M. Ali Khan, an Associate Professor, has been affiliated with various institutes including IVS, Visual Studies, KU and most recently ACIAC in Pakistan. He was Visiting Professor in Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU), Marietta, GA, USA in 2014. Khan’s commitments include serving as member on the Academic Boards at IVS, selection board for the appointment of qualified teaching faculty at the Institute of Art and Design, University of Sindh, Jamshoro, member of the Board of Management, PCSIR Scientific Information Center, Karachi. He has also been professionally affiliated with Creative Forum, M&C Saatchi, Singapore and Malaysian Dutch Business Gateway
The purpose of this project is to start a conversation about Karachi and its cultures of education, design, innovation and aesthetics. Karachi is a city, which has a vast set of customs and traditions that make it one of the most diversified cities in Pakistan. It also projects an exciting and colourful side of Pakistan to the world. Culturally, Karachi has come a long way. It is important for students, scholars and professionals to notice and reflect upon the emerging cultures of design and aesthetics, subsequently fulfilling the purpose of solving design problems through rethinking existing perceptions.
As an educationist, I am committed to presenting the design culture of my city, Karachi, at various platforms. I was educated in communication design and have been associated with teaching at different Institutions, like Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture, Visual Studies at Karachi University, Karachi School of Arts and Arts Council Institute of Arts and Crafts, ACIAC, in the department of communication design for more than 26 years.
After retirement from IVS when I joined ACIAC as the Head of Communication Design I was able to see some differences. While both the institutions applied the same elements and principles, their instructional approaches were different. I decided to focus on research based approach and applied the research aspect of design pedagogy.
The students are the cultural experts of their times. As design educators it is important for us to acknowledge this aspect which a lot of times we don’t. A lot of our teaching is about imposing the accepted design norms of a west centric curriculum on the students. Especially in relation to Pakistan where the design curriculums in general are borrowed from the West. Building upon this premise I designed this project Ae Shehre Tezgam | A fast moving city. It was designed as an open-ended project brief which allowed me to respond to the insights of the students as we went along this research based project which entailed investigating their own neighborhoods. The project required them to broaden their understanding of the term ‘culture’ beyond its deep rooted relation to ethnicity in Pakistan. Culture also includes artifacts, people, values and how people assimilate these to create variables which help them survive.
Starting with some identified public places in Karachi, the students worked on a visual design project in groups. They closely observed a small fragment of their neighborhood with a conscious viewpoint to developing a critical understanding of the neighborhood and its complexity.Through this students were able to conduct field research and hone their abilities to apply research into design problem solving.
The project – Ay Shehr e Tezgam | A Fast moving City
Cities have been represented in images and poetic thought that have created paradigms of perception for the viewers. This project will look at representation of the city in different imaginations in prose, poetry, film, photography, graphic design and academic research.
“Walking along a street in the city, we encounter countless signs, sounds, smells, materialities, people, and movements. Encountering places in everyday life, one engages the place with all senses, interacting with others, with the materiality, and with the atmosphere of the place. By moving these encounters with urban places into the focus of attention, we are coming to terms with the materiality and aesthetics of the place, the body, the perception, and the representations of the place.” Lars Frers and Lars Meier
Starting with some identified public places in Karachi, the students worked on visual design projects in groups. The first step was to understand the preferred and effective mode of visual communication with the younger demographic in their own neighborhoods. To do this they identified a commonly occurring social practice within their neighborhood which was problematic. The aim was to test the efficacy of print posters in communication. This was done under a campaign ‘Aray Bhai Dekh Kar’ (Please Pay Attention) which entailed four posters put up in the public places in close proximity of the area in which the problem was observed.
When I engaged with the students regarding this project, I had to re-assure them that language is not a restriction. There is a tendency here to see design through an “English” lens so to speak. English is not everybody’s forte and it certainly is not the forte of this set of students (let alone our intended target audience for that matter). And so I instructed them that there are no restrictions, they are welcome to design these posters in Urdu. I saw that the students were delighted. After a while I glanced at their work and saw at first what I thought was English. I was surprised and perhaps pleasantly in the sense “ok great they are comfortable using the English language too”. Upon taking a closer look I realized that English was not their comfort zone, and expectedly so, why would it be expected otherwise it not their/our first language, but apparently neither is Urdu ! They were writing in Urdu but using transliteration or Urdu using the English alphabets. My response to this and the insight gained was profound and had in impact n the design decisions that would follow
Students designed poster addressing the following issues:
A social comment on the lack of ownership in Karachi by citizens and government
Students put up these posters but there was little engagement from the public. Also the posters were soon replaced and pasted over by other posters from political groups and even torn.
Poster after 1 week
The posters were put up, to gauge the response of the public. It was a response of indifference, or disregard. I had to ponder this, what did this mean? Other posters were pasted on top of our posters, and that did not mean that only our posters were treated this way but all other posters. They had a life span of as much as the next poster and there was still disregard. Was this because posters were a regular everyday sight, a terrain feature of the street environment? Or was this the consequence and inevitability of living in an increasingly complex society, which is crossed by new social, cultural and economic challenges, and an enriched new media, one which creates a virtual space more real or preferred then what we had. The response it would appear was due to a media which is evolving as a wider open field which transcends physical space and constant new applications and platforms changing the cultural meaning and access.
The students changed their platform, their mode of transmission, as a form of testing this insight. And the reflection and insight turned out to be quite true. The change and evolution of these modes of transmission and accessibility overlayed with generational changes and preferences resulted in them going on the social media.
The success of this and the further realisation about my own preconceived notion about who accesses the social media resulted in them making even short clips to more extended videos.
It was very successful.
Jinnahabad - teaser
Jinnahabad - Film by Asad Ali
Urooj o Zawal - teaser
Urooj o Zawal - Film by K. Mubashir Amman
We tend to not only impose design conformity, in terms of which mediums to use or platforms, “ this is how we do this” but we also impose a cultural bias brought on by our postcolonial insecurities, such as the desired language while ignoring the youths ability to reconcile these. All this while telling them to think out of the box.
Out of the box is also questioning form and platform and medium and space. Out of the box is also moving away from traditional forms of transmission, it is also letting the youth do what has always come naturally to them, let them find their own design solutions based on their generational comfort zones which are not ours. Let them use roman English alphabets to communicate in Urdu, let them use Tik Toks and Instagram. People who live in a certain place know the design sensibilities and effectiveness of the place better than us, and they know their generation’s design sensibilities and effectiveness better than us.