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A Journey, 2013. Ceramic, wood and thread. Courtesy the artist.

Migration, 2011. Ceramic. Courtesy the artist. Photograph by Marcus Svensson.

When she walked, her tears made the roads turn red, 2013. Ceramic and paper. Courtesy the artist.

Remembering the mountains, 2013. Glass. Courtesy the artist. Photograph by Sylvain Deleu.

Camouflage/camp (detail from Journeys), 2015. Ceramic and found objects. Courtesy the artist. Photograph by Patrik Zettergren.

Between 13 February and 25 March Ester Svensson undertook a Triangle Fellowship at Vasl, Karachi, Pakistan. 

Read about her experiences during her residency here.

About Ester Svensson
Although Swedish, Ester Svensen was born in Pakistan, and her childhood was split between the two countries. She continues to travel, and is currently based in London. This background affects the styles, aesthetics and themes of her practice, as do the landscapes, cultures and folklore of the places she has lived in and travelled through. Migration, belonging, multi-layered identities and home are recurring themes in her work, as well as increasing concern for the situation refugees and migrants currently find themselves in. Working predominantly with clay, Ester creates small-scale sculptures and installations. Before ceramics, she studied illustration, so narratives and drawing continue to play a big role in her practice.

During the residency, Ester will continue to look at migration; how it affects our identities; what we bring as outsiders, what we absorb as residents and how one can be a foreigner in one’s country of birth. She will build a visual reference library, explore the use of other materials, hold workshops, and investigate talismans, symbols and traditions relating to travel and migration.

The German word Zugunruhe, (from Zug - to move, migrate and Unruhe - anxiety, restlessness) can be used to sum up the ideas behind Ester Svensson’s work. It is used to describe the restlessness of migratory birds before and during their period of migration, but the same phenomenon can be seen in resident birds and animals. Humans can also experience this restlessness, this yearning.

About Vasl
Vasl is an artist-led organisation established in 1999, in Karachi, as a platform for dynamic Pakistani art and contemporary Pakistani artists and as a space to host artists’ workshops, residencies and exhibitions.

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Ester Svensson writes about her experiences during her residency:

I am Swedish, but I was born and brought up in Pakistan, so this residency has had a big impact on me, both professionally and personally. It was ten years since my last visit, and Pakistan has changed a lot since then. Personally things have also changed – instead of visiting my parents (who were missionaries, but now live in Sweden) I was there independently as an artist, and as a mother with my own 2 year-old daughter. Previously, I have felt that my life in Pakistan has existed very separately from my life elsewhere, but this residency joined together these two parts of my life experience. It made me feel more like one person. 

Though my work deals with universal themes such as home, belonging, identity and migration, I often take personal experiences as a starting point. Being back in Pakistan I was a stranger, but felt so ‘at home’. Many things were very familiar, yet at the same time there were so many things I didn’t know or understand. We used to go on holidays to Karachi from the north. My parents spent a few years living there. Even though much has changed, much remains the same. Memories, questions of identity, belonging, and the feeling of being a constant foreigner, fed into the work I made during the residency.

Though my work deals with universal themes such as home, belonging, identity and migration, I often take personal experiences as a starting point. Being back in Pakistan I was a stranger, but felt so ‘at home’. Many things were very familiar, yet at the same time there were so many things I didn’t know or understand. We used to go on holidays to Karachi from the north. My parents spent a few years living there. Even though much has changed, much remains the same. Memories, questions of identity, belonging, and the feeling of being a constant foreigner, fed into the work I made during the residency. 

 

Karachi is a fascinating city, with a population comprised of people from all over Pakistan and the neighbouring countries. It has a rich history of migration: a melting-pot of culture. I had planned to spend some of my residency time researching in this vibrant city. However, I found that given the differences in the ceramic materials found in Pakistan compared to those I use in Europe impacted how I used my time. Creating test pieces with these new materials was time consuming. As a result, I ended up partly using my previous personal experiences to inform the work that I was making, rather than taking all my inspiration from Karachi. Thanks to the invaluable support from the VASL team, I was still able to venture out into the city, visit organisations and meet people, which also fed into the work. 

I worked at the ceramics studio of the Fine Art Department at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, where I was able to use all the facilities and received a lot of help and support from Sadia Salim, Head of Ceramics, and Babu, the technician. It also gave me the opportunity to meet other artists, members of staff, and students, which was hugely beneficial. Due to the restrictions of what was available, I learned a great deal about materials during my time there – for example, how to make frit. The residency also re-kindled an interest in quartzpaste (or fritware), which is a type of low-fired ceramics made up mostly of quartz, that was used in Pakistan during the Indus Valley Civilisation (amongst other places).  

Having my daughter Noor with me was both wonderful and challenging. I wasn’t able to spend as much time working as I would have liked to, and it made things like going out for dinner/visiting artists etc. a bit more complicated. However, having Noor with me did however break down barriers, and was very important for me on a personal level. Everyone at Vasl was extremely helpful, supportive and understanding. They organised a very good day care place close to IVS, played with her, and took us to the hospital when she got ill – Adeela Suleman even took care of us in her home when Noor contracted pneumonia. Staying in the beautiful Vasl apartment was ideal – convenient, comfortable and inspiring. Getting to know the other visiting and resident artists was an added bonus. 

The residency culminated in an exhibition, called Returning, A Stranger at the IVS gallery. Though the work I made carries on the same themes from before: it is the beginning of something new, both in terms of materials and content, I have a fresh set of ideas, inspirations and knowledge to continue working with. I started incorporating other materials, including jute, beads and fabric, in to my work. This is something I am keen to explore further. In short, it was an invaluable experience, and I am very grateful to Gasworks and Vasl for the opportunity.