In early 2015, Aziz Sohail participated in a curatorial development residency at the New Art Gallery Walsall, which was supported by the British Council under the Connecting through Culture Programme.
Aziz Sohail is an independent curator and writer based in Lahore and Karachi. In 2013, he curated Islam Contemporary, a travelling exhibition in the United States of America. Since then he has worked with the Rashid Rana Studio and is currently a visiting lecturer at the National College of Arts, Lahore and part of the team at the Lahore Biennale Foundation.
The residency, over three weeks provided a unique opportunity to address and explore the various dimensions and issues related to contemporary curatorial practice. During this time, Aziz was able to work with the staff of the New Art Gallery, experience the local arts scene as well as get a flavour of museums and galleries in London and Manchester. The residency culminated with Aziz conducting a workshop for school children at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, followed by a presentation and talk at a forum engaging with South Asia on 20 March.
We recently caught up with him; below he tells us of his experience in the UK.
Tell us a bit about yourself by elaborating on your background as a curator.
I studied History of Art at Brandeis University in the USA and started with curatorial internships in the USA. From there, my interests developed where I became passionate about the field, as a way of being able to tell stories, and generate ideas and discussion, and have worked as an independent curator since, in addition to full time jobs with arts organisations.
How would you describe the Walsall residency in two lines?
The residency was a unique opportunity to develop as a curator and establish links and partnerships with the Midlands in the UK, an exciting area of arts exhibition.
There, you were able to engage with contemporary art and related opportunities along with a global community. What was it like to be representing Pakistan there?
I am not sure if I 'represented' Pakistan there; you yourself mentioned that we are part of the global community. I was, of course, concerned with ideas of what it meant to be a Pakistani curator, in much the same way that one thinks of what it means to be a Pakistani artist. In that regard, of course, I felt a sense of responsibility in both being honest to my identity as well as practice.
If you were to choose one thing that inspired you on this trip to the UK, what would it be?
I think the range of public funding and engagement in the arts. I truly saw the value of Arts Councils and arts funding, and how that facilitates and leads to a larger cultural discourse, beyond commercial galleries, and big cities. I was impressed to see world quality exhibitions happening in towns with less than a 100,000 people - that was one of the main inspirations in the trip.
How, in your opinion, has this opportunity benefited your work and in light of that, what would be your next step?
I have definitely developed confidence as a curator and I think that automatically benefits one's practice. I am thinking of future projects and exhibitions of course, but also of ways to develop partnerships and develop capacity in Pakistan around the field of curating.
What possibilities do you see for collaborations between the UK and Pakistan in terms of contemporary art?
The possibilities are immense and of course beyond the field of funding for arts from the UK to Pakistan. There are possibilities to create mentorship around curating and expertise sharing from UK to Pakistan to develop our scene further, and also for more awareness of Pakistani art in the UK. With time, I hope that we can with advice and careful planning start building infrastructure inspired by the UK yet rooted and contextualized for Pakistan.