Friday, November 27, 2009

South Asian Artists

Contemporary South Asian artists raise questions about the world we live in through an unusual exhibition
It’s funny how the Indian media’s fetishistic coverage of the Mumbai attacks almost annuls the everyday South Asian experience. It’s as if in comparison to a day of terror in Mumbai our continuous struggle to negotiate the hostile world around us is rendered insignificant. However, the truth is that today every South Asian is forced to “retreat behind security layers” (as documented in Pakistani new media artist, Bani Abidi’s work, Intercommunication Devices). We are driven by an obsessive need to control and screen so as to “protect ourselves from what we allow to infiltrate into our secure space” (as suggested in Shilpa Gupta’s works Confiscated Objects and Memory) and he or she is very likely to be caught between a crossfire of ideologies (as is evident in Bangladeshi writer/artist, Naeem Mohaiemem’s works).

In a way, Freedom is Notional (an exhibition of the works of the aforementioned artists on at the Experimenter art gallery) brings our South Asian identity into perspective. It reassures us that battered as we are by the politics of our own private worlds; we aren’t isolated in our suffering. It tells us (through a beautifully put-together video installation) that a traffic jam in the arterial VIP road to make way for a VIP motorcade is not very different from the sight Karachi traffic caught in a loop.

For, Bani Abidi seems to be intensely aware of the India-Pakistani commonalities and disparities. The video tells us that like most Indian cities, Karachi too can be brought to a standstill to welcome an important foreign dignitary. The need to bend-backwards to please outsiders probably stems from a shared Colonial past. But Abidi’s other work, Intercommunication Devices (drawings that look at the intercoms of residential enclaves of Karachi), suggests a world more sinister than the relatively less paranoid urban India.

Indian artist, Shilpa Gupta’s Confiscated Objects looks is a work developed out of found objects confiscated by airport security in Mumbai. The X-Ray like images are of everyday objects like tools and bottles and pens which assume sinister proportions when viewed without context. They are meant to ‘reflect upon the need for protect ourselves from things that infiltrate into our secure space’. Meanwhile, Memory is a takeaway installation. It’s a pile of paper with the word ‘memory’ cut out in the middle, and as we walk away with a piece of paper we leave behind cut out edges. The artist claims that it suggests that memories of undivided land are similarly left behind when borders are carved out or erected.Bangladeshi artist, Naeem Mohaiemem’s work can be best described as an interdisciplinary exploration of ‘failed revolutions’. In the photography series, Live True Life or Die Trying, he takes us to two parallel rallies in Dhaka organized on the same day—a leftist rally at a university campus which is aligned with his own ideologies and another one organized by an Islamist group where he is not a neutral documenter. The photographs which capture moments from both these rallies are accompanied with texts which establish Mohaiemem’s presence with pointed authority. The artist’s voice is self-interrogative and perceptive. While talking about the Islamist rally, he is quick to point out that the Islamists can no longer be “lazily lampooned”. He confesses that now their rhetoric has a “sharp edge and reality tint”. His other work, Nayak the Lost Hero of History is a video of the leftist rally with the music of Bangladeshi rock band, Leela in the background. The artist claims that it is a “dirge for a history of stolen opportunities”, but it sure makes for a darn good video too.
The exhibition is on at experimenter gallery till January 10.


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