Battling cultural discrimination with the empowering language of art

Battling cultural discrimination with the empowering language of art

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 13 May, 2017
Mana Contemporary, New Jersey, USA, President Donald Trump, National Endowment for the Arts , South Asia, art, Undated Nightskin
Undated Nightskin at Mana Contemporary.
In the wake of the Trump administration’s proposed cuts on public spending on the arts in the United States, a New Jersey-based cultural centre has organised a series of shows at its facility, celebrating the spirit of multiculturalism, writes Bhumika Popli. 
Mana Contemporary, a cultural centre in New Jersey, USA, is leading a protest against President Donald Trumps’ administration, which has proposed to curtail funding for the arts. The proposal aims to cut the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 2017, and to fully eliminate funding in 2018, which is approximately $148 million per year.

In a recent statement on this issue, the president of the Mana Contemporary, Eugene Lemay, expresses his displeasure. He says, “It is the obligation of artists and arts organisations to speak out in protest of these cuts. Without public funds, it’s likely we’ll lose an entire generation of future creatives.”

 The proposal, if accepted, might leave many artists across the world, including those from South Asia, in a bind, as many American art organisations work with their counterparts globally, expanding and promoting numerous artists’ practice. The fund cuts would limit the reach of young artists, along with many others repercussions – eventually diminishing the diversity in the arts.

Currently, Mana Contemporary, in order to display this very multiplicity in the arts, is promoting works through several exhibitions. Where In Between, a show by multiple artists that displays contemporary Iranian-American art, looks at the cross-cultural overlap between Iran and the U.S., New York-based artist Olek’s Good News plays with the idea of positive news on the New York Times cover for the year 2020. The installation illustrates freedom of expression and Olek’s respect for artists and writers.  Another show, titled Undated Nightskin, is a series of installations by Indo-French artist Chittrovanu Mazumdar, which evokes the light and darkness of Eastern India.

Mazumdar’s works have been showcased at Mana Contemporary by 1x1 Art Gallery in Dubai, founded by Malini Gulrajani. She says, “Following the success of Mazumdar’s previous exhibitions, we subsequently showcased a large selection of the current works for a mid-career retrospective to Museo d›Arte Contemporanea in Rome, which is when the Mana team saw the work and proposed that we show it at Jersey City, New York. After two years of discussions and negotiations we were finally able to achieve our goal.

The proposal, if accepted, might leave many artists across the world, including those from South Asia, in a bind, as many American art organisations work with their counterparts globally, expanding and promoting numerous artists’ practice. The fund cuts would limit the reach of young artists, along with many others repercussions – eventually diminishing the diversity in the arts.
Guardian 20 also spoke with Mazumdar about his ongoing show. He says, “I view my current exhibition as an entry in an incomplete diary; it represents my relationship with the world around me in constantly changing contexts. Undated Nightskin comprises a series of works in rooms or chambers. The terrain of these chambers is that of mythology. Operating as dreams do, much is hidden from us, just as much is revealed. We are constantly struck by physical, sensual, emotional currents that we are not able to fully fathom. We move through these chambers, as we move through life, making meaning from fragments.”

In the seven works in the exhibition; several large installations stand out.

One will see looming metal towers mounted on wheels which appear in a state of waiting in the semi-darkness. The flashing red light that looks like a warning – of danger and of the untoward, adding to the unsettling feeling. Unclear sounds floating in the space deepen this disorientation.

Another large work, Untitled, comes as an end point in the exhibition. It is a series of images contained within black metal boxes, each of which throws forth a pool of red light. To look at these pictures one has to crouch half way down. Mazumdar reveals objects of personal memory, interest and scrutiny in this work. He says, “Water and air combine to make the rope in my garden in Jharkhand, heavy with decay, it twists with a kind of supernatural intent. Fruit swells and bursts with a ripe urgency, dropping its seed on the ground, the wet earth puckers and swells under the first deluge of rain. Appropriately perhaps at the heart of this installation, a black frame is present. And then without preamble, we hear the first bells, the bells gradually quicken and tense, and then culminate in a climax like a temple arti, causing the room, and the suspended works to shudder in unison.”

He adds, “I may suggest that we recognise in this work not just libidinal urgency but female desire, not just the realisation of life and of death in the self but also the other. Together, these express conflicting experiences and beliefs that exist within modern society and man.”

The aim of the artist is to allow the viewer to navigate through these spaces and make his own connection. He does not seek to influence the viewers. “As long as there is some form of engagement, my art has achieved itself. Even if the viewer hates it, he has engaged with it,” says Mazumdar.

Mazumdar produced these works long before Trump became a contender in the US presidential elections. He says, “The works were not conceptualised in connection to Trump or his administration. However, given the current political situation, and hostility felt towards South Asian and Middle Eastern visitors, it is wonderful to be welcomed by such a prestigious institution as Mana.”

Undated Nightskin is on view till 26 August, 2017

 

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