This post was originally published in The Guardian as “Numaish Karachi: can art installations change this violent megacity’s image?” on June 5, 2015.

Photo by Humayun Memon. Used with permission.

Photo by Humayun Memon. Used with permission.

Karachi, a city known for intractable political conflict and as a shelter for militants from the Afghan wars, has difficulty escaping its reputation as the world’s most violent megacity. It has suffered some 13,500 killings in the past five years – a level of violence that has significantly degraded public safety and access to public spaces, and has instead encouraged the creation of sectarian, ethnic and political enclaves.

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KCR appeared at Harvard’s Fogg Museum as a nine-channel interactive on April 20, 2015, and a second time in July as part of the workshop Beautiful Data, a two-week course on interactive media to help curators and archivists “develop art-historical storytelling through data visualization, interactive media, enhanced curatorial description and exhibition practice, digital publication, and data-driven, object-oriented teaching.” It featured in the Lightbox Gallery, a space dedicated to digital installations in the new, Renzo Piano-designed addition to the museum. The installation was built in the programming language Processing, an open source project built to manage interactivity, nonlinearity, and graphic design. Coding help from Sands Fish and editing assistance from Robin Bell. Following is a sample clip of the installation:

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12 April 2015
KCR screening at Frere Hall in central Karachi, April 2015.

KCR screening at Frere Hall in central Karachi, April 2015.

A screening of KCR – a visual exploration of the Karachi Circular Railway – is part of Numaish Karachi, an exhibition of over two dozen art installations at Frere Hall in central Karachi, from April 6-22.

Karachi Circular Railway
Video installation
Filmmaker: Ivan Sigal
Material: Single-channel version

KCR is a multimedia installation that traces the path of the defunct Karachi Circular Railway. The film takes the viewer on a meditative journey through one of the world’s most complex and conflicted megacities, exploring its urban and human landscape through video, stills, text and drone footage. It is available for display in several formats. In Karachi it is a single channel video projected onto a large outdoor screen.

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This article was originally published in Building Peace Forum; it reflects upon the work of Global Voices support for online freedom of expression.

In 2013, a group of Ethiopian bloggers and journalists created a blog to express their interest in a more open, inclusive, and democratic country. They called the blog Zone9, an ironic reference to the eight zones of Ethiopia’s Kaliti prison; their collective writing intended to demonstrate the possibility of a more open civic life. They chose to publish their writing on the Internet both out of necessity—it was the only public venue easily available to them—and aspiration, as it connected them to a global community of writers, thinkers, and translators with similar ideas.

Given Ethiopia’s history of imprisoning journalists and intellectuals, they knew their work was risky. When eight of the bloggers and journalists were arrested in April 2014 and charged with a range of offenses under Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, they were not completely surprised. It was, however, a troubling turn that the evidence against them—and the reason they were legally charged with criminal intent—was that they had received training in the use of digital security and encryption tools from the Tactical Technology Collective.  The journalists remain imprisoned, awaiting trial, as of March 2015.

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This post was originally published in Foreign Policy as Karachi’s Killers, and is part of a project funded by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.


KCR Footbridge in Nazimabad, Karachi, Pakistan, 2014.

On Sunday, June 8, militants brazenly attacked Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, and managed to control it for several hours. By the time the Pakistani military was able to end the battle, at least 38 people, including the attackers, had been killed.

While the attack has done little material damage to the port city, it inflicted a serious moral wound. It exposed the weakness of Pakistan’s security and revealed the ease with which armed men can brutally disrupt the lives of the country’s citizens — not that Karachi’s residents need to be reminded that the state’s hold on the safety of their streets and homes is extremely tenuous. They have endured this kind of dramatic political violence for years — from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on the city’s streets in 2007 to the bombing of a Shia religious march in 2009 to the 2011 attack on the Mehran naval base outside of Islamabad.

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Summary: a joint post with Tim Davies reflecting on our learning from a recent Berkman Center Network Stories hack-day

There are hundreds of different digital tools for building online stories, and myriad ways to use them. Building stories online often requires creating alternative production and distribution paths for stories, in the context of networked, online communities.

The choice of tools affects the way a story is told and experienced. When starting a new project it can be challenging to work out which tools to use, how to use them and whether they work together.

Over the last few months the Network Stories group at the Berkman Center has been exploring different approaches to storytelling in digital media. This Saturday around 20 of us got together at the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media for a full day, hands-on exploration of different digital storytelling approaches. We were a diverse group: coders, journalists, data scientists, theorists, filmmakers, scholars and artists.

