5 - 14 March 2022

Maya's Karachi cultural exchange – photo essay

This photo essay by Maya Chowdhury 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 Office 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 Maya Chowdhury

It’s only when you return home that you really appreciate everything and all the experiences really sink in. when you’re there in the moment, busy with everything going on, you don’t realise or register all the things you’ve done. Having the opportunity to do all the things that we did and visit all the places we did was amazing.

Going to Karachi, meeting our partners face to face after countless zoom calls and emails was probably the highlight of the trip for me. It was so amazing to actually meet the people we’d been speaking to over Zoom and through emails for so long, in real life.

From the day we reached Karachi, we set off into different events and met different people. On our first day, we went to the Karachi Literature Festival where we managed to watch and listen to some amazing Qawwali. That night we also had the pleasure of meeting other British Council Pakistan colleagues as well as other British Council UK colleagues during dinner. 

As for the rest of the week, it was packed with other amazing activities, meetings, visits and we met so many amazing people. We visited the State Bank Museum and met the director, Dr Asma Ibrahim who took her time staying with us the whole day, showing us around, explaining the backgrounds behind certain pieces within the museum and talking with us. 

During our week in Karachi, we were given a tour of Karachi University visual studies department and visited the botanical gardens as well. This was the day me and Hawwa held our presentation to the students, introducing OSCH Manchester and the work we’ve done over the course of the project and presented our idea for the Sawda project and giving them a chance to ask any questions and understanding what our idea was. Which was, to create a food anthology, collaborative between young people over in Manchester and the young people in Karachi to explore heritage through food in the form of poems, recipes, shopping lists, artwork, photography, written pieces and any other form they desire.

For International Women’s Day, we visited the State Bank Museum again, as they were holding some workshops in celebration of IWD. We took part in their calligraphy workshop as well as the painting workshop (we attempted the pottery workshop, but the line was too long!!)

We visited the infamous Food Street, Burns Street and that was an amazing experience. The heat from all the flames cooking an assortment of dishes, seeing whole chickens being cooked over hot coals on sticks all stood up to form almost a tower of chicken. Watching as vendors were arranging seating and tables ready for the busy night ahead of them after the Maghrib prayers. We were told that after Maghrib, is when it's the busiest, full of people.

Frere Hall was another beautiful place we visited, and we met the curator who was one of the most wholesome people I think I’ve ever met. Frere Hall on its own is beautiful but once you step inside the hall, you’re met with an amazing unfinished piece of work on the huge ceiling by Sadequain who passed before he could finish the piece.

Another one of my highlights from the trip was going to Empress Market. The big sacks of different powdered spices, whole species, different types of dried chillies, spice mixes. The dates, sweets, vegetables and fruits. The vibrancy of everything whilst the sun shined onto us gave me a sense of comfort within the busyness and the hubbub.

At the Rangoonwala Community Centre, we had the opportunity to watch and learn from a cooking workshop and met the amazing chefs. They made biryani, butter chicken and daal (beautiful!!). Another space we visited was Mohatta Palace where they had an exhibition on: Gaj ‘Colours of the Rainbow’ and we met the curator. We were shown around and the rooms were all bright in their painted walls, fitting beautifully with the colourful pieces shown.

Along with visiting Karachi University’s visual studies department, we also visited Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, met with the head of heritage and collections and had the chance to look around the spaces. The campus and buildings were so stunning, with plants and foliage draped down corners of the walls, the walls littered with an assortment of posters for the upcoming student president elections each designed with their own flare and details.

At the Chalta Phirta Museum launch, myself and Hawwa spoke and addressed everyone who attended which included Pakistani dignitaries and we spoke about our interest in the Sawda lists work and our idea for the food anthology as part of our collaborative project. After the amazing launch at State Bank Museum, we had a team dinner with the British Council and Karachi University who we’d be working with on the upcoming project.

On our last day of the trip, we visited Green Bean Farmer’s Market which was really fun and wholesome, seeing the people at the stalls trying to get customers to buy things or try things. The way that the kids were getting involved, some selling things, others talking to potential customers and getting them to try their products for example, there was a family run stall where the daughter was at the front getting people to try their rose water spray and encouraging them to buy it.