Kiran Nadar Museum of Art brings together video works by South Asian artists whose lens transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

The artists in the exhibition examine everyday life through ‘enactments’ via their camera lens. With the work of 15 participating artists, “Enactments and each passing day” runs from 10 September to 8 December 2016 at KNMA in Noida, India.

Shakuntala Kulkarni, 'Julus', 2016, video, four channel, sound, duration: 5 min 5 sec. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Shakuntala Kulkarni, ‘Julus’, 2016, video, four channel, sound, duration: 5 min 5 sec. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) has come up with their first exhibition “Enactments and each passing day: An exhibition of moving images” solely dedicated to the challenging and powerful medium of video art. A compilation of works by 15 contemporary artists ranging from young and dynamic practitioners like Shilpa Gupta, Rohini Devasher and Vishal Dar to senior established stalwarts like Rashid Rana, Bani Abidi, Gigi Scaria, Vivan Sundaram and Ranbir Kaleka, the exhibition showcases key video works that mark the trajectory of video as a growing medium in South Asian contemporary art. Some of the pieces are part of KNMA’s extensive video art collection, while others have been loaned by the artists for the duration of the show.

Sheba Chhachhi, 'The Water Diviner', 2008, video, Single channel, duration: 3 min. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Sheba Chhachhi, ‘The Water Diviner’, 2008, video, single channel, 3:00 min. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Curated by Roobina Karode and Akansha Rastogi, the exhibition broaches a number of important topics such as the exploration of ‘everyday and the familiar’ through performances, comparisons, commentaries and more. Themes of cross border politics and identity crises, loss of cultural memory and migration across continents are all connected in their universal relatability to the public. Each artist’s work is a conscious attempt at addressing significant issues in the form of single and double channel videos, large video sculptures and video installations.

Archana Hande, 'The Golden Feral Trail – I', 2013-2015, replica of the original, video installation: Single channel, glass, metal, red earth and Calico cloth, duration: 4 min 5 sec. Image courtesy the artist.

Archana Hande, ‘The Golden Feral Trail – I’, 2013-2015, replica of the original, video installation: single channel, glass, metal, red earth and Calico cloth, 4:05 min. Image courtesy the artist.

1. The Golden Feral Trail — Archana Hande

Mumbai-based Archana Hande’s video installation The Golden Feral Trail is the product of a six-month residency in the remote community of Laverton, West Australia. In her artwork she uses photographs, archive documents and video animation to create a narrative of the remnants of intercontinental trade and migration that took place between Australia and Asia during the 19th century. Through her video illustration of migratory routes from Laverton and Coolgardie to South Asia, she traces the landscape of cemeteries, ghost towns and mining pits that allude to deeper issues of religion, nomadism and identity politics associated with transnationalism.

With a backdrop of eerie sounds reminiscent of deserted areas, the video unfolds in a purple haze of shapes and figures, a black blob clearly identifiable as the Australian continent accompanied by silhouettes of migrants with camels walking by in a procession in the foreground.

Born in Bangalore, Hande is an artist-curator who was initially trained as a printmaker at Santiniketan and MS University, Baroda. Over the years, the artist’s oeuvre has expanded into multiple media such as installation, drawing and video and has been shown in many exhibitions both nationally and internationally.

Shakuntala Kulkarni, 'Julus', 2016, video, four channel, sound, duration: 5 min 5 sec. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Shakuntala Kulkarni, ‘Julus’, 2016, video, four channel, sound, 5:05 min. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

2. Julus — Shakuntala Kulkarni

In an intriguing artwork, Shakuntala Kulkarni deploys an army of standing, kneeling and marching figures in her video Julus that essentially represent multiple selves of the artist. The figures seem to be identical at first, but on closer inspection one notices them sporting different headgears and accessories that were sculpted by the artist using traditional cane weaving techniques. The video starts out with a couple of figures appearing in a random order across four separate channels on the screen and eventually goes on to show groups of figures marching in unison, shown from various angles and viewpoints.

Surprisingly, the accompanying sounds of the marching figures are completely unrelated to their actions. Where one expects footsteps, you can hear what seems to be clanking of metals. The repetitive and rigid nature of their actions is reflective of Kulkarni’s artistic practice, which is concerned with the plights of urban women constrained by patriarchal expectations. The act of wearing the sculptures as part of a ‘uniform’ is Kulkarni’s conscious attempt at dictating the viewer’s gaze, subsequently allowing herself the freedom and power of being looked at on her own terms.

