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Ishara Art Foundation and The NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery present pivotal works by Amar Kanwar
TSF Henrik Stromberg Documenta, Kassel.

ABU DHABI.- In a groundbreaking collaboration across Abu Dhabi and Dubai, The NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery and Ishara Art Foundation both opened solo projects in spring 2020 by Amar Kanwar, one of India’s most critically-acclaimed and internationally-exhibited contemporary artists. The award-winning artist explores the politics and intricacies of power, violence, and justice, through poetic films and comprehensive multimedia works.

The Ishara Art Foundation, a non-profit institution dedicated to contemporary South Asian art and artists in West Asia, hosts Such a Morning (2017) from January 20 to May 20, while The NYUAD Art Gallery, the University’s academic museum-gallery, shows The Sovereign Forest from January 22 to May 30.

Chairperson at Ishara Art Foundation, Smita Prabhakar, comments: “Our goal at Ishara Art Foundation is to champion South Asian voices and share compelling contemporary artistic practices. This collaboration with The NYUAD Art Gallery allows us to bring audiences in the UAE an even greater depth of work by Amar Kanwar, offering a comprehensive introduction to the practice of one of South Asia’s foremost artists. Such a Morning is a key work by the artist, offering us deep insight into how we might face contemporary challenges. As a new member of the UAE arts community, we are honoured to work alongside NYUAD Art Gallery on this presentation, and look forward to future collaborations that benefit and grow our shared audiences.”

Chief Curator at NYU Abu Dhabi and Executive Director of The NYUAD Art Gallery, Maya Allison, comments: “This is an exceptionally exciting exhibition and collaboration for The NYUAD Art Gallery. I’m delighted that our collaboration will enable audiences here to have the rare experience of seeing two such major Amar Kanwar projects in proximity. It is a unique privilege to host his thought-provoking and critically important work. The Sovereign Forest is, in many ways, a ‘living’ art work, one that continues to grow and shift with each installation, as do the questions it brings to light. The opening of the Ishara Art Foundation earlier this year marks an important new chapter for South Asian art in the UAE. When we opened our doors five years ago, I hoped we would one day see such a trans-institutional collaboration – one that benefits our university faculty and students, as well as our broader UAE audiences.”

Such a Morning at Ishara Art Foundation
Such a Morning (2017) is a feature-length film installation, which premiered internationally at documenta 14 in Athens, Greece, and Kassel, Germany. The fictional narrative which follows two central characters who grapple with a hallucinatory world is a parable for the complex challenges of our times. Kanwar asks: “What is it that lies beyond, when all arguments are done with? How to reconfigure and respond again?”

The film follows an aging mathematics professor who retreats from his career, seeking isolation in an abandoned train carriage. Creating a zone of darkness so as to acclimatize himself before total darkness descends, the professor begins to live in a realm bereft of light. The many iterations and sensory possibilities of darkness and visibility are explored as he gradually screens out all the light and enters a subjective world. A parallel story about a woman emerges within the course of the film, providing a compelling, analogous narrative to the protagonist’s. Meanwhile, the professor records his epiphanies and visions in an almanac of the dark, an examination of 49 types of darkness that emerge as a series of letters which are exhibited alongside the film.

Kanwar conceived a narrative that continues beyond the film – the professor continues to write his letters – towards a research project with diverse artistic, pedagogic, metaphysical, and political collaborations. These become the rubric for a continuing project, and are at the core of the series of Letters that accompany the film. The paper for Letters was hand-made by Sherna Dastur at the Nirupama Academy of Paper, Kolkata, India.

The seven Letters contain texts, 17 video projections, and 45 light projections. The train coach built for the film remains in Delhi, a memorial for the teacher who refused to conform, who stepped off the tracks, and wandered into the wild. The themes of survival and perseverance are deep sources to draw on, resulting in a thought-provoking and compelling presentation. Such a Morning offers a rich lens for audiences to contemplate these core themes from a South Asian perspective, focusing on issues relevant to global audiences today.

Such a Morning was edited by Sameera Jain, with cinematography by Dilip Varma and Ranjan Palit. Sound recording was completed by Suresh Rajamani and Julius Basaiawmoit, and designed by Sherna Dastur. It was produced with the support of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, AKF Productions, and Marian Goodman Gallery.

The Sovereign Forest at The NYUAD Art Gallery
The Sovereign Forest at The NYUAD Art Gallery is an ongoing multimedia installation that is a creative response to crime, politics, human rights, and ecological crisis. It evolved out of the political and environmental conflict in the resource-rich, and largely tribal Indian state of Odisha. Kanwar has been observing and documenting the industrial interventions that have irrevocably altered Odisha’s landscape for more than a decade. The Sovereign Forest is a long-term commitment of the artist with media activist Sudhir Pattnaik, and designer and filmmaker Sherna Dastur.

The Sovereign Forest is inspired by a search for the possible answers to the following questions: How to understand crime and the conflict around us? Who defines evidence? Can "poetry" be used as "evidence" in a trial? How do we see, know, understand, and remember disappearances? How to look again?

Multiple works make up The Sovereign Forest, which has appeared in different iterations. At its core are two films: The Scene of the Crime (2011), a film that documents landscapes selected for industrial development prior to their obliteration, and A Love Story (2010), about the experience of that loss. The installation will include three large handmade books, The Counting Sisters and Other Stories (2011), The Prediction (1991–2012), and The Constitution (2012) 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. In an adjacent gallery, an edition of The Listening Bench (2013) will also be presented, where visitors can hear an audio track from the project. In many ways, The Sovereign Forest expands upon a theme that has become central to The NYUAD Art Gallery’s program offering: that of landscape as a frame for reflection and examination of where we are, both culturally and physically.

The Sovereign Forest’s two films, The Scene of Crime and A Love Story, were edited by Sameera Jain with cinematography by Dilip Varma. The exhibition design, book design, and paper making were all executed by Sherna Dastur. It was produced with the support of Samadrusti, Odisha; Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, UK; documenta 13, Kassel; and Public Press, New Delhi.

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