On a summer evening in 2016, Sana Nasir, a UAE-born Karachiite, found herself frantically seek a way out of the alleys in Patan in southern Kathmandu. Her cell phone battery was completely drained, and no one knew where she was.
“I was completely blinded,” says Nasir, who had come to Kathmandu to take part in an art project. “This was the time when Kathmandu still had powercuts; all the shops were closed and it was completely dark. I was completely blinded,” says the artist, graphic designer and illustrator.
Having lived in a city like Karachi, which literally comes to life at night, Nasir had not imagined that Kathmandu would go to sleep so early. “In Karachi, night time is when people go out, meet each other. You get into your car drive to the place where you meet people, get back into the car and go home,” she says.
As the realisation that she was completely lost sunk in, another wave of thoughts came to her that night. “All my life, I had known exactly where I was, and where I wanted to go. I could always locate myself on the map.” But this time she had no clue where she was. All she knew was she was somewhere in Patan. “I guess I slowly came to terms with this,” she adds.
Nasir had never thought she would be lost in a maze of alleys in Kathmandu when she first came here as a tourist in 2015. When she landed in Kathmandu and took a tour of the city, the place felt different from all the cities around the world she’s visited in the past. It felt like home.
That meant a lot for Nasir, who says she could not relate to the culture in the UAE because she was a Pakistani, and the reverse happened back in Pakistan as she’d spent most of her childhood in the UAE.
“My mom and dad would tell me stories of how Karachi was when they were growing up. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew everyone, you could wear what you wanted and speak your mind; no one would judge you.”
Nasir soon realised that Kathmandu was the closest thing to the Karachi of her parents’ stories. “Kathmandu is where the culture is not alien, you feel safe. It’s a third world place, but here you feel safe like in a first world country, but not alien like you do in the first world.”
“Kathmandu is where the culture is not alien, you feel safe. It’s a third world place, but here you feel safe like in a first world country, but not alien like you do in the first world.”
“In Karachi, the crime rates are very high. I have been mugged outside my own house, I have been mugged in traffic. Well, that’s what the city has become.”
When Nasir returned to Pakistan, her parents did not believe her when she described Kathmandu as the Karachi they always wanted. “My parents feel happy when I am in London or in the US. They find it a bit mysterious why I like Kathmandu so much,” she shares.
Nasir and her collaborator Daniel are back in Kathmandu and this time hey have an art installation to show at the Kathmandu Trienalle. The exhibition recreates her experience of getting lost in Patan. She is going to use sound and lighting to simulate the experience she had finding her way out of the Patan maze.
“I want the audience to go through the same three stages: panicking, coming to terms with it, and finally to becoming calm.”
“I hope everyone who comes to experience the installation will take away something from it.”
She hopes that someday she gets to have a similar open-space installation in her hometown Karachi, where art and culture are these days restricted to gated communities.
Sana Nasir’s exhibition ‘A Night Walk in Patan — A Guide to Losing Yourself’ has been scheduled for March 29 and March 30 (7-11pm) at the Patan Durbar square.