Home and away

The world may have shrunk thanks to technology and ease of travel but what happens to the concept of ‘home’ and what is its modern definition? If the earlier ideas equated ‘homeland’ with one’s ancestral place, modern lifestyle has resulted in people migrating countries and sharing diverse identities. Exploring such issues is the exhibition Homelands — A 21st century story of home, away and all the places in between, which has travelled to New Delhi and Kolkata and will head to Bengaluru after Mumbai.

Untitled image from the series Shopna

Indian curator Latika Gupta has curated the exhibition and it includes artworks culled from the British Council’s art collection. The exhibition offers a unique take on contemporary British art and includes works by artists such as Mona Hatoum, David Hockney, Grayson Perry and David Shrigley. The artists represent a diversity of identity: Mona Hatoum is a Palestinian-Lebanese-British, Zineb Sedira is Algerian-French-British and Suki Dhanda is a British-Asian whose family immigrated to the UK from Punjab. Excerpts from an interview with Gupta:

Steep Lane Baptist Chapel; 1977, by Martin Parr

How did Homelands happen?
I was invited by the British Council, UK, to curate an exhibition from their collection in 2011. The theme of the exhibition emerged after going through the works from the collection. As the world becomes increasingly ‘globalised’, there is also a simultaneous tightening of borders, increasingly intolerant state policies towards immigrants and a greater fundamentalism in religious and cultural identities. The exhibition attempts to understand this common, contemporary condition that afflicts our world and each of us today. Through more than 80 works, Homelands unpacks the concepts of language, cultural and religious practices as well as ideas of citizenship and exile.

+ and - by Mona Hatoum. pics courtesy/British council

Was there a particular criteria kept in mind in selecting the artists?
All the work is a part of the permanent collection of the British Council, which has more than 8,500 works that have been acquired from the 1930s. The collection functions as a ‘museum without walls’ and one of the primary mandates is to tour as many works from the collection to different countries around the world. Thus, none of the works have been made or commissioned for the exhibition. In terms of selection, my focus was on the art work rather than the artist.

What are the highlights of Homelands?
For the art community, it is the first time that many iconic works are being shown in India — including David Hockney’s series A Rake’s Progress, Mona Hatoum’s video Measures of Distance, Richard Long’s Stone Line, the recent Susan Hiller work: The Last Silent Movie that consists of a video installation and 24 prints and Jeremy Deller’s Acid Brass. Incidentally, Deller is representing Britain in the 2013 Venice Biennale. For art students, the exhibition presents multiple modes of art practices ranging from printmaking, painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography and video art to sound installations and temporary performative practices. For the general audience, Homelands presents subjects that speak of individual stories as well as larger community histories.

Latika Gupta

What is concept of homeland that the exhibition explores?
Homeland is usually defined as the country of our national identity. Today, many of us move across national boundaries. We are born in one country, we make another our home. In the criss-crossing of political, social and cultural borders, we live our lives through hyphenated identities: belonging here and there; inhabiting multiple places (both physical and metaphorical). The works in the exhibition delve into ideas of language, communication, folk cultures, exile, public histories as well as personal family narratives to complicate any singular understanding of what a homeland might mean.

Is there an Indian connect to the exhibition?
I am Indian, so the theme of the exhibition as well as the selection of the works may have been via an ‘Indian’ viewpoint. I do try to avoid sweeping generalisations. I question the idea of identity as being fixed according to one’s nationality, passport, place of birth, or the land of one’s ancestors. Living in a particular region informs our worldview as much as communication and a sharing of cultures does in today’s world of increased travel.

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