Kassel: On view at the latest installment of dOCUMENTA is a video installation by artist Bani Abidi. The project titled ‘Death at a 30 Degree Angle’ was commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and will be on display in Kassel until September 16, 2012.
The installation is a film broken up into three separate projections being screened on planks resting against the wall. Set in India, it is a fictional account of a politician who has commissioned a statue of himself but is unable to settle on the right costume to ‘represent’ himself. Abidi’s project is inspired by the book, ‘The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat’ by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński, about the decline of the Emperor of Ethiopia – Haile Selassie. The dominant themes in this work work are those of megalomania and the obsession with posterity.
Born in Karachi, Bani Abidi went to study in Lahore and later in Chicago. Initially practicing as an installation artist, it was her time in Chicago and exposure to film that inspired her to shift to video art. In an interesting interview with the National Gallery of Victoria, Abidi talks about the significance of her cultural location in her artistic practice.
New York: Sarnath Banerjee has delved into several disciplines in his career. Although he started with an academic career in the natural sciences and biochemistry, he has now dedicated his work to the arts, specifically creating graphic novels that illustrate a variety of cultural topics. Banerjee combines words and fanciful visuals in his work to portray storytelling and artistic expression. His works cover various cultural topics and controversies such as politics, sports, literature and art. Banerjee is no stranger to the Indian political environment that he often discusses in his work. Prior to this year, Banerjee and his wife, Pakistani artist Bani Abidi were living in New Delhi. The political ramifications between India and Pakistan directly interfered with her artistic career, specifically travel restrictions. This, along with a fellowship for Abidi, motivated their move to Berlin, Germany, the scene of his most recent work, “Enchanted Geography”.
“Enchanted Geography” was directly inspired by Banerjee’s experience acclimating to this new cultural environment. The work documents the mundane and casual elements of this environment just as carefully as the exciting and colorful aspects. In doing this Banerjee hopes to push aside the inventive stereotypes that Berlin is known for. In “Enchanted Geography” he has revived a protagonist from his past works, Brighu. By utilizing this character as the vessel for exploring Berlin, Banerjee saw the city through completely new eyes. It was ripe with imaginative narrative for him to discover and explore. Many of the artist’s true experiences in Berlin are directly integrated into the story. Encounters that Banerjee had with real individuals in Berlin, including a Jewish German composer. The artist comments on his usage of equal parts imagination and life experiences: “In my works fact and fiction collide in strange ways. That can only happen in your head”.
Overall this examination of real life occurrences shows through in his strong development of unusual, yet life-like characters. His past project “Tyranny of Cataloguing” documented the trials and tribulations of an author stuck in a maze of books searching for his own work and later dying in the endless stacks of books. His most recent exhibition in London, “Gallery of Losers” examines the often overlooked mediocre, anti-hero archetype. Through his illustrations and words alike, Banerjee has the ability to transport the viewer into an undisclosed, but not unimaginable world. He balances the normal and realistic, without losing site of the artistic and engaging element of the work.
Sarnath Banerjee’s “Enchanted Geography” will unfold over six months every Sunday in The Hindu, one of India’s largest newspaper publications.
Emily Jane Cushing suggests the ‘Move on Asia’ exhibition of Asian video art from 2002 to 2012.
London: The ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany opened on February 9th their exhibition which shows the development of the video art genre and the increasing importance of Asia in contemporary art; the exhibition runs until August 4th 2013.
The increased interest in Asian arts resulted in the 2007 exhibition at the ZKM | Karlsruhe curated by Wonil Rhee entitled “Thermocline of Art. New Asian Waves”. This exhibition was hugely successful in attracting world-wide attention to the Asiatic ‘moving image’; despite being only six years prior and fifty years since the emergence of video art, the need for a follow on exhibition showing the huge development in this genre is needed.
It is noted that as an art genre video art has continually been associated with the West despite much of the technology originating in Asia. This exhibition proves that over the last couple of decades the culture of video art has gained greater independence from Western models by showing at biennale’s and art exhibitions across the world.
The vast exhibition, containing over 140 works, is made up of works from video artists originating from thirteen Asiatic countries including China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. In addition to the showing of established artists, recent works by new artists are also shown.
An interactive installation entitled “Global Fire” by the Paris-based artist Du Zhenjun may also be viewed in connection with the exhibition. “Global Fire” is a large inflatable dome in which the visitors may ignite the flags of 200 countries with lighters on heat censors. Also on show in the ZKM_PanoramaLab is the interactive video installation “40+4. Art is Not Enough! Not Enough” in which forty Shanghai based artists are interviewed about their works and asked to question their art in relation to the environment and the social impact of their artistic production. This installation resulting from the collaboration between the curator Davide Quadrio, the filmmaker Lothar Spree as well as the video artist Xiaowen Zhu is truly insightful and fascinating.
