Curatorial Statement

Wit(h)ness is an invitation and a process. A call to negate objective, outsider observations of representations. A movement from ‘with-out’ to be ‘with-in’. An acute awareness of the phenomenological experience. Articulating the intimate, inarticulable, through an engagement.

And one entry point for aesthetic wit(h)nessing is the implied, yet absent body.

The fragmented, abstract and the abject body have their own relevance in modern and contemporary art, as embodied relics. But what of the absent body? What of the body that is implied to the imagination of the viewer by means of various suggestions: by locating a gaze, psychic injury, fragrance or even an object that was designed to anthropometric models?

Wit(h)nessing is imagined in this curatorial project as a process of occupying subject positions implicated by the artworks for an intimate communion. The suggested or explicit vacuum of the body in the specific contexts that preoccupy these artworks act as crucial points of departure to engage subjectivities of the spectator/participant. Traces of memory that lie embedded in their everyday, which obvious references to the body can risk overwhelming through emphasis on the visceral are also brought to address.

This immersion within the narrative of the work is by its nature a collective process. You are not a witness, but you are wit(h)nessing: With-in and with the other. The shared un- knowing of another’s internal dialogic relationship with the world allows for mutual empathy in a trans-subjective (not inter-subjective) space at the locus of the artwork. Confrontations with the aesthetic gain sustenance from the shared nature of encounter, memory and trauma — with the artist and with each other — and an acknowledgment of the universality of subjective experiences in the everyday.

The artworks in this exhibition pick up on traces of memory and identity, often the two seamlessly entwined to form narratives of disclosure that capture interstitial, embodied spaces that escape language. Signifiers laden with personal meaning and micro- histories take on poetic meaning, establishing a universal/personal vocabulary, from which the viewer is invited to make narratives of their own memory and identity.

About the Artists

Abdullah MI Syed

Dr. Abdullah M. I. Syed (b. 1974) is a Pakistani-born contemporary artist and designer working between Sydney, Karachi and New York. His art practice weaves real and fictional narratives of east and west, seamlessly knitting together cultural and art historical references and concerns from each. Trained in diverse disciplines, Syed utilises a variety of mediums and techniques including sculpture, video installations, drawing, performance and texts to investigate collisions between art, religion, economy and politics.

Syed holds a PhD in Art, Media and Design (2015) and a Master of Fine Arts (2009) from University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. He also holds a Bachelor of Art in Design (1999) and a Master of Education (2001) from University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), Edmond, Oklahoma, USA. Syed is part of eleven, a collective of contemporary Muslim Australian artists, curators and writers. 

Syed has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally and performed at the Asia Triennial of Performance Art (Asia TOPA 2017) in Melbourne, Pataka Museum in Proirua, Art Central in Hong Kong, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney, and Stage Centre in Oklahoma. Syed’s work is held in many private and public collections notably Devi Art Foundation, Rangoonwala Foundation, AAN Collection, Blacktown Arts Centre, Casula Powerhouse, University of Central Oklahoma and the US State Department Art in Embassy Islamabad.

Syed has undertaken artist residencies at Fairfield City Museum and Gallery (2015-2016), Parramatta Artists Studios (2013-2015), Cicada Press (2009 and 2013) and Blacktown Arts Centre (2011) in Sydney. His awards include the Blacktown Art Prize (2010), the UNSW Postgraduate Research Scholarship (2009) and the IAO Installation Art Award (2003). Syed was highly commended in the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize (2014) and was a finalist in the Hazlehurst Prize (2015), Moran Photography Prize (2014) and the Blake Prize (2013 and 2016). 

Kingsley Gunatillake

Born in 1951 in Kandy, Kingsley Gunatillake's practice involves painting, drawing and installation.He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Fine Art University of Colombo in 1979 and a Diploma in Environmental Education from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow in 1994. He has had several solo exhibitions in Sri Lanka, the UK, the Philippines, Ireland, Scotland, India and Japan. He has also participated in many group exhibitions and international artist camps both in Sri Lanka and abroad, most recently in France, the UK, Japan, Pakistan, India and at the Seongnam International Art Fair in Korea. Gunatillake has also been the recipient of a number of national awards since 1980 as well as international awards from both Czechoslovakia and Japan. He is a council member of the Vibhavi Academy Fine Arts and a founder of Child Art Studio. Gunatillake’s painting, sculpture and installations can be found in many local collections, including the Sri Lankan Presidential Collection of Contemporary Art. He currently works out of his studio in Kandy and Colombo.

