The 2022 Istanbul Biennale which is coming to an end today, was a long time in the making, having been delayed by the pandemic. That it was pulled off at all was a tribute to the organisers and the curators whose collective vision guided the event.

This vision, as one of the curators David Teh stated at the press conference announcing the biennale's opening, was that of 'an art world focused on 'problem solving'', where many were concerned with, in his words, 'the way we occupy the planet.'

The meaning was deliberately broad. It was fitting that these remarks were made in what used to be a medicinal garden. I was introduced to this event by an old student and my cousin, Salima Hashmi, who jointly instigated my participation at the pre-biennale.

The curators' sense of urgency and desire to destabilise the given 'order' of things was emphasised in the Poetry Channel event held at the Nostalji cafe in Istanbul, of which I was a part. The event brought together poetry as a medium of resistance, and connected the two nation's arguably greatest poets - Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Nazim Hikmet.

The 2022 Istanbul Biennale, which is concluding today, featured a programme on the pre-eminent Pakistani and Turkish poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Nazim Hikmet. Shahnaz Rouse who participated in the session, writes about her impressions of the overall event and what it was trying to do...

Hashmi and Amar Kanwar introduced Faiz to an audience not previously familiar with his work. In his opening remarks, Amar Kanwar, one of curators at the biennale, sought to disrupt the notion of the 'great' poet. He spoke about poetry as a journey, its meaning never fixed but expansive and, like story-telling, interactive.

Hashmi, who followed his remarks, read two of Faiz's letters from prison - one fittingly about day break, another about the difference between pain and unhappiness. She also read the poems Zindan ke ek sham [A Prison Nightfall] and Lahoo ka suragh [In Search of Vanished Blood]. Read in Urdu and then translation, they found a receptive audience.

The writer (far left) with Salima Hashmi (4th left) outside Cafe Nostalji in Istanbul |Berfin Altinisik

As a social scientist, I spoke about the similarities between Hikmet and Faiz's life histories, and their commitment to a different vision of art, home and internationalism. In this context, I emphasised their founding role in the Afro-Asian Writers' Congress.

While this reading and conversation was held in a cafe...

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