By definition performance, art means an art form that combines visual art with dramatic performance. As its meaning expands further, it connects with interdisciplinary, intangible, interactive and conceptual forms of visual art. We are well aware of performing arts in theatre which narrates a story in a regular way through music and dialogues. Performance art although is a genre of an interdisciplinary approach to a dramatized interaction without dialogues and music that we are familiar with.
We have known visual arts in painting, sculptures, installations, new media and various unlimited mediums. Performance art is a unique and fast-growing medium in galleries as well as public spaces as a form of non-verbal and unconventional medium. Nowadays there are several emerging performing artists in Pakistani art scene. Initially, it has been started by Amin Gulgee, a pioneer sculptor, curator and a performance artist who has done several performances nationally and internationally. He has been practicing as a sculptor for over two decades now and has received Pakistan's highest civilian honor ‘Pride of Performance' in 2005. He has curated large-scale noncommercial shows at his own Amin Gulgee Gallery where he has brought together several artistic approaches in performance arts mainly. Amin Gulgee is the pioneer of performance art in Karachi. In his curatorial shows, one can experience surreal and mostly eerie surroundings filled with gestures, motions, and expressions in the arrangement of performances. In his curated shows ‘Dreamscape' and ‘Riwhyti; one-night stand', he has gathered more than fifty artists from different fields of life including designers, actors, choreographers and fine artists. On the other hand, his own work is based on exploring genders and sociocultural context. In his performance ‘Play me', a performance at National Museum on the opening night of Karachi Art Summit' 2017, he has a board game similar to chess with his own sculpted pieces. Along with Sara Pagganwala another performance artist who performed as another player, they exchanged intense communications of the power game with each other while slamming the sculpted pawns on the game table. As an addition he staged in black and gold which added to its intensity.
Amin Gulgee has been exploring and incorporating his sculptures within his performances. His piece Char-Bagh that consists of 77 individual copper leaves in a form of creating Garden of Eden has been a composition within the performance ‘Where is the apple Joshinder?' which he did not perform himself but conceived and created with several talented performance artists, musician, and dancers. As he explains his work ‘The performance explores the relationship between sexes. The action of the piece will take place inside and around my installation work titled ‘Char Bagh' which comprises of 77 individually centered copper leaves in this Garden of Eden, age-old stories are told about beginnings and how the relationship between men and women evolved and developed. 'His performance artwork has been an exploration of genders and sexes which sometimes he has connected with his sculptures. One can witness variation of substances and objectives in every piece.' There is a masculine in all of us and there is a feminine in all of us.
'Bird' is a series of performances conceived and performed by Joshinder Chaggar who is an infamous artist of this genre. I, myself feel immense pleasure working with her. Chaggar has performed in challenging public places as well as art galleries. Her exploration in her work has been evident in 'Bird' and 'She flies with the Swallows'. She has been developing 'Bird' in every piece. For one of my curated group show 'Birwa', she performed 'She flies with the Swallows' for three hours. In June 2017 and later in November, she performed 'Bird' with an exploratory approach at the Pinakothek der Moderne Museum, Munich and in Melbourne respectively.
Chaggar has performed at art galleries as well as public spaces. Her performances are a series of exploration of her genre. During Karachi Art Summit in 2017, she explored several other dimensions of ‘Bird' at a disputed land, Kothari Parade which has been challenging for the entire team of KAS'17. 'I did one in Karachi in the disputed public space, Kothari Parade. I felt much honored to be in that space. But the reality of 'dancing' in a public space like that, surrounded by the public, compromising of only men was a little confrontational. But once the performance began, and they all looked at my 'Bird' with confused curiosity and perhaps disappointment, then there was no holding back', says Chaggar. She explains more about 'Bird' 'It's a brand new performance each time and every time it takes me by surprise. In Munich, my Bird was on the grand stairs. It took me a while to figure out 'how will my bird move on the stairs?' At Frere hall, I was isolated in the balcony area. And every time someone walked in, I had to control my urge to 'perform for them'. Because that's the whole point of the Bird, to just be and to not do anything out of the ordinary. It was very challenging. I have also worked with birds in my dance work since 2010. I always think I will move on, but the more you explore something, the more it opens up to you and then you realize it's an endless journey. That's how it is with me and Birds. I've tried to move away from it a few times but I'm not done with it. I find it very satisfying to keep peeling layers.' Chaggar's performance work signifies her personal connection portrayed through rhythm in her body language. Born in India and trained in Australia, Joshinder Chaggar is currently based in Melbourne where she is teaching as well as performing dance and theatre. During her stay in Karachi from 2007 to 2017, she has choreographed, produced and performed in theatre along with her performance art work.
