Pakistani artist Bani Abidi on fantasy of heroes, nations, war – picture feast



Artist Bani Abidi takes aim at the historical narratives and cultural memories of South Asia.

Running from 5 December 2012 to 5 January 2013 at Experimenter in Kolkata, India, an exhibition called “Then It Was Moulded Anew” brings together three recent projects by Pakistani-born photographer and video artist Bani Abidi. Exhibited for the first time in India, the work is a reflection on how memory, delusion and power can collide in artistic production.

Bani Abidi, image from 'Proposal for a Man in the Sea', 2012, photographic installation, suite of 26 works. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Power and authority

Through the works on show in “Then It Was Moulded Anew“, Bani Abidi exposes what she sees as the self-conscious construction of historical narrative that underpins contemporary South Asian politics. The three projects contained in the exhibition examine the relationship between power and cultural production, showing how the deliberate manipulation of political commemoration and historical depictions can influence the fragile fabric of social life.

According to the exhibition press release (PDF download),

Power, which manifests itself at all levels of human society, is mostly insidious, frequently ridiculous, sometimes overt, largely pompous and rarely, intelligent. Bani Abidi’s work in the past few years has been inspired by the conceptual and visual vocabulary of authority and power. Having lived in a country where the forces of class, caste and feudalism define most social relations, Abidi’s works reflect these complexities through a sense of poignant satire.

The fictional video work Death at a 30 Degree Angle is set in the New Delhi studio of real-life monumental sculptor Ram Sutar, an artist who is known for his portraiture works of Indian politicians and national heroes. The video questions the idea of monumental sculpture, how the authoritarian desire to monumentalise oneself may ultimately give way to public ridicule and scorn when viewed through the critical lens of history.

Bani Abidi, still from 'Death at a 30 Degree Angle', 2012, double channel video installation. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi, still from 'Death at a 30 Degree Angle', 2012, double channel video installation. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi, still from 'Death at a 30 Degree Angle', 2012, double channel video installation. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi, still from 'Death at a 30 Degree Angle', 2012, double channel video installation. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Life of Ram Sutar

Abidi’s photographic installation project Proposal for a Man in the Sea was inspired by the life of Ram Sutar himself. Now in his eighties, Sutar comes from a generation of South Asians who witnessed firsthand the independence and initial development of their home nations. Abidi’s conversations with the artist led her to understand the particular ideas of nationalism and utopianism unique to this generation, as well as the struggle to keep these ideas alive. The project draws on photos of Sutar’s studio and primary documents that span South Asia’s modern history.

Bani Abidi, installation view of 'Proposal for a Man in the Sea', 2012, photographic installation, suite of 26 works. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi, image from 'Proposal for a Man in the Sea', 2012, photographic installation, suite of 26 works. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi, image from 'Proposal for a Man in the Sea', 2012, photographic installation, suite of 26 works. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Miniature warfare

For the final work in the exhibition, A Table Wide Country, Abidi took on a very peculiar subject, toy soldiers. She was fascinated by how miniatures and other civilian objects become proxies for real conflict and the memory of war. Seemingly trivial items like children’s toys reflect a nation’s ideas of its history, seamlessly integrated into larger narratives of military triumph or even therapeutic expressions of real trauma.

Bani Abidi, 'A Table Wide Country', 2012, C-­prints mounted on Alu-­Dibond. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi, ‘1/35 Scale’ from 'A Table Wide Country', 2012, C-­prints mounted on Alu-­Dibond 16 in x 12 in each, Suite of 24 works. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi, component image of ‘1/35 Scale’ from 'A Table Wide Country', 2012, C-­prints mounted on Alu-­Dibond 16in x 12 in each, Suite of 24 works. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi, component image of ‘1/35 Scale’ from 'A Table Wide Country', 2012, C-­prints mounted on Alu-­Dibond 16in x 12 in each, Suite of 24 works. Image courtesy Experimenter.

More on Bani Abidi

Video artist and photographer Bani Abidi was born in Karachi, Pakistan and now splits her time between her home city and New Delhi. A graduate of the National College of Arts, Lahore and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Abidi’s work examines contemporary politics and culture, often through an absurdist lens. She was the artist-in-residence at Berlin’s DAAD Artists’ Residence from 2011 to 2012 and has participated in a number of international exhibitions including the Singapore Biennale in 2006, the 7th Gwangju Biennale in 2008 and Documenta 13 in 2012.

PR/KN/HH

Related Topics: Pakistani artists, photography, art and war, historical art, art in Kolkata

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