Over the next month or so there will be a variety of artistic outcomes which not only reflect personal story and experience but also give us a glimpse of how these narratives shape social understanding.
Pink Saris is a documentary film about the Gulabi Gang in India. A revolutionary group made up of women founded by Data Satbodh Sain in 2002. Responding to a lack of statutory support for victims of domestic abuse, this women-led initiative was formed to protect and defend the rights of women and those affected by caste prejudices, a taboo that is a growing phenomenon according to this documentary.
Donning pink saris the group were filmed fundraising and organising weddings for Dalits or Untouchables, the lowest caste, to members of higher castes as well as providing education and practical support.
While I found the documentary engaging, the film Pink Saris is problematic on many levels. The first is the devising of a protagonist; a western construct that does not fit the narrative of an Eastern cultural collaboration of peers as their name would suggest. Instead, the film chooses to create a leader, Sampat Pal, and convey the story through her eyes. Dividing the group in this way plays into western ideals of a divide and rule coloniser’s narrative which sits uneasily in a 21st century India which is attempting to undo the destructive adoption of a caste-based system devised by its long devoid coloniser.
I also take issue, not with the fact that Pal is described as a feminist, but that the overarching notion of feminism is hegemonic and eurocentric and she is neither. I mentioned this because in the bigger picture, albeit through a eurocentric lens, Pal represents the image or example of one who should be saved rather than do the saving and it would seem that the European director, Kim Longinotto, not only uses her white privilege to voyeuristic ends but weaves a tale that suits her own sensitivities and values rather than those experienced by the characters within the film.
While I do recognise that this perception feeds into the rhetoric of otherness I do, of course, believe it to be a given that social mobility, freedom and opportunity should not be limited by gender. And that these rights should be afforded to all and every society should support the implementation of this on all levels.
Longinotto is known for making films about female victims of discrimination and oppression and this narrative fits well with her goals. But the documenting of Eastern culture through a western lens is an uncomfortable addition to an already difficult subject matter.
This summer, the Art of Seeing will be facilitating a photography workshop exploring the landscape with Peter Sanders in the Hunza Valley, Pakistan. With China to the north-east and Pamir to the northwest, this area of outstanding beauty has been described as heaven on earth.
All the mountain ranges surrounding the valley, the Himalayas and the Karakoram ranges, are higher than 6,000 feet.
The sights will be filled with snow-capped mountains and autumnal colours. This journey is intended to improve visual literacy and help participants to develop their own visual language.
“Designed to extend the relationships between Nottingham›s multifaceted Muslim community and New Art Exchange, Live Archive, emerging from a research phase where Zahedi interviewed diverse local communities and organisations. A process of collaboration was then created to bring aspects of existing ritual practice and discourse into the gallery context; entangling the living archive of the community with the exhibition space.”
Abbas Zahedi is the man behind the Jum‘a prayer being performed at the Tate Modern earlier this year. The installation was part of the annual Tate Exchange programme, an initiative organised by the gallery space to test ideas and discover new perspectives on life. Zahedi’s work is strongly influenced by what he defines as being the “imaginal quality of being a second generation migrant in a hyper-connected world.” He describes this concept as “neo-diaspora”, an exploration of the personal and sacred with the modern dilemma of social and global ideals.
Zahedi often uses his own life experience as a point of departure in order to disrupt notions of origin and settled identities. His current project at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham, which runs through August, constructs multifaceted situations that explore the psychopolitics of contemporary reality and is inspired by Akram Zaatari’s exhibition, ‘The Script’, which uses images to depict performed identities, and is also on show at the same time.
For this, Zahedi presents his new project, Live Archive, a programme of performances and discussions that create the opportunity to engage with faith-based rituals and artistic practice such as qasida recitals, dhikr and khutbahs.
Zahedi’s work is not only modern and complex; it is also multi-layered and hinges on duality. Here again, the notion of the personal and the sacred is played out with the body or self as a live archive relating to and transforming the space it inhabits.
“This investigation inhabits an imaginal approach to space, in which individual bodies echo and resonate with the broader socio-political and historical contexts that are constantly [re]producing them.” – Abbas Zahedi