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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Art That Intervenes - Niiloer Farrukh

I recently had an encounter with the work of two artists who deal with issues of dispossessed people. Coming from two different parts of the world, to them, poverty, human rights and war are not abstract ideas to be handled at arms length with a conventional formal vocabulary, so they seek new strategies to communicate the palpable suffering that can only be given a human face with deep engagement.

The current exhibition at Power Plant Gallery in Toronto shows Walid Raad’s images which were taken by the artist as a 15-year-old through a telescopic lens, during the 1982 Israeli siege of Beirut. They are of a sky ablaze with falling bombs and explosions and triumphant conquerors on tanks. Marks of age visible in haziness and scratches remind us of a conflict that today, has added many recent chapters to the life of a resilient city that has been repeatedly built and destroyed.

The concerns of Mumbai-based artist Sharmila Samant in the two video pieces screened in Toronto focus on the insidiousness of corporate greed. “Art to me is the conscience, a kind of awareness and a reflection of my experiences,” she confesses. Her first video investigates the high rate of suicide deaths among young cotton farmers of India’s Gujrat province which, in recent years, has multiplied due to unbearable debts. The causes of crop failure are traced to the introduction of Monsanto seeds that makes the plants more vulnerable to disease and its bio-genetic make-up deprives them of seeds for future harvests. In documentary style, the artist interviews cotton crop experts and follows them to funerals of farmers who are mostly under 40 years of age, allowing the emotions and hardship speak to the audiences.


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