Karachi cultural exchange – photo essay

5 – 14 March 2022

This photo essay by Hawwa Alam reflects on her trip to Karachi for a cultural exchange visit between Manchester Museum and Karachi University.
Between 5 – 14th March 2022, Cultural Learning & Participation Officer Apprentices at Manchester Museum, Maya Chowdhury and Hawwa Alam, travelled to Karachi on a cultural exchange trip with Barinur Rashid (Manchester Museum Apprentice Manager and Post 16 and Secondary Science Learning Coordinator), Dr Sadia Habib (OSCH Coordinator) and Juliet Dean (Senior Programmes Manager (OSCH) at the British Council). The trip was part of a larger international collaboration project with Manchester Museum and Karachi University aiming to explore food heritage through creative methods via curating a collaborative anthology exploring South Asian food through art, photography, poetry, videos, oral/diaspora food histories and stories, recipes, and so much more. 

Reflections by Hawwa Alam

Trips like these only really hit you when you’re home, looking at your planned itinerary, scrolling through your photos, and thinking about how much you just did in such a short space of time. Whilst you’re there, you don’t have the time to really think about how busy you are, how many amazing people you’re meeting, or how incredible the opportunities are that you are currently living through.

When you’re visiting the markets, the museums, the exhibitions and palaces you walk around in awe, soaking everything in, taking photos, speaking to people and (of course), eating as much food as possible. You wake up early and sleep late, you check your schedule in excitement every night to see what the next day has in store for you, and you try to make the most of everything. You try to live in the moment.

The famous ‘food street’ (Burns Road) in Karachi, an incredible collection of street food, stalls and shops.

Now that I’m back, the full force of everything I did over the past 10 days is really making an impact. I’m so incredibly grateful for the experience, for the chance to meet people that seemed another world away when speaking through a tiny black screen on zoom for months on end, and for the opportunity to meet so many other awe-inspiring, generous and welcoming individuals that I never even thought I would have the chance to meet: professors, curators, architects, students, museum directors. The list goes on and everyone is just as powerful and inspiring as the next. 

My own personal highlight was meeting everyone from the British Council, Karachi University and State Bank Museum who I had heard so much about, and been on multiple zoom calls with, but had never even seen their faces!

Working on an international collaboration project is an incredible experience and an incredibly complex task to navigate, so putting faces to names and building relationships with individuals who I would be working with for the next few months to me was one of the best parts. And then of course the food. Tasting traditional dishes like biryani and butter chicken, cooked by the amazing chefs at the Rangoonwala Community Centre, visiting the famous ‘Food Street’ (Burns Road), and getting a taste of fresh Pani Puri (my absolute favourite) were all major highlights of the trip too.

Everyone I met on this trip was so generous and kind with their time, their interactions and the experiences they provided us with, and being given the opportunity to be shown around stunning places such as the State Bank Museum, Frere Hall and Mohatta Palace by the Directors and Curators of the buildings was an absolute honour.

The beautiful Mohatta Palace.

I hadn’t really had any presumptions or expectations about the trip or visiting Karachi specifically. I’d visited Pakistan previously to meet family when I was younger, and only had fragments of memories from that time, but when I arrived everything just felt right, and made me feel so whole. The 4 guys on a motorbike transporting a huge flat screen TV somewhere in the evening, the crazy traffic and driving that had its own system and never caused true chaos, the spice markets with towering piles of chilli flakes and garam masala and haldi, the heat; my senses were constantly in overdrive and I couldn’t take my surroundings in fast enough.

Below are just a few of my favourite photos from the trip.

The State Bank Museum, Karachi.
The State Bank Museum, Karachi. Here, I met Dr Asma Ibrahim, the Director of the State Bank Museum, an incredible woman with a clear vision for the heritage world and a strong desire to involve more young people in the museum space.
Top, from left to right: Hawwa Alam, Maya Chowdhury. Bottom, from left to right: Dr Asma Ibrahim, Hawwa Alam, Dr Sadia Habib, Maya Chowdhury.
Top, from left to right: Hawwa Alam, Maya Chowdhury. Bottom, from left to right: Dr Asma Ibrahim, Hawwa Alam, Dr Sadia Habib, Maya Chowdhury.
Karachi University, Dept of Visual Studies.
Karachi University, Dept of Visual Studies.
Mural by student artist at the Karachi University, Dept of Visual Studies.
Mural by student artist at the Karachi University, Dept of Visual Studies.
Botanical garden and conservatory at the Karachi University.
Botanical garden and conservatory at the Karachi University.
Calligraphy workshop at State Bank Museum for International Women’s Day.
Calligraphy workshop at State Bank Museum for International Women’s Day.
The famous ‘food street’ (Burns Road) in Karachi, an incredible collection of street food, stalls and shops.
The famous ‘food street’ (Burns Road) in Karachi, an incredible collection of street food, stalls and shops.
Frere Hall.
Frere Hall.
A vegetable stall at Empress Market.
A vegetable stall at Empress Market.
Fruit and vegetable stalls at Empress Market.
Fruit and vegetable stalls at Empress Market.
Colours and shapes at Empress Market.
Colours and shapes at Empress Market.
Cooking workshop at Rangoonwala Community Centre, where the amazing chefs cooked for us and made Bombay Biryani, Butter Chicken & Daal (Lentils).
Cooking workshop at Rangoonwala Community Centre, where the amazing chefs cooked for us and made Bombay Biryani, Butter Chicken & Daal (Lentils).
The beautiful Mohatta Palace.
The beautiful Mohatta Palace.
Gaj ‘Colours of the Rainbow’ exhibition at Mohatta Palace.
Gaj ‘Colours of the Rainbow’ exhibition at Mohatta Palace.
Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture.
Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture.
Work by students from Karachi University Dept of Visual Studies displayed at the ‘Chalta Phirta Museum’ exhibition at State Bank Museum.
Work by students from Karachi University Dept of Visual Studies displayed at the ‘Chalta Phirta Museum’ exhibition at State Bank Museum.
Team dinner with many of the lovely people we met throughout our time in Karachi.
Team dinner with many of the lovely people we met throughout our time in Karachi.