Two Homegrown Exhibitions Examine How Art Can Heal A War-Torn Planet

The Soldier from War in an Unknown Territory
The Soldier from War in an Unknown TerritoryHilal Ahmad Khan

History books dedicate so many chapters to wars. That’s because the history of mankind has indeed been violent and countless wars have been fought ever since man’s inception onto this planet. In prehistoric times, man’s war was against nature. It was about surviving on a hostile and wild planet, which we knew very less about. But even then, as recently evolved primates, we were divided into fringe groups and fought each other. We began to discover and know more about the planet but that did not stop us from fighting each other. As a species that claims to be so advanced and modern, we have not stopped resorting to the barbaric tradition of wars even in the 21st century.

Even as devastating micro and large-scale wars ensue across the planet, when will we stop and question ourselves — what is it that we are fighting for? Historically, most wars have been fought for land. It has either been for territorial conquest or reclaiming lost territory. One can come up with a thousand reasons behind waging a war but standing here at this time and place shouldn't we be asking ourselves — is it worth it?

The greatest threat to humanity at this point is not your neighboring nation or a small country following a particular religion. Our biggest adversary is climate change. It is the planet waging war against us as retaliation for centuries of abuse. It’s funny that we manhandle the same life force that sustains us. And if history is any pointer, man’s arrogance or even science is no match for nature’s fury. We are already seeing the polar ice caps melt rapidly and its adverse effects on the rising sea level. Something closer to home is the sinking town of Joshimath and other small towns in Uttrakhand. One landslide or earthquake can wipe out thousands of lives in an instant. Nature’s wrath is more dangerous than even the strongest of missiles and tanks.

We are wrestling with the crisis of man-waged wars when there is a far graver threat of an ecological war looming large. This is the central theme of the site-specific photographic performance called The Soldier from War in an Unknown Territory and the multimedia performance called South Asian Bastard by a visual artist from Kashmir, Hilal Ahmad Khan. These two projects are a result of a collaboration called Where do we stand now? between HH Art Spaces and Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2022. The projects show how we are on a planet filled with wars, fear, terror, and apathy. In the world of metadata and social media, we are dominated by virtual reality and as a result, we are slowly disconnected not only from ourselves but from the process of healing ourselves and by extension, the planet. The artist, using the power of performance and photography, seeks to situate feelings of resistance and the well-being of a ruptured existence on an injured planet.

The Soldier from War in an Unknown Territory sees the figure of the soldier not as an unthinking weapon of the government but as a sentient, conscious individual — the soldier becomes an archetypal messenger understanding the profound relationship between politics and war. The soldier comes from areas where he has had a first-hand experience of there is wars, instability, killings, and political violence, which gives him an insightful subjectivity. The intent of the performance is to portray a conflict-inflicted space in juxtaposition with the natural surroundings. armed conflict The soldier, who has lost everything in the armed conflict, is seeking refuge in the natural world, which is a different territory with different history. The act attaches the public to comment on the naturalistic surrounding and our ethical concerns by placing it beside a war-torn space. It is a reference to war which destroys the natural environment and the people.

South Asian Bastard is a 2-hour multimedia performance dealing with the idea and consequences of borders and boundaries. Borders, for the artist, is a metaphor for political instability in the Indian subcontinent where the danger of living, imposition of power, segregation of families, psychological warfare, and the authority of the state, affect both the naturalistic environment and social relations. Alongside the performance there is a display of a movie made from archival footage, mostly from British Pathe, covering the idea of colonial and post-colonial alterations, where the technology of movie-making remains as an agent to look beyond the situation. The data on the British Pathe is for sale, and the data was hacked to challenge the ownership of digital property, belonging to the Indian Government. This project is a political denunciation of state-sponsored dominance, control, authority, and technology.

HH Art Spaces is an art center based in Aldona, Goa. They are renowned for hosting international art residencies and events which nurture and promote budding artists. The two projects were showcased during a residency period in Kochi, where several Hilal Ahmad and several other artists were engaged in their process and practice as they tried to interweave the narratives of site and place and their roles when it comes to artistic freedom and maintaining peace and harmony on a war-torn planet.

You can find out more about HH Art Spaces here.

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