A multidisciplinary artist currently based in Mumbai, Kulkarni was trained at the Sir JJ School of Art, MS University Baroda and Santiniketan. Despite her formal, classical training, Kulkarni moved on to a more contemporary style that combines sculpture, performance and new media.

Bani Abidi, 'Mangoes', 1999, video, Single channel, sound, duration: 3 min 25 sec. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Bani Abidi, ‘Mangoes’, 1999, video, single channel, sound, 3:25 min. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

3. Mangoes, News and Anthem — Bani Abidi

One of Pakistan’s leading video artists, Bani Abidi has lent her trilogy of videos Mangoes, The News and Anthem created between 1999-2001 for the exhibition. All three videos show Abidi role-playing as two different identities – an Indian and a Pakistani woman – engaging in some form of generic activity that eventually turns into an argument between the two.

In Mangoes, two women sitting side by side are eating mangoes together and reminiscing about their childhood. An amicable and nostalgic discussion becomes unpleasant when they start comparing the range of mangoes grown in India as compared to Pakistan. By playing both the characters, Abidi reinstates the notion of shared history and political conflicts that play on the minds of people belonging to the two countries.

Bani Abidi, 'The News', 2001, still from video. Image courtesy the artist.

Bani Abidi, ‘The News’, 2001, still from video. Image courtesy the artist.

The News (2001) is a two-channel video installation that is a satirical play on news programmes from India and Pakistan. Two women news presenters from the two countries can be seen dressed in their native attire on two separate monitor screens. They go on to present separate versions of the same news event, which is incidentally an adaptation of a common joke about an Indian and a Pakistani. The result is a double mockery of the Sanskritised Hindi jargon often used by old-fashioned news presenters in Indian television against the equally orthodox Persianised Urdu of Pakistan.

Bani Abidi works out of Karachi and Berlin. Her works address the subject of nationalism and how political and historical context defines the nature of perception between Indians and Pakistanis, often generating conflict and mistrust.

Click here to watch ‘Girl on a swing’ (2012) by Vishal K Dar on Vimeo

4. Girl on a swing — Vishal K Dar

Delhi-based Vishal K Dar is a new media artist with a background in architecture. His works combine architecture, sculpture, design and art in various innovative ways to create what he calls ‘archi-sculptures’. For the KNMA show, Dar presents the 2012 work Girl on a Swing, a video based on the idea of an image representing differing viewpoints. It is a single channel video loop of a girl on a swing suspended from India Gate. She swings freely, unaffected or unaware of a crowd of tourists that are gathered below her.

In an interview, Dar talks about creating a parallax within this image, juxtaposing an iconic heritage site associated with mourning war martyrs with an act of frivolity that subtly represents the neglect and uncaring attitude that women often face in a male dominated society. Interestingly, it also plays on the recurring Hindi cinema metaphor of a soldier being seen as the ideal martyr-bridegroom for girls.

Sheba Chhachhi, 'The Water Diviner', 2008, video, Single channel, duration: 3 min. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Sheba Chhachhi, ‘The Water Diviner’, 2008, video, single channel, 3:00 min. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

5. The Water Diviner — Sheba Chhachhi

In Sheba Chhachhi’s The Water Diviner, a mammoth elephant submerged in water floats trance-like, slowly dissolving into particles that completely disappear into the water and then gradually reform into a whole again. According to the photographer-activist, this work is about attempting to recover lost cultural memories and conserving our eco-philosophy.

The ongoing environmental crisis that our world is facing has made us forget the importance of water and its psychic and cultural associations. It is not just a commodity for our daily consumption and its importance should not be defined only by its availability or paucity. Through her video work, Chhachhi uses the mammoth elephant, an extinct animal, to symbolise memories that we have submerged, displaced or figuratively ‘put underwater’, and its re-formulation is her positive interpretation of a future where we can possibly recover what we have lost.

Rashid Rana, 'Ten Differences', 2004, video, single channel, sound, duration: 53 sec. Image courtesy the artist.

Rashid Rana, ‘Ten Differences’, 2004, video, single channel, sound, duration: 53 sec. Image courtesy the artist.

6. Ten Differences — Rashid Rana

With Abidi, Rashid Rana is also an established contemporary artist from Pakistan. Based in Lahore, Rana’s work Ten Differences (2004), shows two brothers in mid-fire, shooting at each other. The basis of this video comes from the highly contested and controversy-ridden Kashmir issue that is an integral pat of the unending conflict between India and Pakistan. The artwork portrays the saying by the arms dealer Marco in the film Underground: “No war is war until brother kills brother.”

