Your Complete Guide to the Lahore Biennale 2020

With 13 sites, 70 artists, and multiple collateral events, how to even begin tackling the Lahore Biennale? We’ve got our guide to the must-see sites, with maps, pictures and little pointers about a location’s accessibility, kid-friendliness, and access to washrooms and food! The Biennale is open till 29 February.

What exactly is a biennale?

A biennial is a large international art exhibition held every two years. Biennales date back to 1895 when the famous Venice Biennale was first held, popularising a term that has now been adopted by cities around the world who hold similar events.

Lahore had its first ever biennale in 2018 which was beautifully curated around the city’s historical and cultural legacy, involving numerous educational and cultural institutions.

Fast forward two years, the Lahore Biennale Foundation has launched its second exhibition on the 26th of January but this time with close correspondence with artists, thinkers and curators from the Middle East. The exhibition is open till the 29th of February.

between the sun and the moon has been curated by Hoor Al Qasimi, the director of the legendary Sharjah Biennial, and it includes over 70 international artists displaying their work at numerous sites speckled throughout the city of Lahore.

“For centuries, inhabitants of these regions oriented themselves with reference to the sun, the moon, and the constellations. How might we reflect on our place within the cosmos today, at this conjuncture of planetary climate crisis and polarities between societies?” said Qasimi, “LB02 looks upwards with a view to forging new resonances and new imaginings of the future that encompass the full breadth of its material and virtual possibilities, growing from a tradition of intra-regional mobility of ideas, people, flora and fauna.”

Map of the 13 Sites that are Part of the Lahore Biennale:

Here’s our guide on how to tackle the Biennale:

LAHORE FORT

  • accessible location
  • kid friendly
  • advisory to use bathrooms beforehand
  • food and drinks nearby

“As you enter the Summer Palace you, tapestries by Khadim Ali will welcome you. It’s an experience for sure to see something so contemporary in a space as old as time”

This is where being highly strategic is key to your Biennale success. The display at the Lahore Fort opens at 10 am and that’s where we suggest starting first. As you enter the fort, turn to your left and into the Summer Palace, and as you enter tapestries by Khadim Ali will welcome you. It’s an experience for sure to see something so contemporary in a space as old as time, and it’s quite relatable the way the artworks themselves have context surrounding the themes of time, culture and history.

A globally beloved artist is Wael Shawky, an artist from Egypt, and his legendary films are being projected deep in the heart of the Summer Palace. Wael Shawky reinvents how histories are made with his film, Cabaret Crusades. His production of intricately detailed puppets is made from resources native to the areas mentioned in his narratives. The retelling of history itself is complex as he brings it into the contemporary world, when both are centuries apart, and still makes it relevant. Also, the handmade puppets are a joy to look at.

Stepping out into the sunlight again, you’ll soon hear faint singing, and as you follow it, you’ll realise it’s humming. Diving into the soft cultural rebellion of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Hajra Waheed collected eight hummed verses as an allegory of struggle against dictatorship. These songs are played at the Deewan-e-Aam where visitors are engulfed in the large-scale musical composition calling for strength in numbers and the collective solidarity of a people. And you will quite literally feel the soft rebellion as you get goosebumps from the atmosphere.

We paint a pretty picture, don’t we?

MUBARAK HAVELI

  • meandering streets
  • bring kids at your own risk
  • bathrooms available
  • a vast choice of food

“The secret is not to be quick, but to manage time smartly, and wear comfortable shoes”

The secret is not to be quick, but to manage time smartly, and wear comfortable shoes. Head to the Mubarak Haveli which is something akin to neighbours with the Lahore Fort, and won’t hurt to take a look at the displays there. At this point, depending on how solid your breakfast was, you may be tempted to stop for lunch. If you’re not feeling it yet, grab a chai and samosa at one of the many chai wallay you pass on your way. If you’re starving, head to Haji Sahid Nihari Walay or Arif Chatkhara for some famous slow braised beef nihari and tawa chicken.

