Artist's Statement: Amar Kanwar on mining communities in Yorkshire and India

| 14 October 2013

Artist’s Statement: Uniting former mining areas in Odisha and Yorkshire, New Delhi artist Amar Kanwar’s new exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park features The Sovereign Forest, an ongoing project exploring the impact of commercialism on communities...

A photo of an Indian male artist looking into the camera against a black background
© Jonty Wilde
“You could say this idea began ten years ago when I first met Clare Lilley, Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s Director of Programmes. Over many years and long conversations we built the project that is now at the Park.

The Sovereign Forest attempts to re-open a discussion and initiate a creative response to our understanding of crime, politics, human rights and ecology.

It emerges from the conflict in Odisha in India between local communities of farmers and indigenous tribes and the government and mining corporations.

It is inspired by a search for answers. How can an artist intervene in these conflicts? Can poetry be presented as evidence in a criminal or political trial?

It is an evolving constellation of physical and poetic ‘evidence’ in the form of moving images, books, documents, seeds and photographs.

At the Sculpture Park, it also includes outdoor three-dimensional objects – The Listening Benches and The Six Mourners & The One Alone.

I have been aware in quite some detail, ever since I was a student, about the history of the mining communities and the labour strikes in Yorkshire.

A Love Story lies at the fringe of the expanding Indian city, a world of continuous migration and continuous separations and broken relationships.

It is in this terrain of unrecognised pain that the film archives the memory of a lost love.

A Love Story becomes the companion, the prelude and the postscript to The Scene of Crime. It is a moment within a series of migrations.

I have brought together 272 different varieties of rice seeds from what I think of as the terrain of crime – the land sold to corporations and the displacement of the people who live there.

They point to the disappearance of indigenous crops and the influence that global agriculture and the demand for so called high-yield sterile seeds has on small farmers.

The seeds are a symbol of the food sovereignty of farmers. They are, in themselves, a vocabulary of an extensive knowledge system that is being destroyed and lost.

How will we evaluate this loss? How will we calculate compensation? The loss of land cannot be understood by physical dimensions, area and real estate value alone.

When farmers lose land and are forcibly displaced, the meaning of loss is manifold. The scale and depth of the crime is vast.

This amazing variety of seeds helps us to understand the meaning of this loss.”

  • Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest + Other Stories is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until February 2 2014.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More pictures:

A photo of a tree silhouetted against a blue screen showing a moonlit sky
The Sovereign Forest (2012)© Courtesy Amar Kanwar. Photo: Anders Sune Berg
A photo of people standing within mining territory
A Love Story (2010)© Courtesy Amar Kanwar
A photo of small boxes on walls containing tiny grains of rice
Rice Samples detail© Courtesy Amar Kanwar
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