachi. Two members are making film footage of pre-Islamic, Islamic and Colonial buildings outside Karachi in Sindh (http://maujmedia.blogspot.com/2009/08/nameera-and-amar-shoot-heritage-sites.html). But all that depends on the projects we get as well.
G: Regarding media art practice it seems that Mauj is a really interesting platform from which media artists can make work in a collaborative way and therefore be supported in that practice, which may be quite difficult to sustain alone. Could you talk about this a little more?
A: Yes, I think first of all you need some kind of feedback if you’re doing anything and a lot of our discussions are actually very interesting. Normally at a Mauj meeting we end up talking about all kinds of things and then new ideas arise from that so I think in itself the discussion is very important. The second thing is that a lot of artists in Karachi are female but in Mauj we’re quite balanced and it’s good to have a male support. Like if I’m going out on the street doing the pinhole project, it’s good to have the others around. It’s just the way our culture is, it just works better that way and that’s another reason why we back each other up. Each of us is good at something different. I’m very good at writing proposals and making links with people. Amira is really good at graphic design and filmmaking so like when we went to Berlin her films were fantastically shot. She has made films about the environment in Karachi.
So each person contributes in a different way and I think that’s why we’re so strong, because we’re not overshadowing each other but giving support. The day we start conflicting is when we’re going to run into trouble.
G: But conflict can be useful as well.
A: Oh we’ve had conflicts! There have been days when I’ve been sulking or someone else is sulking. But because it’s so exciting and new projects are coming with new people, we get over it. But it is good sometimes; it’s healthy.
G: Given the breadth of practices in Mauj do you believe it to be a New Media Practice, or a New Media Art Practice? When you work together does it become a visual art practice or is it more preoccupied with the possibilities of ‘New Media’ as a field in itself?
A: That’s a question that hasn’t been resolved yet because I think the art scene in Pakistan has actually become separate from the computer programmers, who are designing amazing software, even just for fun. But there’s never been a dialogue and we’re trying though it’s difficult, because they’re both very arrogant: both sides! And that’s one of the aims we’ve had with a media art panel. We invited people from both sides and we hope to have more programmes where we somehow ask one programmer to work with one artist. That’s the only way to get this boundary broken.
G: Could you describe the pinhole camera project that’s also happening this week?
A: It’s a concept developed by somebody from ArtsElectronica. It’s a black box on a tripod and the laptop is in that box with the microphone and a camera and speakers. There are two boxes. One was shipped to us in Karachi and one is in Austria in the festival. So what happens is that visitors to the festival in Austria get to interact with the Karachi public. What we do is every weekend we take the box to different posts in Karachi. Sometimes we’re on the streets, sometimes we’re inside. It’s just a cursory look we get from the public sometimes – just a wave – but sometimes people do get over their inhibitions and they come closer and say hello. Often there’s a language issue so sometimes it just stops at that but other times people start showing attitude and it’s very interesting.
G: There is an interest that you seem to have individually and as a collective in working with people who wouldn’t necessarily come into the galleries in Karachi. Do you think that’s something to do with the media that you’re working with or is that a very deliberate aspect of the project?
A: I explain in the manifesto that folk art is the oldest form of media art in Pakistan. If we go to our history it’s through folk art that media art will evolve and be accepted. It has to be something that’s accepted by many people. So also Mauj as a name is very special because it’s coming from one verse of Allama Iqbal: ‘a wave of itself is nothing without the ocean.’ We are nothing if we’re not connected to the rest of the country. It isn’t deliberate but subconsciously the effort is there to engage as many people as possible. But it’s also tough because sometimes it involves us putting ourselves in situations that we never would have done before. Like I wouldn’t normally walk around Karachi in the streets with the camera but I’m doing it and it’s amazing! It’s an amazing experience. Our line is that we use open technology for art culture and empowerment.
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