The video is of short duration played on loop, displayed as a single frame that has been split down the middle to create two separate mirror images. The two twins/brothers played by the artist himself in a double role shows them entering the frame, pointing a gun, firing and falling back dead. One side of the mirror image was given a time lag of a few seconds to add a sense of narrative to the act.

Rana’s internationally acclaimed artistic practice involves the repeated exploration of dualities, paradoxes and hidden meanings through his large scale multimedia works. Although originally trained in miniature painting, he uses photography and collage to create massive pixelated works that have become his trademark.

Click here to watch ‘No Parallel’ (2010) by Gigi Scaria on YouTube

7. No Parallel and Against Gravity — Gigi Scaria

Delhi-based artist Gigi Scaria’s No Parallel is a two-channel video work that displays surprisingly similar photos of two men who have become the respective Father-of-their-Nations – Mahatma Gandhi and Mao Zedong. While Mao and Gandhi’s ideals in life were vastly divergent, Scaria has compiled archival images of them engaging in similar activities such as giving speeches, meeting people and leading marches.

Despite both of these iconic figures being involved in politics and revolutionary movements, one followed peaceful and non-violent methods of revolt, while the other deployed violence and cunning to become one of the most powerful autocrats in the world. However, the video shows them leading similar lives, making the viewer question their own assumptions and understanding of these two public figures. The compilation also poses as a contradiction to the title ‘no parallel’.

Scaria’s other work Against Gravity (2013) is a three-minute video on loop, circling across six panels, and follows the routine of a truck carrying a freight of salt across the adobe and umber tones of a flat, a relatively featureless landscape.

Click here to watch ‘To Dance like your dad’ (2009) bu Hetain Patel on YouTube

8. To Dance like your dad — Hetain Patel

Hetain Patel is a UK-based Indian artist, renowned for his innovative live performances and video works. The work To Dance like your dad is a two-channel video that shows Patel performing a rehearsed imitation of his father’s words, movements and gestures while giving a demonstration in a coach-building factory where he used to work. The artist uses existing footage of his father from the factory in Bolton, UK and restages it in an apartment.

The level of detailing with which the artist attempts to copy his father’s accent, mannerisms and style of speaking is extraordinary, while the cameraman too performs all the original camera movements in the original footage. At times though, the artist’s reconstructed imitation slips up and goes out of sync, but most of the performance is copied to perfection and makes us wonder whether it is a question of inheritance or performative skill.

Apparently both the films were shot in a single take and are played simultaneously in the combined video stream. Hetain’s practice of questioning roles, identities and the nitty-gritties of what is inherited and what is imitated come into play here.

Click here to watch ‘The Miniaturist’ (2015) by Paribartana Mohanty on Vimeo

9. The Miniaturist — Paribartana Mohanty

Delhi-based Paribartana Mohanty works with video, performance and painting. His film The Miniaturist is an audio-visual commentary on the similarity between a miniature painter and a physicist, and how both can see beauty in the smallest detail. It is centred on the court trial of physicist J Robert Oppenheimer who orchestrated the first ever atomic test that eventually led to the creation of nuclear weapons used in Hiroshima, the world’s most terrible catastrophe. In relation to the ‘minute’, the theme of blindness and what is invisible to the bare eyes is also addressed in the video. It also refers to the blinding light of a bomb blast that lasts for a few seconds post impact.

The first visual descriptions of the Los Alamos atomic bomb test that were taken from victims all describe the same phenomenon of total blindness like that of “a thousand suns” followed by gradual regaining of eyesight, during which time they all saw mesmerising colours of the explosion. Through a combination of photographs, texts and colour harmonies, Mohanty tells the story of the famous physicist, and how physicists are trained to pick up minute details like a miniaturist. In Oppenheimer’s case, his work on something as minute as ‘the atom’ had irreparable consequences.

Click here to watch ‘Life of a Double’ (2007) by Pratul Dash on Vimeo

10. Life of a Double — Pratul Dash

Life of a Double is an engaging and slightly unsettling work by artist Pratul Dash. He works with concepts that relate to the discovery of self, the physical body and dealing with displacement from ones place of origin. He describes the work:

I went back to my native village and performed at a site at the very edge of Hirakud Dam, which is much known to me from my childhood. Using extremely simple means, I use a strong white string from my janayu (a sacred thread worn by Hindu Brahmins) to literally string up my face. It seems playful to use the string all across the face but one begins to comprehend the almost torturous performance as my face gets contorted and disfigured in the process.

