As more artists come to the forefront in Pakistan, there are galleries opening up to support them. So the time was most definitely ripe for the recently held ‘Artists in Residence’ programme. International Steels Limited (ISL), in collaboration with Canvas Gallery, created a residency programme to bring together and nurture some of Pakistan’s top contemporary sculptors.

Sameera Raja of the Canvas Gallery says that “the residency creates the bond between the one who designs and the one who assembles. They work together and it opens a communication between two people who don’t necessarily have access to each other’s worlds.”

Artists Aamir Habib, Ehsan Memon, Fahim Rao, Mahbub Jokhio, Safdar Ali and Yasser Vayani were shortlisted to take up residence at the ISL factory along with all raw material, technology and human resource they required to bring their ideas to life. They were provided with human resource including craftsmen and engineers. The work was made on site with the concpet of it being public art for those who live and work on the site.

The artists completed their works with the following titles: Aamir Habib’s ‘Spike’; Fahim Rao’s ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Rising Sun’; Ehsan Memon’s ‘Permanent Shadows I’ and ‘Permanent Shadows II’; Safdar Ali’s ‘This is Leading Me Everywhere’; Yasser Viyani’s ‘Steel Men Have Feelings Too’; and Mahbub Jokhio’s ‘The Fallen Star’.

An ‘Artists in Residence’ programme at a factory creates a bond between the one who designs and the one who assembles

Memon’s ‘Permanent Shadows’ in particular stood out: a cut-out of labourers in negative and positive metal sheet. After the exhibition, these workers will daily see their shadows, reminding them of how hard they work. The sculptor’s execution is quite clever and possibly inspired by realism done during the Soviet rule. He used unpolished, coated steel for the workers to achieve a rusted form, and then created an attractive contrast by having the base of the piece polished and plated in zinc to be more durable. Memon encapsulated the heart and soul of the site in his piece.

Jokhio’s “The Fallen Star’ at first glance looks like a meteorite. Inspired by the concept that we are all made of stardust and all metal comes from the stars, the artist sourced a boulder which he painted silver and recreated this beautiful outlandish piece.

‘Spike’, Aamir Habib

Ali’s piece reminds one of the Gordian knots. Made from steel, the vision and the execution underscores Ali’s capabilities as a sculptor. He used the factory’s welders to construct this larger-than-life artwork and one is impressed by the strength that emanates from it.

One of the most crucial parts of the process was mentorship. Sculptor Amin Gulgee, artists Asma Mundrawala and Munawar Ali Syed were selected to mentor the six finalists.

The mentoring process included each artist sitting with the three mentors for one-on-one discussion as well as group discussions ranging from their ideas and material.

“I liked this initiative of the private sector getting involved and supporting artists in sculpture, as this is quite rare in Pakistan, and so I agreed to mentor this programme,” says Gulgee, “There are not a lot of opportunities for young sculptors to have access to some large studio space and materials.”

The ISL plans to evolve the residency into a platform that enables artists to express themselves freely by providing them complete artistic freedom, along with support in the form of material, finance and human resources.

“We created this platform to promote art by providing these budding sculptors with an enabling environment and complete freedom to bring their creative ideas to life,” says Samir Chinoy of ISL.

‘Artists in Residence’ programme was held at the International Steels