Home Art Shooting War

Shooting War

How we interpret the world is largely dependent on how we ‘see’ it. Photo Kathmandu 2016 gave us a glimpse of an alternative possibility of seeing the conflicts that have defined the reality of this region in recent history

Is conflict inevitable, and does it actually sustain civilisation?” is a question that curator Tanvi Mishra throws up in the curatorial note that accompanied the section called Measures of Loss and Memory of War in the hugely successful Photo Kathmandu 2016, which took over unexpected public sites across Patan and turned them into temporary exhibition spaces for photographic narratives from across South Asia.

Conflict is a reality we cannot ignore in the world we live in today; it is also something we have gotten somewhat anaesthetised against and turn a blind eye towards, in order to maintain our sanity. However, by pursuing insularity, we do contain our feeling of helplessness in the face of incomprehensible state policies or warring factions in our own backyards, but we also forget the specific realities that engender and sustain such conflicts. In Peal of Spring Thunder, India’s Ishan Tankha directs his lens on the adivasis and Maoist rebels  of Chattisgarh, a comparatively new state in eastern India but a region whose history has been ‘‘shaped by the politics of control over land as resource since the late 19th century.’’ The project makes visible the stories of a people that have been consistently ignored by the government and also by the media and civil society. Interestingly, Tankha does not record the aftermaths of bloody skirmishes between the rebels and security forces, or train his camera on the obvious fallouts of an insurgency that has been simmering for decades. He draws our eyes instead to the human face of those fighting the battle and the causes that often push them into it. Politics of the visual is perhaps the most powerful weapon that we have today, given the billions of images we produce every year. In Peal of Spring Thunder, Tankha brings us quiet images—documentation of implements of everyday use that the state easily terms weapons, or a close shot of a rebel’s uniform, or a man who was forced out of his land by mining corporations. His record of rebels and adivasis carrying out innocuous daily tasks forces us to take note of the thread of common experience that connects them. He manipulates photographic convention often: for example, the top shot of two pairs of resting feet presumably belonging to women rebels carry the visual load of bodies destroyed in ambushes or encounters, but here they belong to living, breathing insurgents instead. The image is a visual reminder that ‘they’ are not much different from ‘us’.

A People War documents moments from Nepal’s own and bloody Maoist insurgency but with a twist. Alongside images that record the trauma inflicted on people—like those of a child cowering beside a doorstep bathed with the blood of a ‘dead female guerrilla’—we find images of hope: portraits that revisit individuals after a war-torn decade and tell us of the many ways in which the affected civilians are trying to rebuild their lives. Displayed against contemporary news reports, A People War brought us a comprehensive slice of Nepal’s history while establishing continuity with our present. Selected by Kunda Dixit, A People War was shot by Bikas Rauniar, Gopen Rai, Amrit Gurung, Thomas Bell, Ghanshyam Khadka, Deepak Gyawali, Naresh Newar, Prabir Dadel, Rameshwar Bohora, Tula Chaudhary, Mukunda Bogati, Shreejana Shrestha, Elizabeth Dalziel, Kiyoko Agura, Sagar Shrestha and Sailendra Kharel.

Norwegian Jonas Benediksen’s video work explores a narrative similar to theirs, though in motion, and through the voice of the affected people. The work adds an interesting dimension to an otherwise stills-based section. UK’s Stephen Champion brought us the horrors that the separatist movement has wrought in Sri Lanka. Apart from the expected documentation of aftermaths of violent incidents, Champion’s Sri Lanka: War Stories is significant because of the texts it incorporates within the images, ranging between graffiti on Colombo’s walls and LTTE’s propaganda billboards. Champion has tried to captured not only the reality of war but the mechanism that feeds it and its fallout on innocents.

On a slightly different but related note, the French Sandra Calligaro’s Afghan Dreams offered us an unusual perspective on conflict. Installed across Saugal Square, the series recorded the everyday dreams of contemporary Afghan youth whose hopes have been brutally restricted by the unstable political situation in Afghanistan. Calligaro does not record the immediacy of war or conflict but brings us a candid perspective on its fallout on those who get caught in the crossfire. As a self-fashioned rock-singer keen on telling the world that Afghans are ‘normal people’ strums a guitar, or children play in a park, or a woman gets herself photographed in a studio are obviously moments that encapsulate the hope for normalcy of Kabul’s middle class. Calligaro consciously constructs an alternative vision of contemporary Afghanistan that is absent in international discourse on the country. How we interpret the world is largely dependent on how we ‘see’ it. Photo Kathmandu 2016 gave us a glimpse of an alternative possibility of seeing the conflicts that have defined the reality of this region in recent history.

Photo Courtesy: Amrit Gurung

By Kurchi Dasgupta