The specters of polymorphous waves of colonization haunt the corporeal and emotional landscape of our world today. As the colonial project continues to veer its head through neo-liberalism and sectarian politics, the scars of violence and repression get passed down family trees without space or time for healing. These intergenerational fault lines have been continually entrenched by political actors, bringing us to a point when these memories have sedimented into the stones that are being used to build the tower walls of upper-caste majoritarianism. In his new book on Brutalism, Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe examines this global move towards the hardening of identity through processes of “emptying vessels,” “drilling,” and “expelling organic matter,” writing, "the erection of the vertical in a privileged position is one of the concrete traces of brutalism, whether it is exercised on bodies or on materials.”
We are currently witnessing the "deployment of force without reserve"2 to concretize these divisions, through registers of citizenship and domicile law. It is within this ravaged terrain, between body and belonging, faith and free will, connecting India to Afghanistan, Brazil, Colombia, Albania, and Germany, that this exhibition is seeded. One of the core threads that emerge within this assemblage of feminist artists is the practice of conscious commemoration, of listening and holding space for those who have faced the greatest losses in these struggles for identity and self-determination. Near the entrance of the exhibition we encounter Aqui Thami’s presentation of the 'Gorkhaland Picture Archive’, a collection of striking images from newspaper archives recounting the often invisibilised movement of the indigenous peoples of Gorkhaland. Aqui presents here a specific history of the struggles she has seen growing up; however the techniques of oppression: curfews, communication blackouts, unlawful arrests, and land occupation have unfortunate parallels across multiple frontier regions. Opposite Aqui, embodying a quiet unassuming strength, Tehmeena Firdos’ small-scale sculptures speak loudly about the emotional uncertainties and anxieties present amongst families who live in the areas where anti-CAA protests took place not long ago. This new body of work, created in the lockdown period after the storm of protests, carries heavy residues of violence, but also important markers of direction ahead, such as Dr. Ambedkar’s emblematic pointing finger (a reflection of which we also see in Rupali Patil’s mixed media collage) coming together in the word ‘sabr' (patience) painted on one of the sculptures. Baaraan Ijlal, through her Change Room project, holds space for multiple voices that have experienced conflict and abuse. In this exhibition we hear a small section of testimonies from survivors of the 2002 Godhra violence, recorded in 2018 in Ahmedabad. Within this longer reflective timeline, one can discern long-term ripples of communal violence in the lives of those most closely touched by the flames. Rupali Patil’s mixed media collage on cutting board memorializes the iconic image of Alaa Salah in Sudan, picturing her breaking through structural walls, while subtly questioning the role of the artist in resistance movements. N*A*I*L*S hacks facts fictions is a collective publication from Berlin archiving stories of migration, along with the labour and material circulations the carry with them through the lens of beauty work. This thread of commemoration channels into Aqui Thami's second offering where she creates a ceremonial site to bear witness to those killed and missing in the struggle for Gorkhaland. In this ongoing work, Aqui will add one name to the display daily, enshrined through the burning of the ceremonial herb-mixture tite-pati, grounding the struggle for autonomy in the practices and smells of living with the land.
Sharing space with Aqui’s ceremony of witnessing, Pedra Costa, another indigenous voice rooted in the land we know as Brazil, platforms the trans body from the Global South as the source of visioning the future. In her powerful de-colon-ial manifesto, shared through a performance video, Pedra develops the importance of knowledges that pass through the orifices of the body, getting transformed through its 'artfulness’ , and demands rightful epistemological space for such corporeal knowledge systems. This claim for space: public, epistemological, algorithmic, institutional; the claim to be the ones visioning their own futures, forms another recurring pattern in the exhibition. Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai shows a cross-section of drawings in ink on fabric from her Blood Book series. This work, done every month only during days of menstrual flow, plays with tropes of the domestic to normalize the recurring cycle, demanding for autonomy over one’s agency outside of patriarchal controls. Anna Ehrenstein of Albanian-German origin showcases the Colombian collective House of Tupamaras to break down heteronormative hegemonies of technology, pushing for queer-trans voices within the evolution of algorithmic futurities via her interactive 360 video. Anonymous artist Falani sends documentation of occupying positions of danger in Kabul, creating dadaist graffiti in the city's strictly gendered public spaces. Parmita Mukherjee opens up space for imagining variances of the body within their intricate drawings, challenging colonial ideas of beauty, making mutations between human and natural worlds. Amitesh Grover, creating lightboxes, and Khushbu Patel, with a watercolour painting, consider the implications of speaking up, negotiating institutions and public space. Invited as an attempt to decentralise the curatorial text in the exhibition space, Sabina Yasmin Rehman contributes a letter to the people of mainland India from the perspective of an indigenous person from Assam, and Sabika Abbas Naqvi’s poem leaves us with the tender imagination of hope as constant labour to withstand the difficult times we live in.
The exhibition is part 3 in curator Shaunak Mahbubani’s series ‘Allies for the Uncertain Futures’, initiated in 2016, with previous iterations at TIFA Working Studios Pune (2017), and Kalakar Theatre, New Delhi (2018, supported by apexart New York). Continuing the overarching curatorial focus of co-visioning futures through the Buddhist philosophy of non-duality, the assemblage of works in this current exhibition develop this collective action by foregrounding practices of reflection, collectivity, hybridity, infiltration, multiplicity. These practices, carrying the vigour of seeds sprouting in crevices, together offer an incipient antidote to rigidities being cemented by the powers of our times.
1 Achille Mbembe, Brutalisme [Paris, 2020], pp. 9, 10, 11
3 Pedra Costa, The Southern Butthole Manifesto