The western world’s fascination of far-away cultures has led to the problematic love-hate relationship between western subjects and the eastern ‘Other’. Colonialism and art have walked hand in hand for a very long time. But the winds are changing. Amar Kanwar belongs to those artists who are trying to subvert the colonialist gaze through pure depictions of ‘the real’. He is, in other words, giving us the true, yet forgotten stories behind the international broadcast scenes. In his video films, Kanwar is showing his reflections on democracy, the outcome of ethnical and religious conflicts, the face of violence and the importance of non-violent acts of resistance.

His current on-going work, The Torn First Pages, is about the public resistance to the dictatorship within Burma and the challenges that it confronts and presents globally. The title refers to the compulsory printing of a set of slogans of the Burmese military regime on the first page of every published work within Burma. This fragmented and multidimensional work spirals out of Burma into different nations as it interrogates the relationship of all individuals to democracy.

The ‘real’ can never become ‘reality’ unless you experience it with your heart and body, unless you feel the fear of death or the joy of life, unless you are ‘within’ the image. But Amar Kanwar brings us very close to the image. He is mixing the language of conflicts with the language of poetics, the documentary with the film, in order to reach beyond all polarization, beyond all difference, into the realm of sympathy and understanding. In his work Kanwar is asking not only the viewer, but also himself: "Can I understand violence?" We see the outcome of violence everyday. But do we really know where it comes from? Do we really understand what we condemn, and can we condemn what we understand?

The political tragedies that lie at the heart of Amar Kanwar's work are dressed in a veil of sadness. Yet painfully beautiful, these images breathe hope and human dignity. Amar Kanwar shows us what we cannot yet describe. His art echoes the spirit of Wittgenstein's cry "Don't think, look!" One could add: "Do not only look, feel!"

By Sinziana Ravini



"TORN FIRST PAGES, Part One : Somewhere in May"
Courtesy: Amar Kanwar