Of Bangladesh’s politics and India’s farmers: Biennale satellite shows reflect intense realities

A work by Prasanta Sahu on display as part of his show titled Anatomy of a Vegetable. Photo: Special arrangement

Kochi: Two solo art exhibitions, which are being held as satellite events of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, are noted for the intensity of their themes dwelling on the plight of the people of Bangladesh and the agrarians of rural India.

The exhibition by Santiniketan-based artist Prasanta Sahu is titled ‘Anatomy of a Vegetable – Ruminations on fragile ecosystems’ while Bangladesh-based artist and photographer Shahidul Alam’s expo is named ‘Singed But Not Burnt’. The shows, presented by Kolkata-based Emami Art, are on at Mocha Art Café, Synagogue Lane, Jew Town, Kochi.

Prasanta Sahu’s Anatomy of a Vegetable

Prasanta Sahu is a chronicler of the Indian hinterland. Sahu, who hails from a family of farmers, is the first in his family to have a university education studying electrical engineering before finding his way into art. Now teaching art at his alma mater Kala Bhavana, he has, for more than a decade, turned the lens of his practice towards retelling the rural saga. But rather than an overtly politicised critique of the agrarian crisis, the artist adopts a sensitive, poetic retelling from an insider perspective. Based on the experiences of his upbringing, skillfully interspersed with a documentation methodology that espouses analytical, empirical data collection, Sahu actively engages with the politics of representation and truths hidden from mainstream discourse.

For the Kochi Muziris Biennale satellite exhibition Sahu has realised three works -- The drumstick tree and other stories – Drawing and found objects, Mapping Craters – A table installation of plaster moulds of vegetables, and Tilling Lessons, a video.

The drawings in The drumstick tree and other stories consist of around 150 works on paper and found objects arranged carefully as a large installation, touches upon tableaus of humdrum, symbiotic relationships between humans and non-humans. Some examples include Illustrations of green leafy vegetables foraged by the village women when they have nothing to eat but which they cook with care and love.

The installation, Mapping Craters, is the result of a three years relationship that Sahu has forged with Lakhi Ram, a landless farmer from Amdahara village close to Santiniketan, where Sahu resides. This work was part of a museum show at Palazzo Madama in Turin, Italy, in 2021 and is being shown for the first time in India.

In the third work, Tilling Lessons, a video, Sahu uses the interview format of newsreels interspersed with a recording of himself learning/relearning how to till the soil.

A photograph displayed as a part of Shahidul Alam’s exhibition -- Singed But Not Burnt. Photo: Special arrangement

Shahidul Alam’s Singed But Not Burnt

An exhibition of works selected from Alam’s archive in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the exhibition comprises of his early experiments in pictorialism and later experimentation in exploring the political space. Focusing on the under-represented and minorities, Alam creates imagery that is at once protest, reportage and art.

Alam is the founder of the Drik Picture Library, the Pathshala Media Institute, the Majority World Agency and the Chobi Mela festival of photography. He is also a new media pioneer and introduced email to Bangladesh in the early nineties. He is currently setting up a centre for investigative journalism in Bangladesh.

Emami Art’s founder and CEO Richa Agarwal said the solo exhibitions showcase the most recent as well as seminal works of the artists. “Being one of the pivotal institutions of cultural production in the eastern region of India, it is important for us to collaborate with one of the significant art events of the sub-continent,” Agarwal said.

In addition to the two solos, Emami’s represented artist Debashish Paul was part of the Biennale residency programme hosted by HH Art Space Foundation in collaboration with the Kochi Muziris Foundation.

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