Liz Fernando

Liz Fernando is a photographer whose work finds its roots in conceptual research. Her research though at a personal as well as academic level into the role of photography highlights the different meanings that photography, inhabits, often dealing with the notions of memory wherein the personal archive inhabits a fundamental space, both aesthetically and practically within non-western cultures.

She describes her practise as: ‘The scientific, almost forensic search for the boundaries of the understanding and interpretation of photography, the fusion of anthropological questions and modern photographic techniques as a tool to explore wider issues such as cultural difference, cultural inheritance, belonging and identity’.

In 2011 she graduated from the prestigious LCC BA Photography programme at the University of Arts, London. 2012 she was selected as winner for the Worldbank South Asian contest. Several selected photographs taken from her award-winning work “Trincomalee – My father’s stories and the lost photographs” were acquired by the World Bank in Washington D.C for its permanent

Her work continues to receive critical praise from influential editors and curators and is currently featured in numerous private collections

Mithu Sen

Mithu Sen performs conceptual and interactive multi-format byproducts which include drawing, poetry, moving images, sculptures, installations, sound, and others. Her practice manifests human interactions, employing the medium of life to actualize her art production. She constantly (un)defines concepts and their functioning with regard to acceptable modes of interactions, questioning pre-codified hierarchies that define the social performance of roles, politics of tabooed identity that marks the other, and the plethora of constructs that actualize human existence as a reality. Through radical hospitality, lingual anarchy, counter capitalism, untaboo sexuality, and unmonolith identity; the artist persistently explores the void of in betweenness, where (un)constructs dwell, waiting to be (un)realised.  

Mithu Sen is a an earth based (New Delhi, India) artist/poet who studied painting at Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, India, and Glasgow School of Art, UK. Mithu Sen plays. She messes. She creates. her practice revolves around creating situations of impossible possibility. She lets strangeness and strangers in, radically, hospitably. In doing this she questions the boundaries of hospitality; identifies them, embodies them, inhabits them- and then refutes and ignores them. Breaking them apart from within.  

Mithu Sen dislikes the word “medium.” She 'life's. Sen’s practice centers her constant need to be expressive in limitless ways; in ways that are counter to limits; that deny them. Her work involves the use of blank space-- her detailed drawings highlight the otherwise unseen, and parody or dismiss what our eyes are used to catching. Sen has accessories/tools that extend and include her body-mind. She draws, creates videos, and sculptures. She installs. She performs. Her performances have elements of sound and movement and writing. She poets. She poet. She lives. Her practice converses and responds; and is therefore constantly adapting itself; it shapeshifts from one medium to another. People are sparked to reflect on several realms and layers of thinking and questioning in her work, including:
(Untaboo) sexuality, (unmonolith) identity, Radical hospitality (guest-host-hospitality-tolerance) Counter capitalism, and lingual anarchy Her journey critiques subtle hierarchical codes and hegemony;

Mithu’s work lives in the spaces between when Humanity becomes a minority (sexual, political, regional, emotional, lingual...).

Tahireh Lal

Tahireh is an Indian artist and her practice is primarily self-reflexive. Her work deals with ideas of movement and stasis that stem from her mobile existence. Her ideas find expression in the form of video, installation and sculpture. Her artwork has featured at film festivals and in galleries both in India and at international events such as the Videonale in Bonne, Germany, and Nuit Blanche in Toronto, Canada.

She received her Master’s in Fine Arts from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), University in Toronto, Canada. The OCAD University India Scholarship funded her graduate work. She completed her undergraduate education with distinction at the Srishti School of Art Design and Technology in Bangalore, India. She currently runs her art practice out of Koliabor in Assam.

Zoya Siddiqui

Zoya Siddiqui (b.1990) is a visual artist based between Lahore and Vancouver, working primarily in video, performance, installation and photography. She has been part of residencies at the Vasl Artists’ Collective Karachi, Delfina Foundation London, Theertha Performance Platform in Colombo, In- Situ UK, and is an alumnus of the Triangle Arts Association. Siddiqui has shown her works internationally on platforms such as the Dhaka Art Summit and Lahore Literary Festival, and in cities such as New York, New Delhi, Philadelphia, Lahore, Karachi and Brierfield. Her recent exhibitions include ‘A Time for Farewells’ Curated By Premjish Achari with Prameya Art Foundation;‘The Edge’ at Bikaner House, New Delhi and ‘Parentheses’ at David Nolan in New York.

Through varying routes, Siddiqui’s practice seeks to understand the tensions between nearness-farness, insider-outsider, strangerhood-intimacy or public-private. A common denominator between all works is performance; anchored in her voice, shown explicitly through her body, implied in the curation of events etc. She has a sustained interest in the implied eye of the technology used to film or photograph.