This exhibition runs until 4th August 2013; view the website for more details on this exciting exhibition.
Also, for those wishing to read more about Indian video art, I have found a really interesting article from Tehelka Magazine with Pakistani artist Bani Abidi discussing Indian Video art and it’s increased popularity here; it’s a great read!
I cannot trust quotations. They always lie, because essentially they are paratruths. Speak with your own words, clumsy, unconvincing and unintelligible, but yours. And don’t forget that every fable is a potential truth.
New York: The MAGASIN Centre National d’ Art Contemporain in Grenoble, France will be presenting a multifaceted exhibition both online and in house organized by The Ecole du MAGASIN. “I lie to them”-Based on a True Story will be presented June 9th through September 1st, 2013. This educational curatorial collective has created an exhibition that depicts the relationship between lies and truths in storytelling and the chronicling of histories. The exhibition invites artists to manipulate and distort the contrast between reality and fabrication when representing images of traumatic historical experiences such as war.
This reshaped representation creates a dialogue between viewers and the artists about what is real and what has been reimagined in this particular illustration.
The Speech Writer, Bani Abidi, 2011, Artist’s Book. Image Credit: Courtesy of the Artist and Raking Leaves
In observing these works, viewers are asked to determine if they are illuminating the truth or if they are an additional repurposing of the true history.
Works by artists such as Riikka Kuoppala and Bani Abidi, will be displayed in a variety of mediums including photography and film, utilizing actual historical news coverage reconfigured in a new way. In viewing this work, visitors are asked to determine for themselves what is true and what is a lie. This identifies a common thread in the repurposing of stories in the mainstream media.
Under a burning City, Riikka Kuoppala, 2010, 17 minutes, Short film projection (screened in loop) production still. Image Credit: Paula Lehto
The curators through this exhibition question whether to authentically understand a traumatic event we have to have actively experienced it first hand.
The exhibition covers events such as World War II, the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and terrorism in a three-pronged approach: the detachment between the emotional gravity of the event and the narration, the reoccurring thematic elements of these histories, and the importance of reassessing these stories as a learning tool.
Incidental Gestures, Agnes Geoffray, 2011. Image Credit: Courtesy of the Artist
By displaying these works artists also address the emotional aftermath of these harrowing events and how it determines the mentality of a society long after the actual event. Because The Ecole du MAGASIN has curatorial participants from various countries such as Italy, India and Russia, this exhibition truly takes a global approach to the manipulation of unofficial histories in our contemporary world.
“I Lie To Them”-Based on a True Story is sure to be a memorable and intriguing exhibition for visitors of the MAGASIN.
New York: The exhibition, No Country: Contemporary Art from South and South East Asia represents the diversity of contemporary artistic practice from the region by way of a selection of work by twenty-two cross-generational artists. “No Country” implies borderlessness and that is the very essence of this show. In recent years, we have seen American museums such as the Rubin Museum of Art and the Asia Society host surveys of art from specific regions, whether it is modern and contemporary Indian art or Pakistani art, but this is probably the first time an American museum is showcasing a collective survey of South and South East Asian art . It facilitates a new way of seeing South and South East Asian art as an important part of and within the larger international contemporary art scene.
The curator of the show, June Yap, in her introductory note stresses on the choice of title adapted from a W.B. Yeats poem, a phrase that reads “No Country for Old Men” the show’s purpose, “to propose an understanding of regions that transcends physical and political boundaries”, and its outcome, “…it confirms that South Asia’s contemporary art is multifarious and highly evocative.”
It is noteworthy that the works in the show are part of a larger body of work acquired by the museum through funds made available by the Swiss bank, UBS, the main sponsor of the MAP initiative. The museum itself is representing a strong pan-Asian focus with its Manhattan flagship currently peppered with exhibitions of artists from the region. Of a total of six shows currently on view, four center around Asia – a retrospective of Gutai, Japan’s most influential avant-garde post-war collective, a solo show of New York based artist of Indian origin, Zarina Hashmi, an installation by Danh Vo, a Vietnamese artist living in Denmark, and the No Country exhibit. More so, the museum has recently announced the inauguration of another initiative to further the discourse on contemporary Chinese art. The Guggenheim is joined by other museums in New York to focus on contemporary art from Asia, most noteworthy among which are of course the Rubin Museum and the Asia Society and more recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met has roped in noted Pakistani contemporary artist, Imran Qureshi to create a site-specific work atop its Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden (which has previously hosted works of international contemporary artists such as Tomas Saraceno). Such initiatives speak volumes about where the attention of the international art world is. Economics, of course has played a prominent role in defining this focus. But it is not limited to that. South and South East Asian Nation States have been challenging the western world’s monopoly in many disciplines, as is illustrated in the international art market in recent years.
