Amar Kanwar at YSP

Between November 2013 and February 2014, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) presented the first major UK exhibition of work by internationally acclaimed artist Amar Kanwar. The exhibition, in YSP’s Underground Gallery, centred on The Sovereign Forest (2012–), which explores the impact of mining and other commercial activities on the landscape and communities of Odisha (formerly Orissa), India.

I found the exhibition very moving as it shone a light on the plight of the locals of the area and presented the damage caused to them, amongst which were the significant number of suicides amongst farmers in the regions affected. Amar explored crime, politics, human rights and ecology through the use of film, photography, text, and installation. The rooms were very dark and I asked the invigilator why and she said it was simply because it displayed the projects best rather than any statement by the artist.

I asked the invigilator a lot of questions about the exhibition and got to learn that all the books were made from handmade paper, some were even made from banana fibre (ramie paper). She said that the artist work, when shown in India, was very influential in helping the South East Indian population that was having their land taken from them and their livelihoods destroyed. It certainly made me think about the area and the political issues facing the local communities.

I visited the exhibition with a group of friends from college and there was differing opinion on how exhibitions should work. Some felt that the work on display should immediately communicate the purpose, and the message should be clear and obvious from observing the art. I, on the other hand, felt that there was a role for interpretation panels or introductory text, and conversations with invigilators. Art doesn’t necessarily have to be easy as, after all, the topics it deals with are usually quite complex. Plus, if it were easy, where does the human nature of the observe come into play – questioning, remembering, observing.

My favourite elements of the exhibition were the handmade books and the projections. I found the film a bit boring, although I appreciated the beauty in it. The room was very dark and Fran sat on someone’s lap by accident.


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