Crossing the line
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Indian artist Shilpa Gupta’s exhibition during the 2015 Venice Biennale wasn’t spectacular just because of its location at the Palazzo Benzon, which hangs over the Grand Canal. Through the duration of the six-month art event, Gupta had stationed an artist to trace maps on more than 3,394m—representing the under-construction wire-fence border between India and Bangladesh—of cloth handwoven by the people of Phulia in West Bengal. Her performative installation, 998.9 (2015), intended to draw the attention of global audiences to this little-known area of border friction.
Gupta has always believed in art as a place for dialogue. The 41-year-old artist has devoted her art practice to the issues of borders and surveillance, her interest going beyond cartography to cover the other kinds of lines we draw around ourselves as people and as a society: security, privacy, racism, to name a few.
In this special issue to mark 70 years of India’s independence, we too were keen to reflect upon the physical and metaphoric lines that have been, and are still being, crossed. A new rigour in the field of archiving oral histories of Partition reminds us that we’re still a long way from that beautiful Raymond Carver coinage—“being all talked out”—when it comes to Partition, that most literal of crossing-overs.
Words can be tough to coax at will. Another artist, the Karachi-based Roohi Ahmed, 50, took up needle and thread to express herself. At an exhibition in Delhi in January 2016 that tried to reinterpret Partition, Ahmed exhibited Sew And Sow (2015) , a video projection that showed a close-up of her making running stitches on her left palm with a red thread. To her, the running stitch is similar to the dashed line denoting boundaries on maps, she told me in an interview later. Her family had migrated from India to Pakistan in the early 1950s, and later settled in Dhaka. The video was a reminder of how borders can mark your skin and sully your blood.
But apathy is worse than pain, which became evident when we were working on our cover story on Hunderman, a village in Kargil that has seen four wars. Its inhabitants speak of conflict and war as if they were natural calamities. Perhaps worse than having to cross over to one side or the other is not being able to cross over at all.
Elsewhere in the issue, we profile the triumph of transgressions: from a selection of original poetry curated and introduced by poet Meena Kandasamy, who says “a poet lays claim to belonging through the act of becoming an outsider” to the story of a Bangladeshi pop song that crossed the border to acquire a second life as the anthem for the Jadavpur University students’ movement in Kolkata . In sports, we follow the erstwhile tennis champion of undivided India, Khawaja Iftikhar Ahmed, whose grandson, Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, went on to partner India’s Rohan Bopanna in many sporting victories In the story on food memories of women whose families had to undertake chaotic crossovers in 1947, the coconut flakes and molten jaggery of jethima’s khando come together to form sweet and indestructible goodness. In travel, we set out on foot to the East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya to find ourselves on a football field, one half of which lies in Sylhet, Bangladesh
On its part, this issue too attempts to cross a line; to cross over from the world of numbers and milestones to the realm of memory and experience: intangible, uncertain, and forever shifting. Like borders themselves.
Mint and Memesys Culture Lab come together for this short documentary to mark our Independence Day special
Hunderman in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kargil district is the last village on the Line of Control (LoC). It was the story of this village and its people that gave us the theme for this special issue: “Crossing the line”.
About the story’s virtual reality (VR) potential, Anand Gandhi, chief executive officer of Memesys Culture Lab, a cinema and new media studio, says: “The opportunity to be transported to a place with a transitional national identity, and yet unchanged through decades, could be best realized through complete immersion. (The) idea of a village that is a living museum of memories, artefacts and losses lent itself to the desire of being there so we can see it for ourselves, look around and learn.” Memesys Culture Lab, formed in 2015, has been creating non-fiction and journalistic VR content for ElseVR, its online quarterly specializing in VR, for about a year and a half—they have produced seven films so far.
“Hunderman doesn’t have electricity, a sewage system or phone signal, so it takes a lot of planning to be there. And if the existing 2D cameras work with a fly-on-the-wall approach in documentaries, then VR equipment is an elephant in the room,” says Shubhangi Swarup, the film’s director, on the production’s challenges.
How to watch it
1. Don’t have a VR headset? You can experience the 360-degree video on Mint’s YouTube channel and the Livemint website (www.livemint.com/whenbordersmove). Use the Chrome browser. Safari and Internet Explorer do not support 360.
2. Have a VR headset? Go to www.elsevr.tv, Memesys Culture Lab’s VR platform.
3. You can also watch the 360-degree video on YouTube, Facebook or ElseVR apps on your phone.
The writer tweets at @aninditaghose