What strikes most about the exhibition is the innovative selection of artists, more biennial regulars that art market favorites. It is a surprising selection but a very refreshing one. The twenty-two artists are from the length and breadth of the region including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. The works largely address effects of colonization and globalization on national identity. Many of these nations have similar pasts, as a result of which, all the works speak to each other in a collective way.
Among the works that stood out for me were Navin Rawanchaikul’s 2009 canvas titled “Places of Rebirth” and Bani Abidi’s“The boy who got tired of posing”. Rawanchaikul is a Thai artist whose ancestral roots are in the Hindu-Punjabi communities of present day Pakistan. He holds a Japanese permanent resident status. In this iconic canvas rendered in quintessential Bollywood hand-painted hoarding style, the artist explores his personal identity. The canvas reads “A lonesome son of Hindu Punjabi diaspora and product of cross-cultural negotiation….From remote villages of Punjab to Northern Thailand…then a return after 60 years of wonder.” In the center, one sees the artist himself, with his Japanese wife and daughter riding the Tuk Tuk (ubiquitous Thai taxi and important symbol of the country’s tourism). The vehicle bears all three flags of the artist’s identity- India, Pakistan and Thailand. The Tuk-Tuk driver wears a cap “anywhere, anynavin” evocative of the impact of migration, colonization on individuals alike. This is a documentation of the artist’s first trip to Pakistan since his family moved out. The panoramic canvas is a humorous cinematic tale infused with symbolism from the history of India and Pakistan and the relationship of the two nations. You thus see pictorial anecdotes such as Khushwant’s Singh famous book on the partition of India, “Train to Pakistan”, a guard from the “lowering of the flags ceremony” at Wagah border, Pakistani truck art etc. At the center of most Rawanchaikul’s works is the notion of collaboration which we see here as well in the form of credits in the lower half of the canvas. The title points to the artist’s attempt to reconstruct the place where he is now as a site of rebirth.
Bani Abidi’s “The boy who got tired of posing” is a three – part photo and video installation centered around an eighth century Arab war hero, Mohammad Bin Qasim, credited to be the first colonial founder of Pakistan owing to his victorious invasion of Sind in 711 CE. The video has humorous undertones. Through three imagined narratives – a series of studio photographs of a young boy posing as Bin Qasim, a video clipping of a TV drama on in Qasim’s conquest of the Sindh telecast in 1993, and present day photographs of a young man believing himself to be Bin Qasim – Abidi presents her take on the ‘Arabization’ of religious and cultural identity in Pakistan. A Pakistani artist based in Karachi and Delhi, Abidi usually deals with the political and cultural tension between India and Pakistan in her work. In an interview with Nafas Art Magazine, Abidi explains, “by presenting exaggerated scenarios of a nation that takes refuge in a selected glorious past, I hope to engage viewers in questions about the need or the extent to which we limit our identities.”
Other interesting works included Bangladeshi artist, Tayeba Begum Lipi’s Love Bed, a stainless steel structure composed of razor blades and paper clips, exhibited last at the 2012 Dhaka Art Summit; Shilpa Gupta’s 1:14:9, a sculptural piece documenting the numerical data about the fenced border between India and Pakistan; and Filipino artist, Norberto Rolden’s diptych canvas showing an F-16 fighter jet flying over Afghanistan on one side, and a quote by former US president, William McKinley on the other. The work is a commentary on the politics around the colonization of Philippines. Another notable inclusion is a group of three contemporary miniature paintings by Pakistani artist, Khadim Ali.
Complimenting the exhibition is a series of 5 videos/films which are on view on all days except Friday when the New Media Theatre plays host to a special educational film program. I missed this but will definitely go back for these works. Holland Cotter’s review in The New York Times also lists Amar Kanwar’s work as worth seeking out.
All the works in the show are juxtaposed with interpretative captions for the global audience which sometimes leave you asking for more, especially in the context of specific regional references, unknown to an American audience. The exhibition is scheduled to travel to Singapore and the Asia Society in Hong Kong wherein the Guggenheim team will collaborate with curators at these venues to adapt the display to the audiences there. It will be interesting to see how and whether the interpretive materials are transformed for the Asian venues, where the audience is most likely to be more familiar with the histories and references than their American counterparts.
The overall reception of the exhibit is best summarized in this reaction from an American woman viewing the show: “Thank God! No Al Qaeda!” The exhibition, though small, has moved beyond the cliches that have shadowed the region.