Sat. Dec 4th, 2021

Analyzing the recent “Graffiti” in Hunza

Kashif Essa

The sensitivity and emotional attachment of people of Gilgit Baltistan with the subject of wall chalking and interventions in natural/cultural landscape has always been high.

The people are very well aware, as compared to any other city in Pakistan, about art, its context, the quality of art and the techniques to adopt.

Highly professional artists in the field belonging to Hunza have long set a quality standard for the people to identify, differentiate and critic on an art work which one doesn’t see very often in practice in any other city. The inclination and awareness of people, specifically youth, towards arts, music and other forms of creative industries is increasing with every passing day. The professionals in the field of visual arts, music and other forms of creative industry have proved themselves on national and international levels.

The underground art of graffiti has its origins in the late 1960s in Philadelphia USA, where writers such as Cornbread and Cool Earl went about writing their names to gain the attention of community and media.

Graffiti a practice of defacing a surface. If done without consent, it is vandalism, while with consent it can be seen as a “work of art”, or even used as a political tool.

The vandalism of mountains and rocks on the sides of Karakoram Highway (KKH) through graffiti has long been associated with ugly painted name and slogans, most notably of “Senator Talha Mehmood”. The repeating, tasteless and tactless, visuals add more pain to the already hectic journey on KKH. People, therefore, highly condemn the act and collectively discourage any form of graffiti on rocks, natural landscape, with or without consent.

The recent efforts of “Graffiti” by Sweet Tooth and Gobbis Paints have also been collectively discouraged as a hindrance in visualization of the natural beauty of the region’s unique landscape. This model of graffiti may work very well in any other city and context, but it has faced heavy criticism and protest from everyone, online and offline. The locals are very sensitive and emotional, and demanded immediate discontinuity of this activity.

For any public art /urban intervention, local context and communities have to be involved, the art has to be evolved from the society, communities! Art cannot be imposed, but it has to “be evolved”.

Professional, including local, artists should have been involved to have a better understanding of the context to define the art form and its need. This activity could have been planned in a more creative way, instead of just picking one form of art (wall painting/graffiti), as any intervention in a natural/historic environment has to be reversible and temporary.

The immediate response and raising a voice for this work is highly appreciated which clearly indicates the awareness and exposure level of the people in Hunza, when it comes to art, its relevance  and quality.

The activity has been, reportedly, been discontinued by the district government but the same criticism and discouragement should be evident for the growing unplanned concrete buildings, growing temporary steel sheds and hotels, disappearance of community spaces, growing vehicular movements disturbing and polluting the environment, natural landscape and cultural fabric.

I leave the discussion with few questions for everyone to think about :

  1. Are we sensible enough before constructing new ugly concrete hotels and homes?
  2. Do we consider how to involve a professional before construction/intervention in a natural/historic landscape?
  3. Are the district government or the stakeholders (NGO’s, Civil Society, Community, Political parties) able to chalk out a policy for the future developmental challenges with growing investments in tourism industry in GB specific to Hunza?
  4. Does any political party have this in their election manifesto to form an authority for policy making, by-laws and implementation of the guidelines for new constructions/interventions in Hunza?

These are the real issues and challenges everyone of us have to think and share.

Kashif Essa (Architect ) is a student of Cultural Development and World Management at UNESCO program in Turin, Italy. He is currently working as Conservation Architect with Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan. 

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