United on canvas

Shilpa Gupta and Rashid Rana   | Photo Credit: 25dmc venice2

When it was announced it sounded like a coup of the sorts. One Indian and one Pakistani artist showing together at Venice Biennale! It was hailed as unprecedented for uniting the sparring nations on the art front.

Their complex history apart, the absence of pavilions of both the countries at the world’s oldest biennale, also lent significance to the development. After a really long time — India first registered participation in 1954 followed by five appearances — India finally had a pavilion curated by Ranjit Hoskote and titled ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About To Explode’, in its 54th edition held in 2011. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief for Indian art’s renewed bond with the seminal art event and prayed for it to continue.

Lalit Kala Akademi made an attempt to participate yet again at the 56 edition (which is going on right now) but necessary approvals from the Ministry of Culture didn’t come. Sudershan Shetty was slated to be the curator of the pavilion.

Where officials and ministries failed, the initiative of Feroze Gujral’s The Gujral Foundation succeeded. It conceived “My East is your West” — which brought together two major artists of India and Pakistan — Shilpa Gupta and Rashid Rana to exhibit jointly in the Palazzo Benzon, located in the centre of Venice on the Grand Canal. Presenting the region as a shared cultural cartography within the context of the Venice Biennale, Rashid Rana has created works in digital printmaking, video and installation. Shilpa’s installations, videos, photographs, drawings, text-based pieces and performance has resulted from her ongoing research into the India-Bangladesh borderlands and the world’s longest security barrier under construction between two nation-states. Mumbai-based Shilpa Gupta, who recently returned from Venice Biennale, is only too happy talking about the endeavour.

Edited excerpts from an e-mail interview:

How has the project been received in Venice?

The reception has been rather overwhelming. After the opening, we found the project in several Top 10 Venice Shows and recently Arts News Paper cited it as one of the “Three Must See shows” in Venice. It’s a collateral event and is not happening in Giardini — the main venue — but people are still making an effort to come to Palazzo Benzon. We didn’t expect this kind of response.

Are there other lenses, apart from the complex history of Indo-Pakistan relationship, through which the art works are being viewed there?

I think the project has left an impression with visitors as it extends itself beyond the expected rendering of a conflicted relationship between India and Pakistan. The commissioner of the project, Feroze did not impose any ideas allowing us to be free.

Do you think with this edition of the Biennale (Okwui Enwenzor's ‘All The World's Futures’ posing a critique to the nationalism inherent to the Venice Biennale’), the whole idea of having Pakistan and India just fitted in perfectly.

Yes, I think therefore the collateral!

Though it’s a collateral event by a private patron like Feroze Gujral, do you think it makes up for India’s official absence at the Biennale?

It’s a great project for this year and hope in the future both countries will feel encouraged to have official representations but yes the showcase is substantial representation. And the response we got was unexpected.

Where does your and Rashid's work meet and what are the points of departure? And how did you collaborate?

Both of us are interested in perception, therefore the cartography of knowledge and construction and formation of any being. We started our conversations for the project by discussing our overlapping interest over the years, however we decided to work on our own projects which will be shown alongside each other rather than having any overarching theme and allow the viewer to discover how our practice is different and also similar in surprising and subtle ways.

The title of the project is named after your work. What does the work deal with?

‘My East is your West’, is a 10 metres long outdoor light installations. Incorporating ‘light’, a very primal element associated with vision, the artwork deals with perception and ways of looking from different sites of being, be it physiological or geographical. In a world where distances and contexts can generate non homogeneous selves, the work celebrates multiplicity while also suggesting an ever present possible deception in the any permanent/singular kind of positing.

My series of works looks at how border is part of a larger zone or borderland that at once constructs and subverts the nation. While India is building what will be upon completion the world's longest separation barrier between two nation states, daily life in the borderland belie state intentions and the flow of people and goods continue, prompted by historical and social affinities, geographical continuity and economic imperative. For transnational people there are far more urgent aspirations rather than aligning their subjectivities to that of the state. The works looks at mobility to be an integral part of social lives rather than an exception and that the existence of mobile communities preceded the formation of states.

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 2:49:37 AM |

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