Performance art is mainly a genre of exploration, experiences and surreal outcomes through artist's gestures, body languages, and several other unexpected elements. When one can witness exploration and beauty in Chaggar's performance, and surreal confrontation in Vajdaan Shah's work. Vajdaan Shah is a graduate of National Academy of Performing Arts and has performed in several major Karachi-based theatre productions as well as for group show at local art galleries. Vajdaan's work has an element of extremity and confrontation. While losing layers of clothing into a cauldron of burning coal and later rubbing the ashes all over his body for more than two hours, for his performance titled ‘Salvation' at Amin Gulgee gallery; He has portrayed an inflated release from worldly matters. About his enactment, he says ‘It was a very true experience of that time to me. It's about a material world where we tend to indulge in worldly and materialistic possessions which eventually starts to define us. It becomes part of you. The way a snake shed its skin; one can let go of his/her materialistic things, through which the society sees you. You just have to take them off and burn them. It was a depiction of rebellion as well as against the definition of my value in terms of materialistic desires. Burn it, rub it on your skin, make it a part of you and then destroy it. It was more of a cleansing as well.'
Vajdaan Shah has mostly played intense characters for theatre and has performed with similar intensity for the genre of performance art. He called his addiction towards darkness a ‘sadist torture'. ‘I can be addictive being in the limelight and constantly be making. You have to escape the intensity, it's more melancholic as well.' As he explained his connection further ‘As an actor, you have to experience these emotions. You cannot deny any feelings, as an artist, if you are true to yourself, you need to channelize it. You have to accept the reality of the existence of such feelings. It's fine to confront these feelings and use it in your work. It has been difficult because I am not a person who is afraid, I thrive on what's coming. I had to call upon my survival instincts. It infused fear of death in me which I have romanticized to a certain extent.' Shah has always portrayed thought to provoke extreme gestures in his performances which has the tendency to trigger the deepest and darkest bizarre emotions of his audience. He has been addressing social restrictions in his performances with an element of valiant confrontation. In his another performance ‘Hugs' at Frere Hall for ‘Birwa' in 2015, he gave hugs to the audience while covered in barb wires and a knife coming out of his torso. The whole idea behind this theatrics is the depiction of societal imperfections. Initially, the audience was reluctant to give him that hug. To be more specific, he was offering these hugs while blindfolded. This depiction of mistrust is simple yet bizarre for the audience. One can witness his intimate connection with the audience in his performances. He explains his connection with his work ‘While performing at galleries you can have a very intimate connection with the audience at the same time. You enrich yourself as well as the audience. I totally love performance art. Mostly because of that, it can be vague but it's because it's coming from deep within and you can share with the world more directly. It's a beautiful experience, it's coming out of you and from you.'
Fatima Sabeeka is another contemporary artist among emerging talents of Pakistani art scene. Her work has been morbid, bizarre and thought provoking for the audience. She has performed at several group exhibitions including Karachi Art Summit in 2017.
Performance art is one genre of contemporary art which communicates directly with the audience. It has an intimacy which challenges directly towards societal and personally assumed aggravating approaches. With developing art scene of Karachi, performance art is also expanding through several emerging artists. Although this genre has been curated and performed mostly in the city of Karachi as compared to other cities. In Karachi Biennale' 2017 and Karachi Art Summit' 2017, there have been several performances along with other unconventional mediums which is a promising progress of our contemporary art scene.