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Artist Faisal Hussain completes Transforming Narratives international exchange

Faisal Hussain, the Birmingham-based artist and director of True Form Projects, travelled to Lahore and Karachi in February as part of Transforming Narratives’ first open call for artists.

Here he tells us about the aims of his trip, who he met and what’s to come.

As an artist, Hussain runs his cross-disciplinary practice from a studio in Digbeth, creating work that ‘questions perceptions, undermines lazy stereotypes and highlights missing histories and overlooked facts’. 

He uses archive and personal memory as starting points, and his work explores the representation and understanding of South Asian culture and identity through the media, government, communities and individuals.

The aim of his Transforming Narratives exchange was twofold: firstly, as an artist, to seek out opportunities for work in Pakistan and meet people who were producing art and secondly, as a director, he was interested in submerging himself in the cultural scene with an eye for collaborating and bringing elements back to Birmingham to share with its large Pakistani community.

From the series Suspect Objects by Faisal Hussain

“It would be great to see Pakistani art in Birmingham and showcase some of the new music being produced by the younger generation as well as art that deals with diaspora,” he says. 

“I met with organisations such as the Lahore Biennale and artists working in the sphere of contemporary art and public art. There is a changing politics in Pakistan, which a lot of young contemporary artists are engaging with, which is to be championed and something we can learn from.”

Hussain’s parents are from the Punjab region of Pakistan. He spent the first three years of his life living in Karachi before the family moved to Birmingham; although he returned every other year to visit family in Karachi and Islamabad until he was into his teens, this was his first visit in 12 years.

While in Pakistan Hussain split himself between Lahore, considered the cultural capital of the country and where the Lahore Biennale was taking place, and Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city where the International Public Art Festival was occurring.

In Lahore he met with a number of cultural leaders including Moneeza Hashmi, chairperson of Alhamra Arts Centre and Rashid Rana, organiser of the Lahore Biennale and leading contemporary artist. He also met a number of young hip-hop bands who are working with musicians in the US and was also able to engage with UK-based practitioners such as Skinder Hundal, director of Nottingham Art Exchange, who was attending the biennale. 

Faisal meets Moneeza Hashmi, Chairperson of Alhamra Arts Centre

“There is such a lot of potential in Lahore, it’s a really amazing city and for an artist it’s like being a kid in a sweet shop because there are so many weird and wonderful spaces, especially when you have a world heritage site such as the Walled City of Lahore and are able to produce and show art there, it was really tantalising.”

After spending five days in Lahore, Hussain flew to Karachi and met with the organisers of the International Public Arts Festival at the Engineering School to talk about future collaborations. 

Hussain made a point of introducing himself to three universities in Karachi – the National college of Art, Karachi University and the University of Architecture in Karachi – to open up dialogue and explore ways of working together. 

It was in Karachi that Hussain connected with Vasl Artists’ Association, a not-for-profit contemporary arts organisation established in 2012, which is dedicated to providing collaborative opportunities for international and nationwide artists through residencies, talks, exhibitions, community art projects and educational outreach programmes for diverse audiences.

Launch of IPAF in Karachi, credit Faisal Hussain

“I’m planning to work with Vasl on an artistic project and they were enthusiastic about connections such as my exchange as part of Transforming Narratives being made – they were also very receptive to having someone from Birmingham engage with them,” he said. “They are really excited about the potential for artists as the country and population changes, and it’s important for them to show some sort of optimism and joy to reflect that.”

Hussain says that Transforming Narratives is a hugely beneficial project for Birmingham because the city has one of the largest Pakistani communities in Europe and also for cities in Pakistan and Bangladesh for the sharing of ideas and the widening of understanding. 

“I think it’s essential for artists especially and for people from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds to have a stake in what is being said, what is being performed and what role they have in culture. 

“So, therefore it’s really important to have a project like Transforming Narratives in existence. The ability to make that connection unfortunately hasn’t happened before, which is surprising and that’s why this project is crucial.”

He says as a society we underestimate the value of theatres, museums and galleries as not just places to experience art and history but places where people meet up.

“These places, and others like them, bring people together and that’s why I do what I do. In terms of making sense of the world, the places where art is shown and performed are needed more than ever because they aid communication.”

That’s why he says he was particularly interested in what spaces were being used in Pakistan to showcase art and would be evaluating the spaces available in Birmingham where Pakistani art projects could happen. 

“I’m doing this because it’s amazing when people come together and share experiences,” he says.

Following his exchange trip, Hussain is proposing new ideas for working in Pakistan and also to bringing performers over to Birmingham. 

Transforming Narratives will announce a second open call for artists shortly. 

Portrait of boy in Karachi, credit Faisal Hussain

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