When news trickled in last month that the two buildings that house Khoj Studios in Khirkee Extension were being taken apart for renovation, many of us wondered if the place that has been home to some of the most vibrant and cutting-edge art practice would be off limits for several months.
But being the dynamic space that Khoj is, even this temporary phase — of rebuilding the infrastructure to house multipurpose project spaces, artists’ studios and residences, library, a terrace and café — has not come in way of creative experimentation.
With art events that use the site as it stands today — broken walls, incomplete arches, piles of brick and mortar — Khoj has launched a series titled Khoj [re] Building Project Series. These are events which respond to the site at various stages of the building’s breaking and making. interrogating the dynamism of Khoj as a construction site, the events are designed to engage with the building to create conversations about its past, present and future.
The first such event held in mid-May marked the 100th birth anniversary of Saadat Hasan Manto, with a play titled Ek Mulaqaat Manto Se, which was performed by veteran stage actor Ashwath Bhatt. A biographical play, this solo performance used Manto’s articles and stories unearthing Manto’s writing and revealing its relationship to the trauma of Partition.
Bhatt performed his 90-minute solo act — a first-person narrative - at a unique open-air stage at Khoj Studios. Performed in Urdu, the play began with Manto’s days in India at the time of partition and shifted to Lahore, ‘where he tries to see the new sociopolitical and economic circumstances through the eyes of the common man in the bazaars and neighbourhood’.
Bhatt converted one of the smaller courtyards of Khoj into a busy Lahore mall where life unfurls in the aftermath of partition. Bhatt showed how Manto looked for stories in everyday life — among food carts, shopkeepers, cyclists and the odd visitor.
And last week on Friday, another performance by artist Asim Waqif used the space to great advantage. Using what looked like broomstick bristles, but was a grass called sarkhanda, Waqif created a sculptural installation which was joined together by rubber bands and toothpicks.
At the same time, a variety of sounds, ranging from soft twittering of birds to screechy noises erupted time and again from various nooks and corners of the broken down building. This experimental work, through which the audience could negotiate their walkthrough, was a collaboration between Waqif, sound designers Sindrome and electronic design company 9 Circuits. Abstract in concept, the idea was to activate the building in terms of sound, installation, video and performance.
On 6 July, the same space will become a theatre for the screening of horror films from Pakistan. ‘The building is in ruins now and just the right setting for these films,’ says Pooja Sood of Khoj. For how the audience reacts to this new experiment, watch this space for more!