6 South Asian artists share politicised art practices in “Dissensus” at Latitude 28 in New Delhi.
Entitled “Dissensus”, the group exhibition is on display at Bikaner House until 16 July 2017. Art Radar takes a look at the artists in the exhibition.
The exhibition at Latitude 28 in New Delhi seeks to approach the current political map the South Asian region, with a focus on the ongoing conflicts in Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran and Kashmir, through the lens of six emerging artist’s work. “Dissensus” explores the work of six South Asian artists – Hit Man Gurung, Khadim Ali, Neda Tavallaee, Priyanka D’Souza, Veer Munshi and Waseem Ahmed – highlighting innovative new modes of thinking about the role of aesthetic practices in forming the politics of the region.
As the press release states,
These intimate testimonies and observations employ the aesthetic to develop a micro-poetics of the stakes borne by civilians whose concerns are overlooked in media-narratives driven by political figureheads, capital and diplomatic ties. It is not coincidental that several artists find a language in the subtlety of the miniature tradition to voice their politics. Scale and detail evoke the marginal locations of their themes, and the multitude that is united in these narratives.
Several artists in the exhibition, including, Priyanka D’Souza, Waseem Ahmed, Neda Tavallaee and Khadim Ali, are trained in the miniature painting tradition, recuperating the ancient art form and diverting it as a vehicle for communication towards current events.
Art Radar takes a look at the six artists in the show.
1. Neda Tavallaee
Iranian-born Neda Tavallaee’s (b. 1973, Tehran, Iran) work is very much informed by her experiences of living between Iran and the United Kingdom after her family fled the 1979 revolution. Since graduating from the University of Fine Arts in Tehran, her work has focused on exploring dominant representations of women in current media depictions, often comparing current pop culture tropes with representation of women in regional myth and ancient culture. Her painting, sculpture and textile work is often made, as expressed in a 2012 artist statement, “as a tribute to the everyday life of every Iranian woman.” Speaking in a press statement about the current body of work, entitled About Havva (2017), Tavallaee says:
Behind this body of work is the lack of heroes in our society. Coming from an ancient culture abundant with stories of such men, it is ironic that in this day and age we have none of the kind. The work was inspired by some arrests that took place a while back in Iran that were to my knowledge unjust. I decided to use pages of the Shahnameh, a book abundant with tales of heroism and patriots as the background in contrast with the image of the damsel in distress, symbolic of Hawa (Eve in Islam) who has to solve all her problems by herself and seek for justice alone.
2. Hit Man Gurung
Nepalese artist Hit Man Gurung (b. 1986, Lamjung district, Nepal) works across painting and public intervention to develop works that address the effects of war on civil society, focusing particularly on the working conditions of Nepalese migrant workers in diverse countries across Asia. His work can be seen as a visual archive of experience that seeks to bear witness to and contest the poor labour conditions so dangerous to the lives of Nepalese workers migrating elsewhere, a phenomenon that has increased significantly since the civil war in Nepal.
Speaking about the work in the exhibition, the artist stated about We are in war without enemies (2016):
The Government of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal raised $4.1 billion in relief and rebuilding funds. It has been more than a year since the earthquake and still thousands of families are living in poor conditions and temporary shelters. The process of reconstruction and resettlement by the government has been slow and leisurely. Additionally, the climatic condition has worsened the situation. Hundreds of people have died in the cold, floods and landslides as they lack a safe place to stay. We are in war without enemies […]. I is from the series ‘This is My Home, My Land and My Country…’, dedicated to the earthquake survivors who lost their home and beloved ones in 2015.
3. Khadim Ali
Khadim Ali (b. 1978, Quetta Pakistan) is perhaps the most widely shown artist in the exhibition, having exhibited work at Documenta 13 and completed artistic residencies at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (2006) and Arts Initiative Tokyo (2007). Born in Pakistan as an Afghan refugee, Khadim Ali spent his early years escaping persecution as a Hazara minority. In Tehran he completed studies in calligraphy and mural painting and went on to study traditional miniature painting, before finding contemporary art contexts to develop the aesthetic and political critique that his current work forwards.
The works presented in the exhibition depart from research into the Shahnameh, or the Persian ‘Book of Kings’ – an epic poem composed between 977 and 1010 by the court poet Firdausi. It records the mythical history of Persia preceding the 7th-century Islamic conquest. Speaking about the work Forlorn Foe on display in the current exhibition, Khadim Ali states:
The pluralistic aspect of Shahnameh holds a psychological appeal for me, and it may for other Hazaras. Since Ferdowsi was a defeated poet from a dying era, Shahnameh, one could argue, is more of a story of failure, than a saga of heroic enterprise. Almost all of the characters in Shahnameh have a defeating fate, including the hero Rustam. Hence, if we consider Shahnameh to be tales of killings in a future past, it becomes aligned with the contemporary geopolitics. The Islamic world today, just as the Persian world, is drowning in the Killing(s) of future. A brutal past is destroying the heart of the present.
