Pause – in times of conflict
Bertolt Brecht raised a pertinent question in Motto when he wrote, “In the dark times, will there also be singing?.” Our reasons for organising pause – in times of conflict, a series of monthly events that reflect on creative practices in conflict zones, have to do not so much with his question but his answer. “Yes, there will be singing. About the dark times.” We see creative practice in conflict zones as a corollary to Brecht’s response, as attempts to sing. This act of “singing” requires a constant engagement with the world even if it might be going to pieces. But in times that are marked by violence, grief, loss, silence, and the haunting presence of that which is unspeakable and that which is left unsaid, how do we see, respond, survive if not by “singing”? Watch upcoming events on our Home page to see the latest events in Pause.
Our first pause was at Palestine. We watched Arna’s Children, the story of a theatre group that was established by Arna Mer Khamis. Arna comes from a Zionist family and in the 1950s married a Palestinian Arab, Saliba Khamis. On 4 April 2011, Arna’s son, Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead by a masked gunman in the Palestinian city of Jenin, where he had established The Freedom Theatre. This screening is a tribute to Juliano Mer-Khamis’ work and commitment to theatre, film and activism in Jenin, Palestine. This was followed by a reading of Mahmood Darwish’s poems. We discussed creative practices and role of art in Palestine. People shared their personal connections to Palestine – some who worked there, some who have been following the violence on the Gaza strip through films, books and newspapers and others who feel emotionally grounded in Palestine shared their personal journeys in and around Palestine.
The second pause was at on Iraqi Kurdistan with a talk by Francesca Recchia on the Museum of War Crimes in Iraq. The talk examined the role that Amna Souraka, the Museum of War Crimes in Northern Iraq and how it plays a role in the construction of contemporary Kurdish identity. The building that now hosts the museum was one of the security jails where Saddam Hussein detained, tortured and killed Kurdish political prisoners. The setting up of the space evokes – almost literally – the tragedy of the ethnic prosecutions during the 1980s. Reflecting on the work of Giorgio Agamben and Walter Benjamin, the discussion touched upon the intersections between spaces of exception and places of memory. The lecture also offered an insight into Kurdish art and the geopolitical situation of Iraq and it was followed by a discussion on questions of memory, memorialisation and forgetting.
The third event focused on the creative face of Kabul, Afghanistan, with a talk by Francesca Recchia – who shared her exploration of art interventions, initiatives and responses to the situation in Kabul. The artistic practices of Rahim Walizada and Aman Mojadidi and the multi-faceted activity of the Turquoise Mountain were the main focus of the talk. They were the lenses through which we explore the relation between conservation/conservatism and innovation, tradition and modernity, the quest for beauty and the destruction of war, the idea of statehood and that of heritage.From involving adolescent girls in art to graffiti in hidden spaces, she created room for conversation about Afghanistan through a different lens.
The pause at Kashmir was constructed around the performance and talk by Delhi-based artist Inder Salim. We were to read from The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed, and screen ‘Hopscotch’ by Sajad Malick followed by a discussion by Abhishek Majumdar, a theatre director from Bangalore. Though the event was cancelled due to unavailability of space following the threats by Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena, the performance by Inder Salim did take place at the same day in Bangalore at a forum on Theatre for Democracy.
Inder’s performance “Occupy and Fall” involved the audience in an exploration of the personal dimensions and modes of understanding socio-political constraint, fear and oppression in Kashmir.A video of the performance can be seen at http://maraa.in/occupy-fall-by-inder-salim/
This pause weaved together an open exhibition of Abu Abraham’s political cartoons- drawn and published at the time of the Emergency, and the screening of Kissa Kursi Ka- a political satire by Amrit Nahata that was refused a censor’s certificate and all available prints were confiscated and destroyed during the Emergency. Abu Abraham was working as a political cartoonist at the Indian Express during the emergency. His cartoons from this period were published in a book called the Games of Emergency. The open exhibition at Page Turners, offered the audience a selection of the cartoons from this book that were related to media censorship and freedom of expression.
The Indian Emergency of 25 June 1975 – 21 March 1977 was a 21 month long period of brutal petrification that paralyzed civil liberties and dissent. And Traces of emergency focused on the work of two practitioners who grappled with the stony stare of state imposed silence through creative practice.
This month we paused at Dub Poetry with Dbi Young. Dub poetry as a form of creative practice emerged in Jamaica and England during the early 1970s, and is predominantly concerned with politics, protest and social justice.During our pause at Dub Poetry, Dbi was both the star and moderator of a participative forum where each performance was followed by an open discussion and the questions emerging from each discussion fed into the next performance. Her performances dealt mainly with political conflict (specifically in the context of the violence that followed the 1980 general elections in Jamaica), neo-liberal imperialism, identity and cultural hegemony.
The open discussion was centered around the orality of dub tradition and its relationship to community centric storytelling, it also underlined ideas about the mediating role of personal experiences and biases in the context of understanding conflict.
This month we paused at stories of the Chinese-Indian community caught in the 1962 border war through a talk by Kwai-Yun Li and an exhibition of photographs by Vidura Jang Bahadur.
Kwai’s talk, ‘Quit India’ orders, traced the historical trajectory of the Chinese Indian community from the first spate of migrations in 1770 onwards. In discussion with the audience Kwai used a deft mix of stories, historical facts and personal experience to speak about the impact of the 1962 India China war on the lives of the Chinese Indian community in Calcutta at the time. In conversation with the audience the talk explored the personal and social dimensions of the anti-Chinese sentiments and ordinances in 1962. The talk was punctuated by readings of excerpts from “The Last Dragon Dance”, a collection of short stories written by Kwai.
If Kwai’s talk located itself firmly in the past then the projection of Vidura’s work was anchored in the current lives of the Chinese Indian community. His photographs offered a nuanced intimate account of their lives that originates from his decade long engagement with the community.
Maraa in partnership with various strangers and individuals from across the city, has organised a monthly, independent and travelling intervention in the city of Bangalore called Theatre Jam. Initially seen as a platform for various performance artists to dialogue about their practice, it has mushroomed into an open space for the city to discover and initiate inter-disciplinary conversations and collaborations, talk about current affairs which shape the city, as well as, of course, share and display works in progress from various artists, non-artists and all others in between. Click here to find out what’s happening in Theatre Jam.
Behind the Tin Sheets
Bangalore has started the interminable process of getting itself a Metro train, a consistent hallmark and symbol to indicate that peaks of modernity have been finally scaled successfully. The city has changed at various levels, with the physical infrastructural changes most visible to the eye. Inconspicuous tin sheets dot the landscape, silently accompanying the Metro construction sites. Who or what is behind these sheets? A two year process which began with this question, has turned into a labour of love and a love of labour. Click here to read more.
What possible relationships can be imagined between cultural practice and the way cities exist and function today? Are cities shaped by economic/capital and political concerns alone, or are there elements of art and culture which influence the way cities are shaped on a day to day basis? Further, if arts and culture do play a role, then what elements of this broad field can be identified for further analysis? Can we use arts and cultural policy making/thinking to concretely influence those aspects of the city that have been contested in the contemporary context? Such as ecology, urban planning, public money and so on. Watch this space to find out more about what we are doing in this area.
Mobile Artistic Platform
In collaboration with Reloading Images, Maraa invited (mostly) visual artists from Europe and Asia for a collaborative project – a traveling residency across South India, a month on the road, with a few pauses in between. The key questions for the project were related to cross-cultural collaboration as well as notions of mobility. The project was supported by Asia Europe Foundation as well as Arts Network Asia. Click here to read more about this project.