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VASL (which means "to come together" or "a meeting point") is an artists'-led collective that has been running workshops and residencies in Karachi for the last 6 years. This effort has now expanded to Lahore, which has a group of artists working along similar lines.
The first international workshop in 2001 in Gadani - a beach about a one-hour drive from Karachi - was a very successful event. We managed to bring together 22 artists from various parts of Pakistan, as well as from India, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Netherlands, the UK and the USA. The intensive dialogue and work carried out at this first workshop made us realize the importance of this new, alternative space for the community of artists working in Pakistan. This platform was vital, creating a space for exchanging ideas and for work practice and leading us to view our context and the needs of the artist community in a new way.
Our main objective with VASL is to bring together artists from Pakistan and other countries for intensive workshops or residencies, where they are able to develop their practice within a different context and work with artists on the ground.
Educational residencies and outreach programs play an important part in activating our role as artists in our society and in developing new audiences. We have undertaken a number of projects over the last few years that have been important in linking contemporary artists to the education system. Alongside each residency, the artists conduct lectures, workshops, and educational and community art projects in various art departments. This becomes a parallel mode of informal education for art students, especially in the area of current developments in the local and international art scene.
Archiving and documenting art practice and providing access to opportunities and information through the online VASL newsletter, the artists' directory, catalogues and critical texts are other aspects of our work, which we provide through the VASL website.
It has not been an easy journey and has faced many challenges, from the lack of funding to the political instability in the region. Art in Pakistan is still not a priority for government or corporations. There is very little infrastructure for developing culture and contemporary art practice alongside other socio-economic developments.
As we look back on 6 years of work in Vasl, we feel that the cross-cultural value of this exchange is crucial in bridging gaps and creating a dialogue with Pakistan on a broader level. We realize the great potential that this country offers in its cultural currency. The ripple effect of our activities has created a lot of interest in contemporary Pakistani art on the international level.
Naiza H Khan
Artist, based in Karachi. Coordinator of the VASL International Artists' Workshop. She is currently teaching drawing at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi.