Many voices, one message

Many voices, one message

Art exhibition

The video, ‘Close the Concentration Camps’ opens on a man: Eyes lowered, face stoic. There isn’t any activity in the white-walled room until two hands wearing surgical gloves reach out towards his face. Armed with a needle, the hands slowly start sewing his lips.

The needle then pierces through his eyebrows, creating a web of cross-stitches across his face. Blood spurts out from multiples points, smearing his face. Throughout this agonising process, the man stays motionless and, surprisingly, calm. And once those hands finish the task they have been assigned, he imprints the word ‘alien’ on his thigh, using a hot iron rod.

This video, a live performing act by Australian artist Mike Parr’s in June 2002 at Monash University Museum of Art in Melbourne, introduces viewers to “Getting Across”, an exhibition based on the premise that borders are man-made, and focuses on highlighting the repercussions civil war has on human lives — drawing references from the current issue of “refugee crisis” in Europe, at Bikaner House.

This act by Parr, known for his acts of artistic self-mutilation, recognises the trauma experienced by illegal migrants held in detention centres across Australia. This video is followed by a powerful monochromatic photograph in which a young, dishevelled girl is staring at a mutilated body of a man lying on the road and is a painful reminder of the brutality that people witnessed during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. This frame is taken from the book A Brutal Birth by Kishor Parekh.

It is Halil Altindere’s video ‘Homeland’ which captures the essence of this exhibition, and also puts spotlight on the inner conflict of refugees, whose entry into a safer country is only the beginning of a fresh struggle. Shot in Turkey and Germany, the video narrates the experience of forced migration. The contradictions that define refugee status are voiced by Mohammad Abu Hajar, a rapper from Syria who is now based in Berlin.

The video opens on wrecked Syrian city and people running for their lives and dodging bullets to cross border to reach a ‘safer haven’, not realising the difficulties that await them at the destination. As feisty Hajar raps in Arabic, subtitles come to rescue and help comprehend its essence. His lyrics stress on words like ‘integration’, ‘homeland’, ‘distant dreams’, and one verse, particularly, sums up everything. “I have nothing but dignity… I look for a job and you tell me I am a Syrian”.

These are the recurring themes of this exhibition, which is organised by Goethe-Institut. It is the brainchild of Leonhard Emmerling and Kanika Kuthiala, who started working on this project about a year ago because they felt that “this was an important issue around which questions needed to be raised.”

“Borders can be seen in many different ways; geographical, political, of the body, between genders and so on. There are so many artists working on these issues through various lenses, that it was very difficult for us to coalesce our idea. We needed to define our focus and bring together works that best represented the core intention,” says Emmerling, director programmes South Asia, Goethe-Institut.

Hence the two chose works that would address several issues related to this subject from two ends of a spectrum. “On the one hand the exhibition includes works by Parr and Kishor which are raw documentaries and illicit a visceral reaction. At the other end, we included works like Javier Téllez’s ‘One Flew over the Void’ and Bani Abidi’s ‘Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star Spangled Banner’ which address serious issues through a farcical lens,” says Kuthiala, programme coordinator, Goethe-Institut.

They say that the biggest challenge for them was to create a “coherent meaning of the works without diluting our vision”.

The exhibition also includes works by artists like Shilpa Gupta, Naman Ahuja, Zarina, Lin Yilin, Sumit Dayal and Raqs Media Collective.

According to them, exhibition does not specifically address the stand taken by any particular nation, but is rather about the delineation of man-made boundaries and its political implications and ramifications.

“How different cultures deal with these circumstances and the response of the native and migrant populations towards these situations is what we have tried to showcase,” says Emmerling.

Getting Across can be viewed at Bikaner House, India International Centre and Vadehra Art Gallery till September 15.

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