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Something’s happening at Jinnah International Airport, and it involves a markhor.

No, our national animal isn’t on the loose ready to delay your next flight — it’s going to be part of a mural.

VASL Artists’ Collective has partnered up with the Italian Consulate to paint yet another mural at Jinnah International Airport.

Accompanied by curator Mario Liberali, Italian artist Maurizio Boscheri has planned to paint a mural featuring the national animal of Pakistan, the markhor. The two came to Karachi for an exhibition at Mohatta Palace that features artwork based on nature and wildlife.

Arriving at Jinnah International Airport, we were greeted by the sight of the artists and VASL team members Veera, Hira and Yasser. Veera Rustomji, a member of VASL met with us and introduced us to all present and also to VASL itself.

Artist Maurizio Boscheri outlines his vision for the mural
Artist Maurizio Boscheri outlines his vision for the mural

Veera explained: “VASL is a Pakistani Artist residency and we provide a platform to foreign and local artists to carry out projects. So for instance in this project, we knew that the Italian artist Maurizio was coming to Pakistan for a private exhibition at Mohatta Palace and we wanted to give him an opportunity to introduce his work to a larger audience.”

“So we found this wall and since we have good relations with the Civil Aviation Authority, he’s using it to feature the markhor. He creates art related to nature. All of his paintings right now are more or less focused on animals from South Asia.”

As Maurizio immersed himself in drawing out the mural, Mario happily greeted us and told us how they got to come to Karachi for the exhibition and decided to take up this project as well.

Curator Mario Liberali discusses work with local artist Phool Ge
Curator Mario Liberali discusses work with local artist Phool Ge

According to Mario, “Our consulate general, he proposed that we have an exhibition here. We thought about something approachable to the Pakistani people, like their own local culture and animals. So because he (Maurizio) likes concepts around nature, he decided to go with the idea of the markhor.”

By this time, Maurizio had come down to greet us as well. We had a little language barrier situation going on but soon sorted that out; both the artist and the curator were happy to talk about their fascination with Karachi and South Asian wildlife.

“We now have friends in Karachi,” says Mario. “Karachi is so lively! I can keep saying that, how it’s full of life. There’s so much to do and the people are so friendly.”

“This is not our first time in Pakistan!” pointed out Mario with a smile, “We came before around December, just to arrange a small exhibition, so we got to see the town and meet some people. We even went to Kinjhar lake and Thatta. So now we have friends here. And it’s very nice to be here because now its not just the exhibition and this project, but our acquaintances got us three workshops, two in universities and one in Mohatta Palace. And we’ll get to meet more people, students and folks who love art. We are planning even more activities here in Karachi.”

Maurizio draws the markhor
Maurizio draws the markhor

The Italian duo is excited for the many plans in the pipeline for Karachi and want to collaborate more.

Maurizio reveals, “We barely arrived three days ago but we are already absorbed in so much work but we love it! Karachi is so lively! I can keep saying that, how it’s full of life. There’s so much to do and the people are so friendly. Everyone we’ve met has made us feel like we’re at home. We knew nothing about Karachi before, but we got here and it’s beautiful.”

Local artist Phool Ge is working with Maurizio on the mural, and says: “There’s a language barrier, but we understand him [Maurizio] because of his vision. We communicate through art.”

As we chatted on, with the artist also asking us questions about Karachi and places to go, a team of artists painted on the mural according to Maurizio’s instructions. This team was led by local artist Phool Ge, who had also worked with German graffiti artist Sebastian Schmidt on his mural at the airport.

As Phool came down to ask Maurizio to set a color scheme for the mountain on the mural, we asked the local artist about how he got on board for this project.

“We had an idea about the project, we actually got an email,” says Phool, “but we’re meeting today for the first time. So, yes, now we have to make our minds one. Like, this color scheme isn’t our style, it’s all his. We’re just following his scheme.”

Art was the common language here!
Art was the common language here!

Apart from not having any prior discussions, there was also an initial communication gap, but it was easily fixed. “There’s a language barrier, but we understand him [Maurizio] because of his vision. The kind of scheme an artist has in mind, we’re able to understand that if the artist actually knows his work and he does. He’s able to explain. We communicate through art,” says Phool.

As we chatted, a formerly blank wall was transformed and now featured a markhor standing majestically in front of a mountain.

One day's work! We were amazed!
One day’s work! We were amazed!

Varah explained how this collaboration was different from the one done with Sebastian Schmidt. “With Maurizio it’s a collaboration with the Italian consulate. Usually we have resident artists like Sebastian Schmidt who did the graffiti wall before. He stayed with us. We have rooms and they live with us as a part of VASL. Maurizio isn’t staying with us.”

VASL hopes to have an open day for the completion of the mural around 27th August.

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