KARACHI, PAKISTAN — Karachi is never quiet. 

Whatever slow pace dimmed the sounds of the city of 20-plus million inhabitants Sunday morning, by afternoon the hum of traffic and various processions had taken the decibel count steadily upward.

By Monday, traffic was a throbbing pulse, the lifeblood of the city pouring along the veins of the roadways. The growl of motorcycles is a constant as they weave through traffic.

When we entered Karachi in early morning hours Sunday, we saw young men on motorcycles, including a string of daredevils who drove riding on their bellies, their faces inches above the gas tanks, their feet stretched above the rear fender. Those middle-of-the-night escapades may have been limited to daring young men, but by day, everyone rides a motor bike.

In the midst of all this noise, the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture sits in a quiet area adjacent to a park. The school was founded in 1989 by architects, designers and artists concerned about the decline of the arts in Karachi. It is a private, non-profit school that depends on donations for support.

When the delegation from Oklahoma visited the school Monday morning, the timing was perfect as the graduating class had just opened its 2017 Degree Show featuring students' thesis exhibits.

“Art is a unique subject in Pakistan,” IVS Executive Director Samina Raees Khan said. “It is not taught in elementary schools.”

Nationally, the college is second only to the art school in Lahore. But education, especially private education, is expensive in Pakistan. While the school has a financial program and offers scholarships, it's outreach is mostly to the well-heeled.

“Our bread and butter comes from the elites,” Khan said.

Female students make up 75 percent of the school's 550 student population, but Pakistanis say that is not uncommon. Women comprise the majority of college enrollment, they say, particularly in the arts and medicine.

The school offers degrees in architecture, communication design, fine art, interior design and textile design, but about half the student population is studying architecture.

Judging by the student art exhibits we viewed, the students are making the school's vision a reality: “To impart education in art, design and architecture creating a culture of excellence in research and innovation, contributing towards a just and tolerant society and enable students to serve as instruments of positive change.”

Zafar Ahsan Naqvi is one of the minority males. A student in Textile Design, Zafar used recycled denim to create jackets, shawls and other items of clothing that looked more like works of art than wearables. 

“I have taken the concept of sustainability through design to a socially responsible level in the sense that my thesis will offer new possibilities for making use of wastage,” Zafar said.

He used multiple techniques to manipulate the fabric and threads into his masterpieces in Eastern and Western styles.

Nida Khan is also a textile design student. She created a sculpture made entirely of plastic water bottles and another of plastic shopping bags to demonstrate the incursion plastic is making into the environment and the waterways.

Communications design student Leea Nadeer created an exhibit detailing and marketing Jamjoji — a compilation of food memories — and the need to preserve medicinal and food plants that only exist in Pakistan and are endangered due to loss of habitat.

“Food is an integral part of Parsi culture,” Leea said. “Many dishes have ceremonial value.”

Others are simply a mix of Persian, Indian and colonial influences that shaped the Parsi community. Jamjoji includes recipes which, along with the stories of food memories that accompany them, are accessible through multi-media platforms. The program also offers a box subscription service with recipes and ingredients so young people can make traditional foods. 

While many students at this private art school could walk down any street in Norman and appear to just be another young, enthusiastic college student in Western dress, a few of them wear traditional Pakistani clothes, and a minority of the young women wear the traditional head covering or hijab. 

One of those was fine arts major Amereen Shoab Motiwala who titled her thesis “Home for Dinner.”

Amereen's paintings investigate the human interaction centering around the dinner table, a topic that was particularly relevant to her as a woman married for just two years.

The dinner table was the place where she got to know her new family after her marriage, she said. That communication was key for her integration and transition to a new lifestyle.

With Amereen's story, I was reminded of how much we have in common, and how much is different. Breaking bread is the universal gathering place for all families, and yet, in a Muslim household, where Amereen became part of an extended family rather than just a new family with her husband alone, that communication became crucial in a way I don't think I can every fully comprehend.

The list of art projects and the stories of the art students goes on and on, but one stood out from the rest, a reminder of the violence that exists in the world and is often most prevalent in the Middle East.

Sveda Anousha Nassan lost her entire family when a cultural procession was targeted and bombed. She was wounded but survived and now shares her story as a means of spreading peace through shining the light on the damage done by hate.

Sveda was 16 when she lost her family. An onlooker was shooting a video of the procession and captured the moments leading up to and including the blast. She ran the clip over and over as part of a media presentation of her thesis.

She cried when she talked about her family, whose photos hung beside her on the wall. She said she has dedicated her life to carrying the message of peace. 

The voices of Pakistan are varied, I'm learning, and not what I might have expected in this land Americans have been taught to fear. 

Editor’s note: This is the second in an ongoing series that will follow The Norman Transcript’s Joy Hampton during her travels with an Oklahoma media delegation in Pakistan.


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