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In June 2013, two sisters in the Chilas Vally in northern Pakistan were murdered by their step-brother, after a video of them dancing in the rain was shot on a mobile phone and circulated in their community.

The killing may have been sparked by an offended sense of honor, or possibly part of a plot to take the family’s property. While investigating the case and the trajectory of the video from creation to dissemination, my Global Voices colleague Sahar Habib Ghazi and I noticed that many of the hundreds of thousands of online videos tagged “Pakistani Dancing” are intentionally misappropriated and mislabeled images of woman dancing in private settings. These are personal videos that someone tags with terms such as “sexy” and “hot”, taking innocent images and adding a metadata layer of overt sexualization. Some of these videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

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23 October 2013

What shall we make of the flood of images and voices coursing through the Internet, and how shall we understand it? In our minds, the details of so much material overlap and overwhelm. On the Internet, we say, our attention is getting shorter, but our memory is improving. And yet, when I turn off my wifi, take off my glasses, and confront the flicker and hum of images in my own degraded memory, I know that the Internet’s recall will be as partial as my own. But, it seems to me, it will fail differently.

Human memories have half-lives. I remember seeing a video some years ago of two Russian football mobs clashing on a bridge. Red shirts versus blue, vicious kicks and punches, someone pushed into the water, the back-and-forth rush and blur of faces and bodies, all recorded by a shaky hand on a balcony overlooking the scene. I used to live in Russia, and I’ve been on those balconies; it could have been me standing on that slab of rotten concrete in the sky, camera in one hand, bottle of Baltika strong beer in the other.

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New Directions in Visual Storytelling is a graduate-level seminar that focuses on alternative production and distribution paths for documentary, visual storytelling, and photojournalism in the context of networked, online communities. It explores the effect of technological change on the aesthetics, production methods, distribution, and social impact of visual storytelling. I taught this class in the master’s photojournalism program at Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington D.C. in autumn 2012.

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21 February 2013

A partial list of interviews and reviews of White Road, the book and the show:

“White Road consists of a two volume set, one primarily text, the other pictures, that explores Ivan Sigal’s photographic work over a ten year period in Central Asia. The publication accompanied an exhibition of the same body of work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC in 2012 and 2013. The publication’s two volumes, beautifully produced, echo each other in text and image. The pictures function like little parts of speech, a noun here, a verb there, that collectively form a poetic interrogation of life in this part of the world. Sigal’s non-fiction text is comprised of fragments, much like his photographs, that form a kind of call-and-response to the images. Coordinated by Paul Roth, Senior Curator of Photography and Media Arts, this book and exhibition explore the role that photographic sequencing plays in the creation of narrative forms.” Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of PhotographsNew Orleans Museum of Art

Booooooom, November 17, 2014.

Interview on Too Much Information, on WFMU, July 1, 2013 playlist.

New York Times description and slideshow.

LeJournalDeLaPhotographie review and slideshow of the book.

The Guardian’s audio slideshow.

BBC News review and slideshow of the book.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interview and slideshow of the book. review and slideshow of the book.

Washington Post Express review of the exhibit.

Washington Diplomat review of the Corcoran Gallery exhibit.

Washington City Paper review of the Corcoran Gallery exhibit.

Corcoran Gallery of Art exhibit description and press release.

29 December 2012

Copies of White Road are now available from Steidl and the Corcoran Gallery bookshop. I have a limited number as well. If you are interested in a signed copy, get in touch. It is also available at online booksellers such as Amazon, but is backordered at many.

The book is two volumes, contained in a sturdy paper box. A book of photos and a book of writing.


Book 1: 368 pages with 225 tritone photographs
10 x 7.3 in. / 25.5 x 18.5 cm
Book 2: 104 pages text
7.3 x 10 in. / 18.5 x 25.5 cm
Two books housed in a box

30 October 2012

An exhibition of White Road opens at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. on November 3, 2012.

A brief description of the exhibit:

From 1998 through 2005, American photographer Ivan Sigal traveled through Central Asia, using his camera to record the unsettled lives of Eurasians in provincial towns and cities. Through nearly 100 photographs and accompanying text, White Road addresses an elusive question: What was left behind when the Soviet Union’s ideological superstructure was dismantled, eliminating the imposed meaning on people’s lives? Sigal’s first solo museum exhibition reveals a diverse population adapting in extraordinary times. The term “white road” means “safe journey” in Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek. These words are imprinted on road signs at the edges of Central Asian towns, wishing travelers well as they enter the vast and empty space.




Support for Ivan Sigal: White Road is generously provided by the Family Alliance Foundation.


Printing at Steidl for the forthcoming book, White Road, available in November 2012.