THE FIVE IN ONE: LAHORE MUSEUM, NCA, PUNJAB UNIVERSITY, PUNJAB IRRIGATION DEPARTMENT & TOLLINGTON MARKET

  • parking!
  • tourist atmosphere
  • the best bathrooms
  • canteens and dry fruit carts

“This should be a very worthwhile experience, not only in terms of the artworks but also of visiting such national treasures you’ve probably just walked in front of before”

Stop next at the Lahore Museum and hit five major birds with one stone; the Museum, the National College of Arts, the old campus of the Punjab University, the Punjab Irrigation Department, and the Tollington Market. This should be a very worthwhile experience, not only in terms of the artworks displayed but also of visiting such national treasures you’ve probably just walked in front of before.

Tollington Market should be prioritised if only for the drawings of the famous Barbara Walker. The British artist uses a location as a space of expression and its walls as her canvas. She once used a prestigious gallery and directly drew right on the walls. “That little white space represents a lot,” says Walker, speaking about the gallery. “I wanted to disrupt it. And I am.” For the Lahore Biennale 2020, Walker selected the old white walls of the Tollington Market as a place for her charcoal drawings referring to notions about culture and the histories of race identity, belonging, class, power and the politics of how we look at others.

PAK TEA HOUSE

  • good spot to refuel and relax
  • the best tea in the city
  • virtual reality for the kids!

Five minutes away is the famed Pak Tea House with its slogan, Home of Writers And Thinkers, and the best saffron tea in the city. Also a good time for a bathroom break (but if you’re finicky, then head to Avari for a more hygienic experience).

London-based artist Shezad Dawood has setup his VR work, wallpaper and collaged paintings specifically for this location. Pak Tea House is a super fun, multi-sensory experience.

PIA PLANETARIUM

  • informative and fun, who knew?
  • virtual reality! yet again!
  • advisory to use bathrooms beforehand

“The work inside will transport you into a different dimension”

Almagul Menlibayeva’s video in a collaboration with Inna Artemova and German Popov at the PIA Planetarium

Then, continue through to the PIA Planetarium (which a lot of millennials did not know we had). You’ll see the sunset just as you reach the planetarium, and if we’re frank, the work inside will transport you into a different dimension. On the subject of transportation, Halil Artemova creates an alternate reality through actual research and fictional narratives. He proposes that once the earth has no living space left for ‘immigrants and refugees’, they’ll inhabit the planet Mars. Blending both realism and humour, Artemova directs a very factual albeit fictional documentary on this theory.

And that’s 5 o’clock. You’ve seen most of the Biennale.

Collateral Events:

A few sites worth an honourable mention are collateral events with remarkable curation and an impressive body of work. Hamra Abbas exhibited a solo show at COMO called Every Colour is a Shade of Black. Curated by Seher Tareen, the museum welcomes you with the words of Mohsin Hamid who has analysed the artist and concluded with his Twelve Points on Hamra Abbas right up on the first wall you see. Her work is made up of light, colour, and symbolism.

Every so often, Abbas switches up with practice. Although it has been hard for critics to place her solidly within a specific thematic framework or preferred medium but for now, she uses marble, paper and light, and it is stunning. The show is displayed till the end of the month and daily timings are 11 am – 5 pm (daily except Tuesday).

The exhibition Sagar Theatre on Queen’s Road curated by the phenomenal Zahra Khan is located at Sagar Theatre, Queen’s Road, and is a meticulously curated experience made right there in the old dancing studio. Every nook and cranny is bursting with eloquent visuals, and you have entire spaces dedicated to inspire your senses like Komail Aijazuddin’s shrine or Amra Khan’s Red Room. Daily timings are 11 am – 6 pm except Monday) till the end of February.

Komail Aijazuddin’s ‘The Chapal of the Gilded Rage’ at Sagar Theatre is a must see

There are so many works that you’ll see and love so be sure to take pictures of the titles next to work by artists, to jog your memory later. Once you’ve seen so much of it, it’s really easy to forget what’s what, and having a photo with their name and info makes for an easy reference.

Your best bet is to stay near the Lahore Museum, which is right in the heart of the city, and work your way through the perimeter. It’ll be like a nice little city tour, only with a lot more conceptual art and the occasional quizzical facial expression.

Photos provided by Ameera Khan.

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