Returning a Stranger

Gasworks International Fellowship Program

February 13 – March 25, 2017

supported by Triangle Network, Arts Council England and Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture

with Ester Svensson Ali, U.K.

Over the past 10 years, Gasworks (U.K) and Vasl have exchanged Pakistani and British artists for residencies under the Triangle Network umbrella enabling cultural dialogue through the contemporary arts. In 2017, Gasworks and Vasl selected Swedish/British artist, Ester Svennson for the International Artists’ Residency funded by The Arts Council England.

For the duration of 5 weeks, Ester was hosted by Vasl in Karachi where she visited the chemical markets and bazaars to experiment with local materials available for creating her ceramic pieces. Her interests lied in the vast and ever increasing number of immigrants who come to Karachi for economic opportunity. With previous bodies of work focusing on refugees in the European Union and understanding the search for a space to call one’s own, Ester extended her interest during this residency by looking into the local aesthetics of homes in Karachi and the domestic lifestyle. During her research, Ester visited the National Museum of Pakistan to view the relics of the Indus Valley civilization which dates back almost 3000 BCE. Ester also visited the Citizens Archive of Pakistan to gather images, visuals and audio testaments of migratory families from 1947 after the Subcontinent division as well as information on refugees from Afghanistan after the Afghan-Russian war in the 1980s.

As part of Vasl’s educational outreach programs which are integral components for international residencies, Ester designed a one day workshop at the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) Centre for 30 school going children from Orangi Town. After an audio visual slideshow on various types of ceramic works, she asked the students to think about their own home and to mould clay pieces which depict aspects of their home in both overt and abstract ways. The workshop concluded with each child speaking about their piece and an interactive question and answer session about all the clay works created.

Vasl collaborated closely with the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) for this residency as the ceramics department and Associate Professor Sadia Salim assisted Ester in outsourcing local material and provided the resident artist with all studio facilities. While working alongside the ceramic students in the studio, Ester gave a talk about her previous bodies of work and provided the students with feedback on their individual projects while attending to her own artwork at the university campus.

Returning a Stranger by Ester Svensson Ali

Ester Svensson Ali is a ceramic artist, creating small-scale figurative sculptures and installations. Before developing an interest in ceramics, she studied illustration, and hence narratives and drawing continue to play a significant role in her practice.

In 1980, Svensson Ali’s parents moved to Pakistan from Sweden, to work as missionaries. She was born a year later, in Qalandarabad, a small town in the north. Her childhood was split between the two countries. She has continued to travel and live in different places as an adult, and is currently based in London with her Scottish/Pakistani husband and young daughter.

Returning to Pakistan after ten years, Svensson Ali took personal experiences as a starting point, dealing with notions of home, memory; travel and migration; identity and belonging. How one can be a foreigner in one’s country of birth. Remembered scenes from her childhood, donkey carts from the bazaar, archival photographs of migrations, poetry and verses painted on trucks, and folk arts/crafts inform her work, amongst other things. The small scale and fine detail of the work invite the viewer to come close, to be drawn in and to engage with the themes being explored.

Working in ceramics, craftsmanship and material investigation are important aspects of her practice. She is particularly interested in quartz-based ceramics, which were used in Mohenjodaro during the Indus Valley Civilisation, amongst other places. During this residency, Svensson Ali has worked predominantly with local clays and materials, testing various recipes of both bodies and glazes. The resulting body of work can be viewed as the beginnings of a larger exploration, rather than as a finished project.