Navjot Altaf’s practice stands at the intersection of art and activism.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Ishara Art Foundation, the non-profit organisation dedicated to presenting contemporary art of South Asia located in AlSerkal, is presenting Pattern, the first solo exhibition of Indian artist Navjot Altaf in the Arabian Peninsula (Sept. 14 — Dec. 9).
Featuring site-specific installations, sculptures, videos, drawings and photo prints, the exhibition foregrounds the artist’s longstanding commitment to issues of climate-change, ecology and feminism and the challenges they face in the digital age.
Her practice stands at the intersection of art and activism. With a career spanning over five decades, she is among the leading voices of her generation to regard art as a medium of social change.
Formerly based in Mumbai, she relocated to Bastar in the rural districts of Central India (Chhattisgarh State) during the late 1990s, to work with indigenous artists and communities that have witnessed an enormous scale of deforestation, mining, pollution and displacement.
Through collaborations with artists, activists, workers and organisations, her projects trace the complex connections between human exploitation and environmental crises that lie at the heart of climate change.
Pattern presents works created since 2015, the year of the United Nations Climate Change Conference and the Paris Climate Accords.
The events marked a watershed moment in announcing a global agreement towards the mitigation of carbon emission levels among nearly 200 countries.
Since then, there has been a dramatic enhancement of visual representation of climate change in mainstream media, using new technologies and real-time data.
The exhibition at Ishara juxtaposes new and traditional forms of representing environmental crises to reflect on the way we think about the future of the planet and society.
Consisting of six bodies of work, the viewer is first confronted by How Perfect Perfection Can Be, an immersive presentation of multi-layered works comprising prints, watercolour drawings and PVC transfers, that reveal the paradox between the great accomplishments of modern architecture and their adverse impact on the planet.
The adjoining wall amplifies the statistical information seen in the previous work into bold lines that track seven indices of ecological disasters collected from 2011 onwards in the work titled Seriousness of Issues.
According to Altaf, the abstract representation of the environment has dehumanised our approach to fully grasp the magnitude of devastation and displacement of several species caused by excessive industrialisation of many decades.
Lost Text is a series of 36 layered digital prints that creates a dialogue between archaeology and new techniques of data-mining.
Photographs of ancient hieroglyphs are juxtaposed with digital encryptions generated from a corrupt computer hard-drive containing documentation from the artist’s Bastar diaries.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is an installation titled eponymously with the show, Pattern, made of unmilled red rice.
Displayed on the floor, the use of rice and the invocation of textiles, symbolise the interconnectedness of artistic expression, occupation and livelihood and the dependence on the earth among farmers that have lost their land to mining companies.
Soul Breath Wind is a multi-channel video based on Altaf’s comprehensive research and first-hand observation of how the political, economic and development policies have led to deep geological impact in Chhattisgarh.
The video presents the testimonies of local inhabitants, several of whom include women speaking against the monopolisation of land, rapid industrialisation, and the extreme conditions of displacement and deforestation brought on by coal and bauxite mining.
It extends into the final work in the exhibition titled Patterns Which Connect, a collection of 24 fossil-like sculptures embodying the diverse ecosystem that is under threat due to the continuously changing landscape.
The exhibition at Ishara highlights the multiple dimensions of Altaf’s practice through her artworks, along with a reading space on the mezzanine that presents books, field notes and posters of various social movements she has been part of over the years.
The exhibition is curated by Sabih Ahmed, Associate Director and Curator at the Foundation. It is accompanied by the launch of a new two-volume book titled Navjot at Work and Artist’s Notes; physical and virtual tours; educational and public programmes; a newly commissioned text by Zasha Colah and artist conversations over the duration of the exhibit.
Smita Prabhakar, Founder and Chairperson of the Foundation, commented that “once again Ishara presents a contemporary artist from South Asia not seen before in the region. Navjot is a feminist and has great belief in the intrinsic values of equality and non-discrimination against minorities.” Altaf was born in 1949 and currently lives and works between Mumbai and Bastar. Since the 1970s, her practice has negotiated various disciplinary boundaries involving painting, photography, sculpture, installation, video, site-specific works, research and activism.
Her works are part of a number of public and private art collections including National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi and Mumbai), Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (New Delhi), Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (Fukuoka), Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), PSA Museum of Contemporary Art (Shanghai), PAV- Parco Arte Vivente (Turin), RPG Collection (Mumbai), The Ishara Art Foundation and The Prabhakar Collection (Dubai).
Ishara Art Foundation was founded in 2019 to support emerging and established practices that advance critical dialogue and explore global interconnections.
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