Recently staff were treated to an exclusive tour of Phantoms of Asia led by Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Allison Harding. While Allison can’t personally escort every visitor around the galleries, we wanted to share the experience. In this, the final in our series of posts based on the tour, we look at four works rooted in the artists’ home towns.
Jagannath Panda‘s The Cult of Survival II is a response to modernization and development in Indian cities like Bhubaneswar, where Panda was born, and Gurgaon, the satellite-city of New Delhi where he currently lives. Panda explores these themes using traditional icons built from industrial materials such as sewage pipes. This work was created specifically for Phantoms, and is now a larger series.
Opposite the sewage-snake is another of Panda’s works, The Cult of Appearance III, which is being shown for this first time. The painting includes collage elements made from traditional Indian fabrics. For those who know Indian textiles these fabric pieces would be identifiable as being from a particular region; thus the artist has used the very materials of the work to create an additional layer of meaning. The piece depicts scenes from epics alongside contemporary images of Indian life. The figures at the bottom of the painting show people fleeing from floodwaters in Bhubaneswar in 2011. Some experts claim that the floods were caused by the mismanagement of water from a nearby dam.
Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul creates an eerie otherworld in Phantoms of Nabua. The film is set in the artist’s hometown, which suffered in the military crackdowns from the 1960s to 80s, forcing the men of the village to flee. There is a legend in the area of a witch who abducts the men of the village, and this intersection of myth and reality has earned the village the name “widow town”. In the ten-minute film we watch the rituals of young men hanging out, kicking a soccer ball, but in the film the ball is on fire; this peaceful activity holds the seeds of destruction. The film reminds us that notions of home can be destroyed, burned down.
Another artist with a complex relationship with home is Pakistani Adeela Suleman. Suleman lives in Karachi, where she holds the Chair of Fine Arts at the Indus Valley University of Art and Architecture. She is also a mother of three. Her steel reliefs are based on the metal decorations used in the city’s delivery trucks and buses, and is strongly rooted in the everday live of the city. But for people in Karachi, death is a part of everyday life, and Suleman’s work powerfully confronts the reality of living surrounded by violence. She says that when her husband goes to work each day, she never knows if he will come home. Her juxtaposition of symbols of violence such as missiles and suicide vests with images from nature and scenes from myth are unsettling, and tell a powerful and disturbing story of home.