The Sovereign Forest: The Prediction, 1991/2012

Installation view: Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna, Austria, 2014 | Photo: Jens Ziehe
Installation view: Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna, Austria, 2014 | Photo: Jens Ziehe
Installation view: Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna, Austria, 2014 | Photo: Jens Ziehe
Installation view: Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna, Austria, 2014 | Photo: Jens Ziehe

Installation including handmade book, wooden table, lamp and single-channel video projection, color, silent
Book: 58 x 71 x 6.5 cm, Table: 164 x 645 x 80 cm, Lamp: 25 x ø 5 cm, Video: 8 min
Produced with the support of: Samadrusti, Odisha; Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Yorkshire Sculpture Park; Public Press, New Delhi and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel 

Amar Kanwar's works of the past two decades has presented a profound interrogation of the politics of power, violence, and justice. His multilayered art installation The Sovereign Forest (2011) emerges from the conflict in Odisha, India, between local communities, the government, and corporations. For more than a decade Kanwar has been filming the industrial interventions that have reshaped and permanently destroyed parts of the state's landscape. Since the 1990s Odisha has been a battleground on issues of development and displacement, as national and international corporations have established large-scale mining and industrial sites in various parts of the traditionally agrarian state. The resulting conflicts between local communities, the government, and corporations over the control of agricultural lands, forests, rivers, and minerals have led to the forcible displacement of indigenous communities, farmers, and fisherfolk while engendering an ongoing regimen of violence that is often unpredictable and invisible.
The Sovereign Forest renders visible what has hitherto been hidden and suppressed within the site of this "modern war." Engaging the viewer in manifold ways of seeing and comprehending, the work harnesses a set of propositions that investigate the notion of "poetry as evidence". Kanwar's films and the constellation of objects that accompany them orchestrate actual found and collected images, traces, records, fables, and personal stories in multiple vocabularies to surpass fact and reveal a richer, more fluid, and poetic perspective on reality and on the meaning of what is happening. The act of "seeing" in this case leads us to a deeper and more multidimensional comprehension of the relationship between life and politics, between the personal and the ungraspable implications of violence. The Constitution is part of The Sovereign Forest.

Kanwar's handmade book,The Prediction (1991-2012), contains fiction, facts, legal documents, personal statements, and photographs. It is what Kanwar calls a reference to the evidence of an old scene of crime, a counterpoint to a contemporary unfolding crime, which narrates the fateful story of the events leading to and following the assassination of the trade union leader Shankar Guha Niyogi in 1991. Niyogi was the leader of probably the largest democratic mass movement of workers, peasants, and Adivasis (tribals) in post-independence India. Heading the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha "an organization representing mine workers, tribals, and agricultural and bonded workers that is well known for its strikes and negotiations for the enforcement of basic labor laws and the observance of constitutional provisions” Niyogi predicted his own murder, tape-recorded a personal statement prior to his death, identified the conspirators, and explained the possible reasons for his assassination. The book also recounts, through legal records and trade union pamphlets, the murder trial, which spanned two decades. Leading industrialists were convicted of conspiracy in the murder of Shankar Guha Niyogi, but the rulings were overturned by the Supreme Court of India in 2005. The video projected on the book was predominantly filmed by Kanwar on September 29, 1991, a day after Niyogi's murder in the town of Dalli Rajhara, in Chhattisgarh.
Amar Kanwar was born in New Delhi in 1964 where he continues to live and work as a filmmaker. Kanwar studied at the Department of History, Ramjas College, Delhi University, and at the Mass Communication Research Center, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. After making a few films, Kanwar joined the People's Science Institute in 1988 as a researcher on occupational health and safety in the coal-mining belt of Madhya Pradesh in central India. He returned to filmmaking in 1990, and his films were then shown primarily in public campaigns, community spaces and film festivals in India and across the world. Kanwar's filmmaking practice challenges the limits of the medium in order to create complex narratives traversing several terrains such as labour and indigenous rights, gener, religious fundamentalis, and ecology. In 2002, Kanwar was invited to exhibit at Documenta 11 in Kassel whereupon his work has also been presented in several art exhibitions and museums. Connecting with diverse audiences, in multiple public spaces, Kanwar also participated in the next editions of the Documenta exhibition in 2007, 2012. and 2017. He has been an eminent voice in film and art for the past two decades

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