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Asia

Berlin exhibition showcases South Asian art films

Many Germans think immediately of Bollywood when they think of India and cinema. Now, art lovers in Berlin can discover another side to Indian filmmaking.

A part of The Torn First Pages by Amar Kanwar

A part of "The Torn First Pages" by Amar Kanwar

"Being Singular Plural" is an exhibition about contemporary cinematic art from South Asia that has just opened at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. The works range from reflections on the political and social realities in India and elsewhere to more poetic topics such as nature, memory and perception.

Sandhini Poddar, the curator of "Being Singular Plural", explains that where earlier exhibitions usually stressed the importance of the emerging market economy, the finished product, or the ego of the artists, she wanted to do something different. "I was really interested more in collaborating with some of these artists and practitioners and film makers, into co-producing new work. And really getting involved in their research, in their methodology. So, really slowing down the curatorial process and trying to get it close to ground reality."

As a result, most of the exhibits are works in progress. The idea is that they evolve over time, so that they are possibly finished when the exhibition travels on to New York in 2012.

Residue by Desire Machine Collective

"Residue" by Desire Machine Collective

Political statement

Visitors to the exhibition in Berlin will be able to see a very strong political statement about Myanmar, also known as Burma, by the Indian filmmaker Amar Kanwar. His installation, "The Torn First Pages", consists of multiple video projections that show footage from the anti-government protests that swept the country in 2007.

The installation is dedicated to a Burmese bookseller from the city of Mandalay who was sentenced to three years in jail after tearing out the first page of each book he sold as an act of resistance because this is where the mandatory government slogans are published.

"Residue" is the name of a film by two artists who call themselves "Desire Machine Collective" about a defunct power plant in northeastern India that was abandoned because the production costs outweighed the commercial value of the electricity produced. As one of the artists, Mriganka Madhukaillya, explains, "from the nature the factory was built, and from the factory the nature is taking over, and over - in this whole cycle and re-cycle..."

The installation highlights censorship in Myanmar

The installation highlights censorship in Myanmar

Classics and interactive sound installation

Film buffs will also be able to watch classics such as Vishal Bharadwaj's "Maqbool", his adaptation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth", or Faiza Khan's "Superman of Malegaon".

Finally, as a gift to Berliners, an interactive sound installation has been set up outside the Guggenheim on Unter den Linden. Nine loudspeakers broadcast natural sound recordings from the Sacred Forest in Mawphlang. Passersby trigger the sounds themselves by simply walking past. The sounds of birds, toads or even wind in the trees then merge with the noise on Berlin's most famous avenue.

"We've been studying it over the last couple of days. It's actually quite wonderful, as people walk past. They're a bit disoriented and confused," curator Sandhini Poddar describes the reactions. "Some people are really amused, some people are a bit distracted and upset about the sound."

And that's what art is really about – disorienting, confusing, amusing, distracting and perhaps upsetting – but always trying to trigger new ways of thinking and seeing.

Author: Thomas Voelkner (Berlin)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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