The works in Bani Abidi’s Karachi I Series are images of non-Muslims photographed on the streets of Karachi at dusk during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The series consists of six images showing Christian, Parsi, and Hindu men and women of varying ages placed in deserted urban streets engaged in domestic pursuits: reading, polishing shoes, and ironing. All of the figures have their backs to the viewer and are seemingly completely absorbed in their tasks. As their Muslim neighbors gather indoors to break their fast, these people, who are among the approximately 2-3% minority in Pakistan, carry on their daily lives.
Light and color are important parts of this work. Observant Muslims break their fast at dusk when it is difficult to differentiate colors. The ethereal glow of the setting sun and streetlights, coupled with the starkness of the empty street, creates an atmosphere of suspense and otherworldliness.
Chandra Archarya, 7:50 pm, 30th August 2008 depicts a seated middle-aged Hindu woman dressed in a blue sari calmly fixing her hair at a dressing table placed in the street. What does it mean to engage in such a private act in a public place? Is this an assertion of belonging and a claim of the streets of Karachi as home? Or is this act an expression of independence, isolation, or the right to be different?
Image: Bani Abidi. Chandra Acharya, 7:50 PM, 30 August 2008, Ramadan, Karachi, 2008. Duratrans lightbox. Smith College Museum of Art. Purchase with the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund, in honor of the class of 1927. ©2016 Bani Abidi