4. Priyanka D’Souza
Priyanka D’Souza (b. 1995, Mumbai, India) is a young MSU Baroda trained artist. She uses Mogul miniature painting in her work, which explores contemporary political crisis of representation across the global media. In a press statement about the series included in the exhibition, the artist states:
This body of work was my response to Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee’s poem, No Urdu In Dilli, Mian which uses rather delicately, the imagery of the wall to encapsulate a very political statement, its language in keeping with the lyricism of Persian and Urdu poetry. I’ve tried to understand ‘the writing on the wall’ (a phrase taken from the Judaic narrative of Daniel common to Islam) as scripture, drawing from the rich bibliophilic tradition in Islam.
Script, therefore, as a signifier of a community and its engagement with the political was of interest to me. Visually, the nuances of the Nastaliq script and quiet sensibilities of surface textures and qualities, appealed to me. As the body developed, the wall took on even more connotations as a metaphor of separation, with recent political events like Donald Trump’s wall and his Muslim ban, contextualizing the work in a manner differently yet not opposed to the original intent.
5. Veer Munshi
Violence, terror and fear has been a constant in Kashmir since the late 1980s when nearly the entire Kashmiri Hindu population were displaced from the Kashmir valley. Veer Munshi (b. Srinagar, Kashmir, India) works from his position as a ‘refugee’ from Kashmir and dedicates his practice to mapping the private and collective anger and pain of displacement, using art to recuperate and enter into dialogue with Kashmiri heritage. Veer Munshi’s decades-long painting and video practice serves as a document of the psychological and social effects of the ongoing conflicts in Kashmir and India.
Speaking about the series Relics From Lost Paradise (2017), the artist states:
Relics from Lost Paradise is an expression of the situation in Kashmir, which happens to be my homeland. I perceive my position in this war-like situation as an outsider-insider, where the personal becomes political to condemn the human loss be it soldier or civilian. It made me often think, why war? Followed by the questions: ‘What is war?’ ‘What causes war?’ ‘What is the relationship between human nature and war?’ ‘Can war ever be morally justifiable?’ The answers lead to more specific ethical and political questions.
The philosophy of war is complex. The subject matter lends itself to metaphysical and epistemological considerations, to the philosophy of mind and of human nature. The bones in the casket here belong to both victims and victimizers for reasons indifferent to their ideologies. They are decorated in papier mache by Kashmiri craftsmen as a tribute if declared a martyr, or for peace or to retain their rich heritage of craft and belonging.
6. Waseem Ahmed
Like other artists in the exhibition, Waseem Ahmed (b. 1976, Hyderabad, Pakistan) is a distinguished miniaturist painter, trained at the National College of Arts Lahore in Pakistan. He is known for mixing visual references to ancient myth and popular culture tropes. His use and deconstruction of the Mughal tradition allows him to use traditional aesthetic means to exercise jarring cultural commentary and critique.
Speaking about his untitled work in the exhibition, the artist states:
My work is based on current social and political issues and the incidents in my surroundings where religion is the base of every conflict. I depict these harsh realities using images from the past to show how only names have changed and stories of war and conflicts remain the same.
My inspiration mostly comes from common people I interact with on a daily basis such as shopkeepers, milkmen, electricians, and the imam of the mosque near my house where I pray and their views regarding society and politics. I observe how these people change with changing (social, religious and political) times and create a common ground between their opinions and the ideas of intellectuals.
- “A Tale of Two Cities”: Indian & Sri Lankan artists at Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts – March 2017 – region’s top contemporary artists hold “dynamic dialogue” with region’s top two religious centres
- Indian Art Fair 2017: a gathering place for South Asian art – round-up – February 2017 – attraction of new and young collectors adds excitement to fair’s ninth edition
- 10 highlights from Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography 2017, Dhaka – February 2017 – festival’s ninth edition brings together 27 artists from 16 countries and 10 commissioned local photographers
- Tumbling towards the mainstream in Kathmandu: interview with artist Kurchi Dasgupta – December 2014 – diaspora artist explores creative freedom outside of homeland
- 10 female artists in Nepal to know now – August 2014 – collision of cultures, dialects and religions leads to rich narrative for contemporary artists
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