Art censorship and repression have become issues that have received annual reports detailing documented cases of intolerance to artworks. In light of the threats posed to artistic freedom, Freemuse published a report last April 2019, captioned as “Whose Narrative Counts;” presenting hundreds of documented cases of art censorship from across 80 countries during the past year.
The most recent case that the Freemuse organization will like include in its next report is the closing down of the “Karachi Killing Fields,” sculptural exhibition of Paskistani artist Adeela Suleman. A few hours after the courtyard of the historic Frere Hall opened to display Suleman’s 444 tombstone-like sculptures, a pair of plainclothes policemen arrived and ordered the biennale organizers to shutdown that particular exhibit.
Suleman, who teaches at the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture, held a press conference to voice her reaction against the censorship; saying
“My work was just a story of incidents that took place in Karachi around a year ago.” — There was nothing in it that was not already public knowledge”
However, Pakistani authorities also ordered the discontinuance of the press conference, since Suleman was referring to the numerous incidents of extrajudicial killings carried out by local police authorities working under former police chief superintendent Rao Anwar. Her tombstone sculptures reminded people of victims that died as a result of instantaneous and wide open summary killings.
Actually, Suleman’s tombstone sculptures were also knocked down and the door leading to the “Karachi Killing Fields” exhibition was padlocked. The head of the Karachi Parks Division later told Samas TV said that the exhibition was removed because Suleman’s installation was as a form of vandalism
Biennale Organizers’ Reaction to the Shutdown and Destruction of Suleman’s “Karachi Killing Fields” Exhibit
The shutdown of the exhibit mounted by Suleman sparked outcries of protests coming from both local and international artists and activists. Some even staged a “die-in” protest against the censorship, but to no avail.
The Karachi Biennale organizers issued a statement saying that they are also against censorship of art. However, with regard to the exhibit in question, they came to realize that the artist’s perspective was not compatible with the biennale’s theme of “Ecology and the Environment” and the ethos of the biennale under KB No.19.