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NEW DELHI :

India is that anomalous democracy that allows its army to shoot, rape, torture and terrorize its own citizens with impunity. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, better known as Afspa, not only makes such atrocities possible but also legitimate. One of the most misused laws in modern India, Afspa was introduced in two North-Eastern states before being extended to the entire region, and eventually to other “disturbed areas" of the country such as Kashmir.

Ostensibly meant to keep law and order, Afspa, in its over 50 years of existence, has been the cause of countless deaths, disappearances and instances of human rights abuse. Hundreds of activists continue to put their life and liberty at risk in order to demand its repeal, though in vain. From the group of Manipuri women who walked naked through the headquarters of the Assam Rifles to protest the rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama in 2004 to the continuing fast by Irom Sharmila (the Iron Lady of Manipur) to have the draconian law removed, expressions of outrage have gripped the public’s imagination emotionally as well as visually.

Can art deepen our understanding of the tragedies perpetuated by Afspa? Can it extend our sympathies for the people who are forced to live in the shadow of Afspa and suffer its terrible consequences every day? Does it make us more acutely aware of the circumstances which we, as citizens of India, have been collectively thrust into? What can art hope to show us that images of loss and suffering, blood and violence, strewn all over the media, cannot?

In its ongoing show, Waiting For the Wind, the Experimenter gallery in Kolkata, one of the finest alternative art spaces in the country, engages with such questions through the work of six artists. Each of them, a prominent name in the global art scene, presents work that is spare, with just about enough stimuli to keep the eye arrested and the mind racing. To look at their work is to remind ourselves of the credo of the contemporary artist, who is as much a creator of objects as a generator and disseminator of ideas.

Three of the participants—Naeem Mohaiemen, Iman Issa and Walid Raad—are based in the US, though they were born in Bangladesh, Egypt and Lebanon, respectively. Although their projects have resonances with the political histories and contexts of the nations they come from, the thematic affinities of their work with those of the others are apparent. Shilpa Gupta, Tushar Joag and Raqs Media Collective hold up a mirror to realities more specific to India.

Waiting For the Wind is on till 26 April, 11am-7pm (Sundays closed), at Experimenter, 2/1 Hindusthan Road, Kolkata (24630465).

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