Standout Sessions at LLF 2023

Lahore Literary Festival 2023 was a multiculturally rich event bringing together a vast array of writers, artists, journalists, curators and culture commentators, both international and local, to the Alhamra Arts Council. Notable names this year included Adeela Suleman, Sunita Kohli, Nobel Laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah, Naveed Riaz and Usman Riaz, Nayyar Ali Dada, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Diana Darke, Attiq Uddin Ahmed, Charles Moore, Salima Hashmi, Muneeza Shamsie, Jamil Dehlavi, Naveed Shahzad, F. S. Aijazuddin, Mohsin Hamid, Alex von Tunzelmann, Sarmad Khoosat, Shahbaz Taseer, Alexandra Pringle, Nadeem Farooq Paracha, Nabeel Najam, Kavita Puri and so many more!

Read below for an overview of some of our favourite sessions!

1. Revising Histories 

Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe 

Author Diana Darke with architect Attiq Uddin Ahmed.

Diana Darke was first inspired to write a book when Notre Dame burned down in 2019, when she found out that the iconic building had an Islamic backstory, as does nearly every Gothic architecture in Europe. In her book, she dissects, researches and clarifies every element of Gothic and Islamic architecture and the similarities they have, despite Europe’s attempts to brush this part of history under the carpet.

“Did you know that France’s revered saint, St Denis, was actually a Syrian monk? Imagine if more people knew that.”

2. Vistas, Unveiled 

Three Centuries of Travel Writing by Muslim Women 

L to R: Amra RazaSiobhan Lambert-Hurley, Muneeza Shamsie, and Wajiha Hyder, from ‘Vistas, Unveiled: Three Centuries of Travel Writing by Muslim Women’.

Siobhan Lambert-Hurley collected, researched, translated, edited, and then re-edited diary entries and other excerpts and documentation of travel writing by Muslim women, who in their time and day were fortunate enough to experience a journey to other lands. 

“I wanted to offer a distinct female perspective,”, says Siobhan. “You really feel their emotion in their writing.” 

“Right, and some of these women writing these narratives eventually found a Muslim sisterhood beyond their social circles,”chimes in Amra Raza. 

3. The Book Launch of Barbed Wire: Art, Violence, and the State 

L to R: Faisal Siddiqi, Omar Shahid Hamid, Adeela Suleman, and Naazish Ataullah. From the book launch of ‘Barbed Wire: Art, Violence, and the State’.

A conversation between Karachites on the stereotypes of their city, its rich history since the Mughal Era, the social-political situation that’s only been deteriorating since the 80’s, and how art plays a vital role in activism, change, and rebelling against authority.

“I never would have seen my art as activism, but I guess that rebellion is now ingrained in me. I was there when Zia was President. He would nonchalantly see to public hangings and other atrocities and I experienced all of that in Karachi. I saw it all with my own eyes.” Adeela Suleman said.

4. Forgotten Foods 

Memories of Culinary Heritage 

L to R: Muneeza Shamsie, Michelin starred chef Suvir Saran, Sunita Kohli, Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, and Leon Menezes from ‘Forgotten Foods: Memories of Culinary Heritage’.

A wonderful and light-hearted conversation about the magic of food and how it connects all people, regardless of race, colour, ethnicity, gender or religion. The speakers talked about how not only raw materials and spices were traded along the Silk Route, but those traders also shared the vast array of food, ingredients and methods. Food and culture travelled and was shared in every single event or incident in history.

“In India, the food changes after every 30 miles – the masala changes, the bartan changes – it’s so vast!”, said Sunita Kohli. “In Delhi, I think I make the best biryani!”

“There are several mantras I live by: a subcontinental trick is that ‘with little, we cook magic’!”, Said Suvir Saran, “and another is ‘learn to eat with your hands and you’ll learn to live your life!’”

5. Mughal Lahore 

Consolidating Empire: Power and Elites in Jahangir’s India (1605–1627) 

Mughal historians Corinne Lefèvre and Mehreen Chida-Razvi from ‘Mughal Lahore  Consolidating Empire: Power and Elites in Jahangir’s India (1605–1627)’.

Professor Corinne Lefèvre explained excerpts from her book on the Emperor Jahangir, which involved clearing his name from the orientalist stereotypes that have been attached to his legacy for the last four hundred years. 

“I wanted to restore the monarch’s voice, and to show the world that he was as conventional a ruler as the rest.” Stated Professor Corinne Lefèvre.

6. Masterpieces of the Prado Collection 

Alejandro Vergara, Senior Curator of Flemish and Northern European Paintings, Museo Nacional Del Prado, Madrid from ‘Masterpieces of the Prado Collection’.

A truly wonderful talk for art lovers. Alejandro Vergara introduced one of the biggest art collections in Europe, all collected by the Spanish Royal family in the 15th century.

“What matters more and more nowadays is the language of art, rather than the content of art. That wasn’t the case four or five hundred years ago.” Said Alejandro Vergara

7. The Book Launch of Fatima Ali’s Savor: A Chef’s Hunger for More 

Farazeh Durrani, and Mohammad Ali. Moderated by Zahra Khan. 

The late chef’s family were the speakers at what was perhaps the most moving session till date. The conversation began with Fatima Ali’s childhood and her aspirations to be a chef, and moved on towards themes of honesty, self expression, and the boundaries placed on women, on Pakistanis, on humans, and the ones we place on ourselves which limits us towards reaching our potentials. This session truly discussed what it means to be brave and face each day with as much grace as possible.

Recalling his sister’s memory, Mohammad Ali said, “Fatima would see something interesting or have an idea and she would just act on it. She would just go for it.”

Zahra Khan stated, “The book is almost like a conversation between Fatima and her mother, Farazeh. The chapters go to and fro in Farazeh’s voice and in Fatima’s.”

8. Photography as Fact 

L to R: Indian photographer Raghu Rai and the infamous Nayyar Ali Dada from ‘Photography as Fact’.

Introduced by Nayyar Ali Dada, Raghu Rai discussed his professional live as a photographer, the essence of a photograph, the (im)permanence of an image, the influences that the socio-political climate have on his work, and friendship beyond borders.

“The way he has captured the Taj Mahal is like frozen music!” Said Nayyar Ali Dada while introducing Raghu Rai. 

“A photograph takes you back to the exact moment in time the way it existed,” Explains Raghu Rai

Artist, critic and a self proclaimed historian. I write about the this and thats, odds and ends, and etceteras of the art world.

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