Amar Kanwar
The Lightning Testimonies and The Sovereign Forest
February 27 – May 19, 2019
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Still: Amar Kanwar, The Scene of Crime (2011). Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection
Amar Kanwar, The Sovereign Forest, (2012). Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection
Still: Amar Kanwar, The Scene of Crime (2011). Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection
Still: Amar Kanwar, The Scene of Crime (2011). Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection
MNTB Madrid

Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) present The Lightning Testimonies and The Sovereign Forest by Amar Kanwar, two major installation works by an artist whose practice is defined by the gathering of testimony of India’s most vulnerable populations. Co-commissioned by TBA21, both works explore notions of justice and the way it is applied to individual actions, to laws, and to public policies—topics that are especially relevant in today’s climate of fake news and fabricated narratives.

Curated by Chus Martínez​, and opening to the public on February 27, 2019, to coincide with ARCO Madrid, The Sovereign Forest and The Lightning Testimonies is part of an expanding collaboration between the museum and TBA21.The presentation will remain on view through May 19, 2019.

The Lightning Testimonies is a multi-channel video installation that reflects upon a history of conflict in the Indian subcontinent through the often repressed, always sensitive, and newly urgent subject of sexual violence against women. The work confronts visitors with accounts of victims of wide-scale abduction and rape during the Indian partition in 1947 and the anti-rape demonstrations in Manipur in 2004. As a montage of simultaneous accounts, each projection features a different woman recounting a multi-layered memory of trauma and resilience, revealing multiple submerged narratives, at times through people, images and memories and, at other times, through objects from nature and everyday life that stand in silent witness. As relevant as the day it was conceived, the work transports visitors beyond the realm of suffering into a space of quiet contemplation, where resilience creates the potential for transformation in a world marked by a continued struggle for women’s rights and dignity. The Lightning Testimonies was co-produced by TBA21 and Public Press, and premiered at documenta 12 in 2007.

The Sovereign Forest is an ongoing investigative project initiated in 2010 that arises from the conflict in Odisha in eastern India between local communities, the government, and businesses over the control of the land, forests, rivers and minerals, which has resulted in the forced displacement of indigenous communities, farmers and fishermen and generated a climate of violence. Presented as an archive of films, books, photographs and documents, the work provides multiple ways to enter and become immersed in the social, moral, economic, and political issues specific to Odisha yet faced today by many communities across the globe.

Developed in collaboration with the activist Sudhir Pattnaik and documentary filmmaker Sherna Dastur, The Sovereign Forest opened to the public in 2012 on the Samadrusti campus in Bhubaneswar (Odisha) as a semi-permanent installation. Numerous visitors shared their viewpoints and ideas, in some cases providing further proof and evidence, highlighting that The Sovereign Forest is a constantly expanding project. Since then, it has been presented as part of documenta 13 in the Natural History Museum in Kassel (Germany); a cement hut in Bhubaneswar (Odisha); a granary on the estate of a ruined colonial mansion in Kochi for the Kochi-Muziris Biennial (Kerala, India); an empty bank building in Sharjah for the Sharjah Biennial (UAE); the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (UK); and TBA21–Augarten in Vienna.
Chus Martínez
The exhibition will be accompanied by a range of public programs, free and open to the public, which will take place throughout the duration of the exhibition