A Pharaonic abode for exile poets

Updated - December 16, 2016 07:32 am IST

Published - December 16, 2016 07:17 am IST - Kochi:

Slovenian artist Ales Steger at his installation 'The Pyramid of Exiled Poets' in Aspinwall House, Fort Kochi.

Slovenian artist Ales Steger at his installation 'The Pyramid of Exiled Poets' in Aspinwall House, Fort Kochi.

“I’m a name without a surname,” wrote Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish some three decades ago, voicing his grief over the millions of people who lived in exile.

Ales Steger, Solvenian poet and translator, pays tribute to poets like Darwish “who are cast out of their homelands and have had their histories erased” by way of a ritualistic performance through his art installation, ‘The Pyramid of Exile Poets’ at Aspinwall House as part of the Kochi Muziris Biennale-2016.

The pyramid defines the landscape at the lawn of Aspinwall House, catching your eye the moment you enter the campus. And there is Mr. Steger inviting you to do a “fire walk with me”, in the guise of a guided tour, reminding you of David Lynch’s much-hated masterpiece.

After a quick briefing on the life of exile or disappeared poets outside the pyramid covered with cowdung cakes, Mr. Steger slips into your hand a pamphlet containing verses of various exiled poets and asks you to crush it on entry to the pyramid.

“This is an archaeological site that references the Khufu pyramid in Giza, Egypt. This pyramid is a tomb for poets who have been exiled from republics and nations for centuries. This is their final residence. So, repeat after me: ‘Fire walk with me, far from home, I’m going to set you free’,” he says, as you follow him into a dark labyrinth.

Inside, you are spooked by rasping voices of poets -- living and dead -- moan, sigh and recite their verses. These are the vocal remains and testimonies of Ovid, Dante Alighieri, Bertolt Brecht, Czesław Miłosz, Mahmoud Darwish, Yang Lian, Joseph Brodsky, Ivan Blatný and César Vallejo.

‘Darkness a metaphor’

Auteur Shaji N. Karun, one of the visitors to be part of the tour, said: “The darkness is interestingly conceived. It is clearly a metaphor for the condition of being in exile as the voices and spirits of the past ask you to go back, but you must push forward.”

As you emerge from the pyramid at the other end, Mr. Steger asks you to burn the crumpled pamphlet in a bonfire, in a ritualistic exorcism to set free the spirit of these poets. “This is both my monument to the histories kept hidden from us and an overturning of the status quo that builds memorials to tyrants,” says the artist.

This iconoclasm is built into the structure. Where the tombs of Pharaohs were embellished with riches, Mr. Steger’s pyramid is built using wood, matting, mud and dung.

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