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The Salon

The Zone 3 - (Dis)located conversations  

Juan Orrantia, April 2014

Contaminated by colonialism and its afterlives, art works and practices shaped beyond the mainstream centers (although shown and intervening there) bring with them an array of possibilities, histories and multiple roles. Wanting to unpack these, I have reached out to the lives behind them in search of their biographies and unfolding. And for this, I rely on the figure of the ongoing conversation, of the intimate spaces of dialogue beyond the white cubes and film festivals of the mainstream, and rather seek elements of exchange that are constantly taking place in airplanes, small coffee shops (in Mumbai), a verandah (in Goa), on the streets (of New York en route to Dhaka), a dinner table (in Johannesburg), and mostly over email and even whatsapp. These conversations act like points of intersection in a growing cartography of redefinitions.

The south is a concept that by now elides the barriers of region and place but lives on within us, especially if we constantly traverse the spaces of (dis)location. Thus, the so-called southern artist is not what she used to be, even though she struggles with the legacies of context, place and cultural definitions. Today, her life and practice are no longer restricted, yet still live through the effects-if not ruins- of conditions that mark/ed skin, mind and body. And still, these (dis)locations nourish, question and raise the politics of postcolonial experiences that, beyond the limits of region or nation, travel and interpolate boundaries. Like the so-called southern artist, curators and critics share similar legacies, experiences and definitions that have constrained, at times enabled, but mostly marked individuals to region if not country-something that, to recall what Aveek Sen once wrote, does not happen to a Western artist. As he asked in Roots in the Air "... why is Cartier-Bresson simply photography, while Graciela Iturbide Mexican photography and Dayanita Singh Indian photography"? So, even though the conversations presented are focused on the art work produced, they say as much about the curator and critic as they say about the artist, the work, and the politics of being within the evolving and mutating concept of the south as a lived experience.

Lola MacDougall comes via Spain to Delhi and Goa, where she founded Punctum Magazine, a project that has enabled the idea of "Asian photography" beyond regional limits. She speaks here with Gauri Gill, whose photographic series, shown from Delhi to New York, not only include a remake of "The Americans", but go deep into the space of Indian representation per excellence, the deserts of Rajasthan. Working there for over a decade, her works shift perspectives through subtle and intimate relations that express these lives, sometimes from the very act of birth. The conversation between them is, much like Gauri's photographs, a flow of moments that rely on the subtlety of poetics to question and critique categories and their associations.

Renuka Sawhney, dividing her time between New York and Mumbai, curates and writes about art in South Asia, beyond the scopes of its geopolitical limits but with an attention to the historical implications of those engaged within them. As such she is here in conversation with Naeem Mohaiemen, who explores histories of the international left and the contradictions of nationalisms through essays, photography and film, focusing mainly on Bangladesh. Shown worldwide, most recently at MOMA, his works reveal the tensions between the instability of memory and the political domains that depend on it.

The living (and problematic) legacy of representations, of what a place is supposed to be and mostly of what artists and critics are assumed to be in such places, comes into question through the details and experiences of these lives narrated, shared and fostered on multiple axes. Even if always tied to a center, to a pole of recognition, these limits extend themselves through the possibilities of multiple crossings that revert the notion and practice, if not the "taken for granted" understanding of location.

With these conversations I hope not only to bring to the fore the voice of the curator/critic in relation to that of her other half, the artist and work, but also to open the possibilities of taking the space of dialogue as a practice of redefinition itself. Through them I want to unbalance equations of stability, where people and art works are held tight to a place of origin or professional category. By including the conversation in relation or dialogue to the works presented, the triad critic/curator-artist-work is propelled through a series of interpretations that open the doors to readings and experiences where one or the other is a channel that finds the possibilities of new meanings, of pushing the boundaries. Lola and Gauri's dialogue thus opens a reflection on the coexistence of multiple roles -curator, participant, class subject and woman- facilitated by (her) contemporary photographic work that unsettles the idea of single, limited identities. Renuka and Naeem, similarly shaped by ongoing travels to and from art summits and talks, developed a conversation that (in this, its first part) highlights memory and its role in the work process-as both material to work with, but also as a concept to work through, that pervades (biographical and national) notions of the past and the present in spaces of practice, exhibition and their formation. In the process we are exposed to the intimate relationship of memory with ruptures and even specters that inhabit national borders.

Ultimately, I hope the reader is left with the inherent openness and positive incompleteness of these exchanges. For, they too act like notes on the margins, snippets of mind maps through circuits of new configurations, identities and reflections made possible from the debris of postcolonial experiences in the process of becoming something else.