In Aspinwall House, a meeting space for Memory, Lived Reality and Fantasy

KMB 2016 participating artists Salman Toor and Hasan Mujtaba share migrants’ stories
of pain, loss and belonging through their ‘Revelation Project’ installation


Press Release

In Aspinwall House, a meeting space for Memory, Lived Reality and Fantasy

KMB 2016 participating artists Salman Toor and Hasan Mujtaba share migrants’ stories
of pain, loss and belonging through their ‘Revelation Project’ installation

Kochi Feb 24: The scattered remains of mutilated paintings and a grainy Urdu poem reverie for Beat Generation icon Allen Ginsberg stuck in loop confront entrants to an otherwise tidy space in Aspinwall House. An undisturbed adjoining room compounds the sense of vandalism.

For Salman Toor, who paints with the expectation of creating masterpieces, taking a scissor to his works was a way to recreate memories, perhaps even lend them a historic quality. The oil-on-canvas paintings were created in response to the poem by poet-in-exile Hasan Mujtaba.

“The cuts resembled splatters of thick paint or oil and maybe even boundaries from a map. I reassembled them on a wall and projected a video of Hasan’s recitation onto this collage to create a translucent overlapping,” said Toor, who divides time between Lahore and New York.

His collaboration with Mujtaba for Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) 2016, titled ‘The Revelation Project’, came about after meeting the poet – exiled by the Zia-ul-Haq regime for political dissent after writing on the persecution of minorities in his native Sindh – at a dinner party.

“Mujtaba recited this poem about a Fifth Avenue Hare Krishna who reminded him of Ginsberg. The poem drew connection points between the shimmering Hudson River to the heritage of the Indus, claiming both and oscillating between insolence and sensuousness,” Toor said.  

“I decided to make a panoramic painting with Mujtaba’s recorded voice narrating the poem to me. My composition would be entirely unplanned, figurative. I added multilingual text, at times gibberish, to the painting. I wanted the imagery to be led by his lament of being an outsider in multiple worlds, on the disruption of the rigidly of religious and cultural rituals that divide, and the illusive nature of the divine,” he added.

That 12-foot scroll, For Allen Ginsberg – taking its name from the poem, is now mounted as a diptych in the duo’s space at the main Biennale venue. Toor employs visual elements from both Eastern and Western pop culture to craft pained vignettes from Pakistan’s street life. The installation also includes the looped projection of Mujtaba’s recital set against the violent fluidic splatter cuts and an earlier oil-on-canvas painting titled ‘9 pm, The News’.

“The resulting images reflected what I felt about the shape-shifting nature of longing and belonging,” Toor said. In this, it mirrors the feelings of despair, alienation and displacement in Mujtaba’s poetry. By transposing the recital to his collage, Toor intends to create a cross-form dialogue between two stories: his own as an immigrant and Mujtaba’s life as an émigré.

This can be noticed in the ghost-like figures that inhabit some of the pictures, who Toor views as “apparitions of cultural baggage, imagined histories and memories”. They represent also his understanding of the complexities and connects between popular and mass-media culture in the sub-continent and the traditional Western romanticisation of the region.

“I see these people as the fabric of a new history of colonisation and cross-cultural pollination – a history that is now open to interpretations and edition from parts of the world outside the US and Western Europe. I see these ghosts as agents of change and enablers of a reinvention of self and belonging. They are imagined ancestors and actors in a fractured, non-linear history in which an imagined past is present now, a past that is both disruptor and enabler,” he said.

Adding an autobiographical touch to the works is Toor’s impulse to paints himself into them, usually adopting the guise of a one-legged vagrant walking the streets with blinders on – which he takes to be a statement on his being handicapped by the loss of the familiar.

ENDS

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