parallax background

Pakistan: The Hidden Treasure

by
NOORJEHAN BILGRAMI
PRINCIPAL CURATOR

Every wave is filled with rubies, water perfumed with musk,
From the river wafts airs of ambergris.
Shah Abdul Latif (1689-1752

‘Pakistan: The Hidden Treasure’ illuminates the unique jewels of Pakistan unknown to many, both within and outside the country. The narrative of the Pakistan Pavilion reflects the poetic way in which the past, present and future are woven together as a tapestry that reveals the rich and layered history, culture, people and traditions of this land, while also highlighting the immense potential and possibilities it holds for the future.

The labyrinthine structure of the Pavilion, designed by Imad Hasan and his team of architects, presented a welcome challenge in designing an immersive, multi-sensorial Inner Journey. The eight distinct spaces connect seamlessly as visitors experience the country’s ancient history, awe-inspiring landscapes, cultural and religious diversity, rich craft traditions and vast economic potential. While the spaces have their own theme, they are each interlinked to ideas of tourism, diversity and sustainability.

As the Principal Curator of the Pakistan Pavilion, it has been a most enriching yet humbling experience to curate an Inner Journey that brings together my 40 years of experience with the in-depth research and generous support of scholars and researchers around the world and the dedicated efforts of Pakistani filmmakers, artists, craftspeople, musicians and my small, committed Curatorial Team. I have been steadfastly supported in this endeavour by Special Advisor to the PM Abdul Razak Dawood and Curatorial Review Committee Members Shahid Abdulla, Yawar Jilani and Mahboob Khan.

Pavilion visitors enter through a door adorned with hand-beaten copper triangles under a Kashi (tiled) ceiling, past earthenware pottery, jewellery and toys by craftsman Allah Ditta - replicas from the Indus Valley Civilisation that flourished in this region some five thousand years ago. A meticulously painted timeline by artist Naveed Sadiq depicts different historical eras in miniature style, beginning with a spectacular contemporary brass sculpture (based on Mehrgarh’s pottery) by artist Fahim Rao. On a large screen, a short film by Matteela Films brings this history to life.

A narrow passage then takes visitors on a mesmerising journey of light and shadow through the ‘Sheesh Mahal: Pathway of Mirrors’ installation. The late Ustad Rafaqat and his team of craftsmen embarked on a study of the magnificent Sheesh Mahal to revive the craft of Ayina-kari on a huge scale. Fresco artist Aakif Suri, filmmaker Umar Riaz and digital artist Abrar Ali Qazi added additional layers to this installation.

From here, visitors are transported to Pakistan’s breathtaking landscapes expertly captured by Walkabout Films - the sheer scale of which reduces one to a particle of dust. Nestled in these landscapes, the two ancient communities of the Mohanas and the Kalasha are depicted through installations in wood and textile.

A dark passage leads visitors to the heart of the Pavilion where Pakistan’s sacred spaces are celebrated - heralded by drums, bells, and the whirl of a red-robed dervish. Light filters from a carved wooden jaali and exquisitely painted fresco panels inspired by the Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore adorn the wall. Glistening against a dark backdrop stand sculptural icons in metal by artist Affan Baghpati. Binding all this are the stunning films capturing the spirit of coexistence across mosques, shrines, temples, gurudwaras and churches across Pakistan by Azad Films.

As an economic gateway to the corridors of the future, Pakistan offers unique access to the region alongside industry, production, natural resources and business and investment opportunities. Inspirational achievements by women and youth are at the forefront of contemporary Pakistan and contextualise our current and future trajectories. The team from Imaginary Studios have captured this face of 21st century Pakistan.

Sustainable futures must remain responsibly and firmly committed to the preservation, conservation and development of our fragile communities and systems, which represent our country’s identity. The Billion Trees Project that was initiated by Prime Minister Imran Khan is translated into an immersive, virtual experience as visitors walk under a canopy of bamboos. At the far end is a projection of our mangroves – an installation realised with contributions by Abrar Ali Qazi, Irfan Naqi, Sohail Zuberi and Zarmeene Shah.

Our Inner Journey concludes on the most important note – the communities that are inextricably bound to the land and produce some of the most exquisite crafts in the world, documented by Jawad Sharif Films. Accompanied by the melodious voice of Saif Samejo, one watches in wonderment how humans and Nature work together in perfect harmony.

In sum, our Pavilion features movement, light, sound, smell and taste, as well as an overwhelming richness of color, craft, culture, and most of all the intangible sense of community and generosity of spirit that best embodies Pakistan and its people.