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“If a crime continues to occur regardless of the enormous evidence available then is the crime invisible or the evidence invisible or are both visible but not seen?” — Amar Kanwar

8th Jul, 2016

PRESS RELEASE:

Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest

In collaboration with Sudhir Pattnaik/Samadrusti and Sherna Dastur 30 July – 9 October 2016

Public programmes every Wednesday and Friday evening. Curator-led exhibition tour every first Friday of the month, 7.00pm.

Media Preview: Friday, 29 July 2016, 11.00am – 1.00pm

The NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA Singapore) presents the debut showing in Southeast Asia of The Sovereign Forest by New Delhi based artist and filmmaker Amar Kanwar. The Sovereign Forest initiates a creative response to our understanding of crime, politics, human rights and ecology. The validity of poetry as evidence in a trial, the discourse on seeing, on compassion, justice and the determination of the self, all come together as a constellation of films, texts, books, photographs, objects, seeds and processes. Focused on the exhaustive struggles over the resource-rich land of Odisha in east India and the issue of its ownership, this internationally acclaimed project has been presented in various expanding iterations including at dOCUMENTA (13) (2012), the 11th Sharjah Biennial (2013), and the 1st Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2012-2013).

Recognised for his filmic works, and installations that interrogate the politics of power, violence and justice, The Sovereign Forest is a long-term commitment of Amar Kanwar in collaboration with media activist Sudhir Pattnaik, and designer and filmmaker Sherna Dastur. For over a decade, Kanwar has been filming the industrial interventions that have reshaped and permanently destroyed parts of Odisha’s landscape – a battleground on issues of development and displacement since the 1990s. The resulting conflicts between local communities, the government, and corporations over the use of agricultural lands, forests, rivers, and minerals, have led to an ongoing regimen of violence that is often unpredictable and invisible.

Situated within The Sovereign Forest is The Scene of Crime (2011), an experience of a landscape just prior to erasure. Almost every image in this film lies within specific territories that are proposed industrial sites and are in the process of being acquired by government and corporations in Odisha. The act of storytelling and ways of seeing become pivotal to experiencing this terrain of conflict and understanding the personal lives that exist within this natural landscape. The Counting Sisters and Other Stories (2011), The Prediction (1991-2012) and The Constitution (2012) are three large handmade books each with their own films projected on its pages. Containing local fables, stories of the incarcerated, and pieces of ‘evidence’ such as a fishing net, a cloth garment, rice seeds, a betel leaf, and newspaper embedded inside the paper, visitors are encouraged to turn the pages and read these stories.

By situating the site of the crime and documenting these industrial interventions and its effects, numerous testimonies and stories of intimidation, forced evacuations, imprisonment, and murder are uncovered. The Sovereign Forest captures the magnitude of scams and hardship of the affected population and asks critical questions: How to understand crime and the conflict around us? Who defines evidence? Is an illusion more real than a fact? Can ‘poetry’ be used as ‘evidence’ in trial? How do we see, know, understand, and remember disappearances? How to look again?

A comprehensive public programme for The Sovereign Forest consisting of film screenings, workshops, Exhibition (de)Tours, and a series of Stagings (performative responses to the exhibition) seeks to continue Kanwar’s open-ended approach towards archiving, seeing, and thinking about human and environmental repercussions of developments. A special project, organised by the Centre and presented at The Lab space, focuses on the haze situation in the region. The project involves practitioners from different artistic disciplines and research, and borrows Kanwar’s methodology in its attempt to better understand an ongoing social and environmental issue pertinent to our region.

Kanwar was first presented at the NTU CCA Singapore in the exhibition No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia featuring The Trilogy (1997-2003) as part of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative in 2014. “We can draw parallels to issues explored in The Sovereign Forest and the geopolitical tensions in Southeast Asia, triggered by the haze crisis due to rapid deforestation,” says Professor Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, NTU CCA Singapore. “Kanwar’s project is not only a stoic reminder of the severe impact of industrialisation processes on the environment, but also a profound look at the stories and lives of the people impacted by and involved in these conflicts”.

In 2012, The Sovereign Forest opened for public viewing at the Samadrusti campus in Bhubaneswar, Odisha as a permanent installation in collaboration with Samadrusti, an activist media organisation. Since then, many visitors have shared insights and contributed more evidence, making The Sovereign Forest an ongoing and constantly expanding project.

The Sovereign Forest is produced with the support of Samadrusti, Odisha, India; Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna, Austria; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, United Kingdom; Public Press, New Delhi, India; and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany.

The exhibition at NTU CCA Singapore and its public programmes are curated by Professor Ute Meta Bauer, Khim Ong, and Magdalena Magiera, in collaboration with Amar Kanwar, Sudhir Pattnaik and Sherna Dastur.

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