Other States

Caught between two countries

An exhibition of works, titled “The Speaking Wall”, by artist Shilpa Gupta is on Vadehra Art Gallery in Defence Colony till February 22. The artist will organise a walkthrough on Friday at 5 p.m.— Photo: Special Arrangement

An exhibition of works, titled “The Speaking Wall”, by artist Shilpa Gupta is on Vadehra Art Gallery in Defence Colony till February 22. The artist will organise a walkthrough on Friday at 5 p.m.— Photo: Special Arrangement

“Step a bit closer... closer… one step back,” says the voice that is part of an interactive sound installation, “The Speaking Wall”, by artist Shilpa Gupta at her solo show here. The installation, set up in a dimly-lit room, transports the visitor to a point somewhere on the map that is vaguely the boundary of two countries. It is an immersive experience, one that highlights the artiste’s concern about the process of map-making and its complex but real impact on the lives of people.

It effectively manages to explore notions of location and belonging vis-à-vis the nation state, and looks at historical violence embedded upon the drawing of lines on a map through communities which have shared histories.

The installations use photography, sound, video, light, drawings, text, objects from the area, and even banned cough syrup as paint to investigate human condition and the informal and illicit flows of objects and people between India and Bangladesh. It provides a ground view of life in the area and explores the unstable correlation between what is presented by the State versus the actual lived experience of the populace.

Speaking to The Hindu , Shilpa says in 2010, while working on “1:14.9”, which is based on the fence between India and Pakistan, she started looking at data released by the Union Home Ministry about the fence under construction around Bangladesh. Upon completion, it was touted as the world’s longest separation barrier.

“One thing led to another and I found myself in the Bengal borderlands. The first time I went to Bangladesh, well, at least on paper, it was to a Bangladeshi enclave surrounded by India on all sides,” she says.

Describing the area, she says at the enclave or areas outside traversing the edge of the nation state, everyday life continues, subverting systems that hinder mobility and desires. While India is nearing close to the completion of the fence, daily life in the borderland belie State intentions and the flow of people and goods persist, prompted by historical and social affinities, geographical continuity and economic imperative.

On what fascinates her about the theme that she has worked extensively on, Shilpa says she has always been drawn to what lies on the edge of a construct, where definitions get stretched, overlap or trespassed. “While on the one hand we like to draw maps, create symbols, logos or even instruction manuals to define daily life and aspirations, on the other there persists a chasm between the larger construct which seeks singularity and its own fragment.”

The artworks were shown at the Dhaka Art Summit 2014 and “My East is Your West” shared exhibit mounted by The Gujral Foundation during the Venice Biennale 2015. The show is on at Vadehra Art Gallery in Defence Colony till February 22. The artist will organise a walkthrough on Friday at 5 p.m.


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Printable version | May 29, 2022 8:34:03 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/caught-between-two-countries/article8250265.ece