Questions of Identity

Curator Latika Gupta comments on the idea of homelands in the works of contemporary British artists.

Written by Zaira Arslan | Published: April 19, 2013 12:56 am

AFTER being invited by the British Council in 2011 to curate an exhibition,using existing works from the their collection,Latika Gupta began scanning their expansive catalogue.

“I made a list of works I found exciting and then tried to find a common idea,” says Delhi-based Gupta. Eventually,the theme of belonging and displacement emerged. Gupta chose over 80 works by 28 artists,to make the exhibition,“Homelands”. Following its run in Delhi and Kolkata,it will open in Mumbai on April 28 at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

The idea,she says,is politically-charged,and consequently different from the idea of “home”,which she believes is more private. “How do we define ourselves,based on where we come from?” she asks,“What do we mean when we say we are Indian,for instance? That we are from India or possess an Indian passport?”

In the show,the artworks comment on various aspects of the idea of homelands,of displacement,belonging,loss,and identity. But,predictably,not all of them do so directly. That,however,is where the curator’s voice comes in,Gupta believes. “It then becomes the curator’s dialogue with the work,” she says.

For instance,Jeremy Deller’s work,Acid Brass. Originally a musical performance in 1997 — consequently a television programme as the exhibit — it shows one of England’s leading brass bands at the time playing acid house music,resulting in a genre Deller called “Acid Brass”. The importance of the two — brass bands and acid house music — lies in their geographical origins. About 150 years ago,brass bands were a symbol of labour and trade union movements,while in the ’80s acid house reflected the disillusionment of the unemployed. “It talks about the political history of a place through music,” says Gupta.

Susan Hiller’s video The Last Silent Movie is a recording of people speaking 25 extinct or endangered languages. The video mentions the status of the language and has English translations whenever available. There are also phrases from each language,presented in an etching of an oscilloscope diagram. Meanwhile,in Tim Hetherington’s series Dem Ol Bod Ose: Creole: Architecture of Sierra Leone,20 photographs taken in 2004 show the disappearing Creole architecture of Freetown,Sierra Leone. It is a means to document a phase of West African history. Another artwork by Zineb Sedira speaks of displacement and migration. Her parents were born in French colonial Algeria,she in Paris and her children in London,where she lives now. Her video installation used in the show,Mother Tongue,consists of three conversations — between three generations,of her with her mother,her daughter and between grandmother and grandchild. The realities of migration become apparent in the third,where her Arabic-speaking mother and English-speaking daughter cannot converse with each other.

Sedira says,“As contemporary artists are also international exhibitors,travels and displacement are part of their practice so the notion of home is often looked from experience,” she says. The British artist will be in Mumbai for the opening of the show and will,during that time,give a public lecture.

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