The string is symbolic of the struggles that Dash must have faced as a young artist as well as adapting to social and cultural changes from village life to metropolitan city life. The act of being restrained gradually becomes a way of conditioning the self, represented in Dash’s video by the string at first distorting the face and then releasing some slack to let the face regain its original composure.

Rohini Devasher, 'Shivering Sands', 2016, video, single channel, sound, duration: 21 min. Image courtesy the artist and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Rohini Devasher, ‘Shivering Sands’, 2016, video, single channel, sound, 21:00 min. Image courtesy the artist and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

11. Shivering Sands — Rohini Devasher

Shivering Sands is a 21-minute video artwork made by the young artist-printmaker Rohini Devasher. A large LCD screen shows a cluster of tripod-like war relics from the Second World War filmed by the artist somewhere along the coast of the river Thames in the southern part of the United Kingdom. These abandoned army posts really struck Devasher’s curiosity and are characterised by her as dystopic, nomadic and futuristic creatures that seem to possess dynamism despite the fact that they have been abandoned for decades and have lost their original functionality. At first the video shows the posts from a distance and then it takes the viewer closer. There is a sense of being transported to the space in which the video enfolds, the rhythmic sounds of water gives the entire visual journey a calm and meditative quality.

The film was conceptualised on two simultaneous narratives. firstly, it refers to the expedition that we take along with Devasher to the Shivering Sands, these dysfunctional forgotten structures that exist out of context in a vast ocean. Secondly, a narrative of annotated and edited text is combined with the video. These texts written by Laura Raicovich, President and Executive Director of Queens Museum, New York, enhance Devasher’s journey of discovery and seem to resonate with the geography and phenomenology of the site itself.

Click here to watch ‘Man threading a needle’ (1998-1999) by Ranbir Kaleka on YouTube

12. Man threading a needle and Kettle — Ranbir Kaleka

63-year-old Ranbir Kaleka is one of India’s distinguished contemporary artists, currently living and working out of New Delhi. He is known for experimenting with oil painting, watercolour and mixed media on shaped wood and board, as well as digital photographs and complex video installations. His ‘painting installation’ such as this particular work was conceptualised in the latter period of his career.

Man Threading a Needle (1998-99) is an oil painting on board depicting a man concentrating heavily in the act of threading a needle. The painting, which sits on an easel is superimposed by a video of the same. While trying to thread the needle, the man occasionally gulps or blinks and one can notice the movement of his hands. He reacts to his surrounding sounds like the police siren, call of a peacock and the passing train, among others. The stationary aspect of the painting is brought alive by the video projection’s changing background and the man’s occasional movements that keep the viewer’s curiosity alive.

Kaleka submitted another more recent work called Kettle (2010), which is also a single channel video projected on a painted canvas. It traces the journey of an ordinary grey kettle from a store to various locations creating a brilliant commingling of the stationary kettle with moving images in the background from the video projection.

Vivan Sundaram, 'Black Gold', 2012, video installation, three projections, duration: 10-13 min. Image courtesy the artist and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Vivan Sundaram, ‘Black Gold’, 2012, video installation, three projections, 10:00/13:00 min. Image courtesy the artist and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

13. Black Gold — Vivan Sundaram

Black Gold is a ten-minute video installation created in 2012 by renowned contemporary artist Vivan Sundaram. The video was first exhibited as part of the 2012-13 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, and comprises numerous “discarded” local potsherds taken from the Pattanam archaeological site, reconstructed in the form of an imaginary (two thousand years old) port city – Muziris. The title comes from the artist’s usage of pepper that looks like glistening black beads shining out of the simulated architectural ruins like treasure. About his video installation Sundaram says:

The lay-out of the installation suggests an archipelago; circumambulating it in person, you experience its clustered miniaturization. The geographical allusion turns into a metaphor; the archipelago folds into a playground of infancy. When the camera traverses the site, the dense formation takes on yet another visage: ‘dead’ matter unravels fresh terrain that is in its very fragility combustive.

Sundaram uses a complex set of camera movements to showcase the city of black gold as both a site of destruction and a metaphorical stage set for a beautiful beginning, hiding under the peppercorn-covered ruins. The work is suggestive of the kind of beauty that emerges out of tragedy and ruin.

Ria Sarkar

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Related Topics: South Asian artists, memory, video, historical art, identity art, migration, museum shows, events in New Delhi

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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