British artists talk of diaspora

Project helps visitors to learn about themselves

British artists talk  of diaspora

The project makes an attempt to search for answers to fundamental questions about changing world

Diaspora, migration, exodus, population transition are just words that hide and cover the inner abscess gnawing on the minds of communities and people dislocated from their homelands.

Though civilisations through ages came up, thrived and collapsed because of fluctuations in migratory pattern of communities, the fact also is that the last century saw the most massive tectonic shift amongst population in the history of human­kind. The last century spilling over into the 21st century has, for the first time, ignited alienation in all forms; the period has rendered individuals and communities helpless, homeless and made them “strangers in their strange lands.”

The lives of subjugated communities are fast vanishing and so are the landscapes and collective memories that moulded and shaped the psyche of a region. Great Britain, in earlier centuries, saw people moving out to far-off lands and across the seas; but mid-twentieth century saw a migratory pattern in reverse. People from the colonies which it ruled once moved in shoal towards its own islands.

The rolling landscapes British country-side that inspired poets like A Housman, Wilfrid Owen (in pre-World War days) or Rupert Brooke (Georgian Poet), are fast disappearing into oblivion; concrete high-rises have gobbled up spaces while bewildered dislocated people watch helplessly their past being effaced in a world where there is no lever to fulcrum one’s life.

Possibly this maybe one of the reason that in the United Kingdom, artists with their heightened sense of empathy and deeper insight into the unconscious rumblings that flicker and glint in the despairing eyes of natives and migrants alike, are obsessed with the multi-layered issue of psycho-geography.

Tackling the complex issue aesthetically through multi-medium art forms, British Council has put up a project for 2013 called “Homelands.” The progra­mme includes exhibition of works of 28 British artists in four major metros--New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore where it would be held for one month starting July.

Keeping up the theme of alienation and socio-psychological turmoil of people who find their ethnic memories and past being erased, the exhibition of works has not been put up in an art gallery but has been put up in 140-year old museum—Dr Bahu Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum.

The reason is not far to see, the museum established in 1872 as Victoria and Albert Museum, Bombay, showcasing city’s history through dioramas, maps, lithographs and photographs, it also has artefact’s from 19th century silently conversing and describing through craftsmanship life-styles of various communities that inhabited the island city which itself was made up of migrants.

In a statement, British Council India Director Rob Lynes expressed that through Homelands an attempt is being made to search for answers to fundamental questions about a world that is changing. “ Homelands demonstrates that art can help us learn about the world around us; but also, that it can help us learn about ourselves,” Lynes emphasised.

Curating this formidable display of epiphanies of light on the tired skin of canvases, bromide papers that are breathing and sweating in cold rectangles questioning and delving into the bone dry blanketed silences of fractured narratives of people, must have been an extremely difficult task.

However, curator Latika Gupta, without falling into the trap of morbidity, has tackled the subject delicately showcasing works spanning and covering emotions and expressions ranging from the cultural hegemony that leads to the death of cultures to melancholic nostalgia to joy tinged memories that light up the face.

Raymond Moore is one such work that plays evocatively with grey skies over sensual black and white rolling lands with unseen spirits haunting through weak sun rays spearing the gloom. Moore’s landscapes are from the border towns like Kilkenny in Scotland and Fletchertown and Fimby in Cumbria.

George Shaw is another artist whose works “Scenes of Passion” revolve around the theme of the vanishing world. His paintings evoke a life as lived in houses described in British novels of 30s, 40s and 50s. The works harp on a world which is now buried deep in memories and is no more there; but a world which shaped a thinking, a perspective and chalked out arcane pathways to the luminous goddess that danced out universes in sheer ecstasy and melancholy when winds sighed through windows.

Similar nostalgia of a British life-style of past is evoked by Martin Parr whose images and characters seem to jump out from the novels of Ronald Firbank or Agatha Christie. But if the melancholy for a past life-style rankles the minds of a native, Tim Hetherington speaks of a different alienation; he talks of the internal diaspora and the energy that pulsates among the people dislocated challenging the implosive circumstances.

His photographs document the West African history and the disappearing Creole architecture which despite borrowing from Western schools continued with the indigenous forms.

But what comes out stark in his work is the indomitable spirit of man to live; most of the photographs have red skies and rain-mist veiling mountains, hills, foliage and skeletal houses with cemented skin spattered with texture of helplessness.
The people living in the muck-filled paths with a shying skein of sunlight, do not have empty eyes even though their house doors seem to have mess of wounds etched on them. A photograph of a staircase snaking sleepily towards a room hidden in chiaroscuro crackles softly with libidinal charges showing that dislocated or not life has to be lived.

Works of Angus Boulton, Anthony Haughey, Anthony Lam, Suki Dhanda, David Hockney Paul Graham all speak of the spaces rumbling with quies­cent loneliness and forlorn cries of people who have become “strangers in a strange lanes,” where the storm of changes sweep away everything that comes in its way.

However, while most works spoke of living memories of past, Susan Hiller's what she calls “investigations into the unconscious of culture,” talks of the death of culture through cultural hegemony.

In a dark room, her work plays sound recordings of 25 extinct or endangered languages retrieved from anthropological archives. A phrase of each from the dying dialects is etched out as an oscilloscope diagram as the listener hears of a language in the throes of strangulation.

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