Masuma Halai Khwaja


Masuma cooking Biryani No. 1 - Masuma making the curry base of the biryani. Image courtesy of Ninke van Wiggen. Ninke van Wiggen

Masuma is a multi-disciplinary artist. Her art practice revolves around weaving cultural political and historical perspectives along with personal experiences and individual stories. Currently for the Olfactory History of Oosterdok, Masuma wants to connect the spice trade of the Dutch East India Company to the shipping routes that were followed by the (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) VOC in the early 17th century, and trace the evolution of dishes which were made with the spices that the Dutch monopolized the trade of. This will be an experiential project aiming to initiate conversations about the stories behind cuisines and spices by introducing people to Biryani.

Although her trajectory has revolved around textiles she has recently started diversifying her practice to include very different areas. More broadly she is interested in intertwining areas of everyday life such as fabric, clothing, food, industrial waste, olfactory senses and taste into art so as to narrate stories more effectively.

From 2016 to 2017 she initiated and led one of the biggest public art projects in Karachi titled Reel On Hai, which involved transforming empty, discarded cable reels into art works, through open calls to artists architects and designers.

More recently, she has been looking into the evolution of tea in the Indian subcontinent and its role in connecting people.

She is also part of an upcoming art show at the prestigious Canvas gallery in Karachiwhere artists will look at clothing and garments as means of political, cultural and religious expression.

To create an olfactory experience of the olden Oosterdok area, where traders and buyers would have exchanged and traded goods, a cart distributing an aromatic dish containing all the spices that the Dutch traded in, will help recreate the sights and smells of times gone by. The project will also help provide an insight into the culinary treats and cultural traditions of the East. In a country that comprises of a large number of immigrants, such conversations open doors for communication.

Biryani is a very popular dish in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Different versions of this dish, that was introduced during Mughal times exist as far as Afghanistan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Goods sold on carts create temporary, kinetic sites for trade which were very popular during olden times. In today’s built up cityscapes, the need for temporary sites is of prime importance. Such structures save on costs of building materials and energy, while providing ample opportunity for trade. Public interaction is also a major plus point of carts where vendors can engage with buyers and other passersby.



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  • Masuma Halai Khwaja