India and Pakistan to collaborate at the 56th Venice Biennale

The two neighbouring countries will come together for a historic collateral exhibition at La Biennale in 2015.

Renowned contemporary artists Shilpa Gupta and Rashid Rana will collaborate in a show entitled “My East is your West” at the 56th Venice Biennale, to be held from 9 May to 22 November 2015. The exhibition is supported by the Gujral Foundation.

Shilpa Gupta, 'Threat', 2008-09, soaps, interactive Installation, 5, 9 x 2, 5 x 1, 6 in each soap. Image courtesy the artist.

Shilpa Gupta, ‘Threat’, 2008-09, soaps, interactive Installation, 5, 9 x 2, 5 x 1, 6 in each soap. Image courtesy the artist.

Feroze Gujral, Director and Founder of India’s Gujral Foundation, announced the ambitious project at the ongoing Kochi Muziris Biennale 2014. “My East is your West” will bring together two significant contemporary artists from the subcontinent, Shilpa Gupta (b. 1976, Mumbai) and Rashid Rana (b. 1968, Lahore), in a presentation to be held at Palazzo Benzon on the Grand Canal. Rana told The Art Newspaper:

I wish for the [Indian] subcontinent to be a space akin to the European Union, where individuals from neighbouring countries can have the freedom of movement and ideas. Initiatives such as this project may prove to be a journey towards the realisation of this dream, which may not come true in my lifetime, but I hope that it does in my son’s.

Challenging nation states

Collateral exhibitions at the Biennale are distinct from official national pavilions, and give artists from countries that are not represented a chance to showcase their work.

Although India and Pakistan have had a tense history since Partition in 1947, they have more than a border in common. The two countries’ shared past, heritage and culture provide ample room for the two artists to explore their “complex climate of historical relations”. According to Artlyst, the exhibition

negotiates both artists’ concerns to explore notions of location and dislocation, transnational belonging, and the impact of cultural and political conditioning in determining our relationship to geographical and national territories. […] Gupta and Rana have developed a material aesthetic that surveys the potential of one common people, separate from the state and its model.

“My East is your West” is organised by the Gujral Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded in 2008 to support contemporary art and design in the subcontinent. Natasha Ginwala is the curatorial advisor and curator of public programming for the project.

Rashid Rana, 'Red Carpet 1', 
2007
, C-print on DIASEC
, 241.3 x 317.5 cm, edition 1/5. Collection of Pallak Seth
Image. Image courtesy of Gallery Chemould and Chattertjee & Lal, Mumbai.

Rashid Rana, ‘Red Carpet 1’, 
2007
, C-print on DIASEC
, 241.3 x 317.5 cm, edition 1/5. Collection of Pallak Seth
Image. Image courtesy of Gallery Chemould and Chattertjee & Lal, Mumbai.

India and Pakistan at the Venice Biennale

Both India and Pakistan have not enjoyed a prominent presence in Venice despite the Biennale’s long history and the countries’ vibrant art scenes, apparently due to a lack of government support and enthusiasm in promoting their artists internationally.

India’s first official participation in Venice was at the Biennale’s 54th edition in 2011. Prior to that, India’s exhibitions at the Biennale were mediated through its Embassy in Rome. The 2011 pavilion was curated by Ranjit Hoskote and also challenged models of nation-states through the work of artists such as Zarina Hashmi, the Desire Machine Collective, Gigi Scaria and Praneet Soi. India did not return with a pavilion in 2013.

Pakistan’s representation has been similarly scattered, with Pakistani artists presenting work in collective exhibitions such as the 2009 collateral “East-West Divan” featuring art from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

More about the artists

Shilpa Gupta studied sculpture at the Sir J.J. School of Fine Arts in Mumbai, India. She is a multidisciplinary artist, working with installation, video, sound, performance and photography to tackle myriad issues including the militarisation of everyday life, religion and identity. She lives and works in Mumbai.

Rashid Rana is a Lahore-based artist who has also worked effectively with various media, and is considered one of the most important and influential Pakistani artists of his generation. His work addresses stereotypes, cultural constructions of gender and the detritus of urban life, among other issues.

Kriti Bajaj

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Related Topics: Indian artists, Pakistani artists, biennales, events in Venice, connecting Asia to itself

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