The seventh edition of Mumbai’s public art festival ‘[en]counters’ is currently underway. Curated by ArtOxygen, this year’s edition will celebrate the city’s diversity explored at one of its most iconic locations -- Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, popularly known as purely CST. Artists have been invited to investigate the connection between the terminus, its people and the city at large -- looking at the value of this relationship within this transitory container of daily migration, movement and mayhem. Homegrown spoke with Owais Hussain, a contemporary Indian artist who will present his work at the festival. His work is a canvas video wall that will display static objects and transportation images, depicting the station’s continual flow of goods and people.
Hussain’s work, You Are Forever, explores the concepts of travel, transition and displacement. With the refugee crisis as it is right now, it’s no wonder than these ideas are at the forefront of artistic thought. Historically, India’s story is embedded with transition and displacement but we wanted to understand the contemporary evolution of these ideas in India as we know it today. “With needs of the modern world in this period, and a fundamental necessity to explore economic opportunities, the larger metropolitan cities offered a home for the displaced and a fertile bed for their dreams. In the past forty years, we have six new states added to the union of our nation. The search for homeland and displacement of culture is not unique to tragic landscape of loss that we see in other parts of the world more so in the Middle East and west Asia in recent times. ‘The culture of displaced culture’ is synonymous with human evolution. It is the measure of violence and apathy in its process that requires to be addressed,” he said.
Any sort of displacement or transition carries with it baggage -- emotional, tangible or otherwise. The installation contains steel trunks that “carry the idea of memory storehouses as well as vehicles of mobility/passage/transfer or migration(s) of varying scale. Their chrome veneer reflects the location’s/viewer’s voyeuristic presence in the timeline of the trunks. They stand like a wall unfolding and embracing the projected image (a video meditation on identity - memory - displacement), to be etched momentarily on it’s skin,” he explains, adding, “The film follows a delicate narrative of three rivers, of which only two remain. The rivers are in their incarnation as three sisters. However, it is unclear whether there really was ever a third river or if she is just a myth. This video progresses in a loop through the perspective of the two remaining rivers/sisters, a quest that takes them through the elements and a ‘dystopic’ urban landscape (dismembered by shape-shifting streets). An eloquent sky is the only witness to their belief. The loop is a purgatory of their quest.” In this manner, Hussain has managed to capture this element of baggage with effective visual cues to aid the metaphor.
Identity is an element that remains highly convoluted after any transition or displacement. ‘You Are Forever’ is a phrase from a poem Hussain wrote many years ago, it is “a celebration of the self in the face of loss and displacement of history - an optimist’s vocabulary in the grammar of the cynic,” he describes. He goes on to say, “We are mostly aware of points in the brain that are not connected. These gaps also channel a certain current. I believe we exist in these synapses - they run like an outline our individuality. We are forever migrating, we are forever moving, we are forever seeking to survive and/or feel alive, we are forever. Containment of memory-lenses of history-the disquiet sense of loss in displacement is incarnated in the material, form and medium of this video installation. The imperfectly symmetrical lines of the trunk form walls of a graphic lexicon. They create the interruptions, just as in the pace and staccato nature of the video. All this however fails to let the work as a whole cease to exist.”
This piece visually confronts ideas that are changing the way in which we identify with ourselves, the space around us, and the constant and transient flow of life. To experience it in CST would be the truest elevation of your senses. If you’re keen to explore the relationship within this transitory container of daily migration, movement and mayhem, this was made for you.
Feature image courtesy of Owais Hussain