Laura Eggerton, curator, Abraaj Capital Art Prize,
comes to Pakistan as part of the Curatorial Knowledge Workshop.

14th November – 17th November 2012, (part of the Curatorial Knowledge Residency).

UK trained Art Historian and curator Laura Eggerton came to Pakistan for four days exactly 6 years since she started working in Dubai supporting the artists and curators involved in the yearly Abraaj Capital Art Prize attached to the Art Dubai art fair.

 Laura had already been in contact with artists and curators from Pakistan through the prize, which three Pakistani artists have been involved in so far, (Huma Mulji in 2013; Risham Syed in 2012; Hamra Abbas in 2011), before she visited Pakistan this year, but when the call for applications for the Curatorial Knowledge Residency went out Laura got in touch with us about our programme. After hearing more information about what we were planning she decided that this was the time for her to make a visit to Pakistan and Vasl supported her time in Karachi and the planning of her trip. While Laura visited galleries and institutions in Karachi, along with some artists’ studios, she was also able to spend time with our resident curators who were staying at Vasl for the residency, and to share ideas and expertise with them from her unique position as the curator of the Abraaj prize.

We are all very grateful to Rohtas Gallery and Mrs Salima Hashmi and Risham Syed in Lahore for looking after her when she visited Lahore, where Laura launched the new Abraaj Capital Art Prize publication (for the 2012 prize) with an event and panel discussion at Rohtas Gallery with Risham Syed and Huma Mulji on the 15th of November.

In Karachi Laura undertook an event in collaboration with ArtNow and Fomma at Fomma’s space in Zamzama Park, which combined the forces of all three organisations (including Vasl) to build a good audience that Laura talked to about the prize.

There have been five ACAP Prizes to date, and as Laura explained at the presentation, artists’ applications are supported by nominators and a guest curator (or in previous years, guest curators). These guest curators win the position of supporting these artists in the development of their commissions each year. The three years that curatorial engagement with artists as part of the prize has assisted the development of the artists’ work leading up to its exhibition and also the editorship of a diverse range of publications explicating the projects and evidencing their processes.

While Laura talked about a number of the projects that have been part of the prize over the years she shifted attention to the Pakistani artists in particular, including Risham Syed’s work displayed this year, which was the result of her travelling in the MENASA region, after which she created quilts based on her journeys. Moving between the old 19th century trade routes and port cities that have impacted on the history and development of this region Risham incorporated found materials into the quilts that she produced.

Given that the prize is awarded to applicant artists before their works are made, it was useful for Laura to talk to her audience about how important the support and involvement of curatorial personnel and herself and her own team are in developing the works. The artists’ projects often divert from the original proposals in the processes of their production and Laura was able to demonstrate by talking about various projects how that has often resulted in more successful works and final exhibitions. 

Following Laura’s presentation the floor was invited to ask questions, the first one being how many applications does the prize annually receive, to which Laura replied that this figure increases year on year. Between 350-500 applications are received, though inevitably, there are generally far fewer coming in from curators. Many of the artists who have won, Laura continued, have applied for the prize before, but later applications have been more successful because the projects proposed, the curators working on the prize and the timing, have fused successfully and they have been selected on a second or third attempt.

Another question concerned Laura’s role as a curator beyond the prize, especially with regards to the fact that the artworks made as part of the prize are kept in a permanent collection by Abraaj. From March, Laura explained, there will be 21 artworks in the collection, but sadly Abraaj don’t have a public space for the permanent public display of these works, (something which could be developed). However, she continued, the amount of loan requests from other biennales, institutions and museums is very high so the works do get out into the public sphere. Though the work isn’t directly pitched to institutions for display, the prize has gained enough merit and recognition that a wide variety of curatorial practitioners are aware of what has been made and have an interest in using these works in their own curatorial projects.

Another audience member asked whether there ever been an occasion when the work has not reached its whole potential, and Laura explained that works have often veered off from the proposal but that this has generally yielded positive results. There is always an element of risk involved when one works with proposals in progress rather than completed artworks, but that is inherent to the character of the prize and its artist-supporting potential. A lot of the time artists have never had an opportunity to be so ambitious, and the prize supports them in making projects that they would not otherwise be able to conceive. Laura continued that the outputs are not always the best works that the artists have done, but there has never been the situation in which a project has ‘gone wrong’. In view of this though, the time that artists are given to make their works has been extended as timing has been too tight previously, which has put pressure on artists and perhaps not allowed them to work to their full potential on their respective projects.

A further question related to the initiation of the prize, to which Laura explained that the Abraaj investment group was initially founded in the MENASA region but its remit has since expanded, and we can imagine, the remit of Abraaj’s activities supporting the arts will expand with it. In 2008 Abraaj were patrons of Art Dubai but as part of its patronage the company decided that it wanted to be more proactive in their engagement with the arts during the fair. The original idea was to empower the potential of artists, reflective of company’s business practice, which is to empower potential, (as in its stakeholder engagement programme). So as Laura explained, the prize sits its alongside Abraaj’s social engagement programming, hopefully giving artists what they want but while also providing a good mirror for Abrraj’s corporate outlook too.

The last questions were more pragmatic, enquiring into how much funding the artists who win the prize get to make their works. When artists fill in their proposals, Laura explained, the limit is $100,000 including a fee, and production, materials, etc. The curator and catalogue are extra to this, provided by the wider budget for the prize. Finally, the questions ended with two about the role of the curator selected each year. Laura detailed how the curators’ applications are whittled down to 10-12 applications from those recieved, from which the committee selects the winning curator. The curator is chosen before the artists so that this important participant in the prize can also be involved in the selection of the artists’ projects. In terms of selecting particular kinds of curators, Laura explained how the committee always react to the applications – to the curator’s practice and the shows and projects they have done in the past. She noted that the curators, like the artists, need to have a fairly established career already so they can support the artists and the responsibilities of a project at this scale to an adequate level.

Laura’s talk at Fomma was a great event and we are thrilled that she decided to visit Pakistan to consolidate her knowledge and give something back to our art scene as part of our curatorial programme at Vasl.

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