The Johnson Museum of Art’s featured exhibition, Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space, opened Jan. 21, but, this past weekend, curators and some of the 33 participating artists expressed their intent and goals in a comprehensive symposium. Nestled in a lecture hall within the new wing of the museum, the event began with an opening greeting from chief curator and curator of Asian art, Ellen Avril, who gave the nuts-and-bolts of the exhibition. She explained that Green Cardamom, a nonprofit London-based arts organization, has assembled Lines of Control since 2005. The process required much effort and cooperation, as the 250-page catalogue accompanying the exhibition shows.
Curator Hammad Nasar followed, addressing the core intentions of the exhibit as well as its early stages. Lines of Control began as an investigation of the visual legacy of the Partition of India, as Nasar believed that, despite its historical significance, the era has not left that large of an imprint on the visual memory of the world. Nasar offered insight into the exposition, even sharing that a piece was forbidden to be displayed at galleries in Asia. The piece stated, “Hindu + Muslim = Us,” and was not allowed to be displayed because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Though originally conceived as an expansive, single exhibit, the production instead turned into a series of small parts. Nasar made the analogy of “eating an elephant in small bites” — soon enough the project becomes unexpectedly large, as it currently is in the Johnson Museum in 2012.
Nasar’s verbal address on the early development of the exhibition soon turned into an examination of the transformation of the exhibition over time. Lines of Control has shifted its focus from the 1947 partition of India that created the nations of Pakistan and Bangladesh towards all partitions throughout the world. It also has changed from a historical perspective, understanding contemporary events with history always in the rear-view mirror. He also explained that the show has become more open-ended and an apparatus of inquiry on the flexible meaning of partition.
Prof. Iftikhar Dadi, Chair of the Art Department and another curator for the exhibit, presented a slide show of some of the works shown at the museum in an effort to make sure pieces were not overlooked. The expansive exhibition, which contained more than 40 works of art, offered much to gloss over.
Next, Prof. Jolene Rickard provided more insight into her piece of art for the show, called “Fight for the Line.” The title was inspired by her own grandfather’s autobiography, which fixated on the authority, or lack thereof, of the indigenous people of the Ithaca area. Rickard explained that in order to have a discussion of borders, indigenous space should be recognized and ethical issues should be brought to attention. The discussion prompted a comparison to the “Occupy” movements and the motives of any displaced person to re-settle and traditionalize the space of which they were displaced.
The symposium concluded with a conversation with artist Amar Kanwar, who contributed his video “Trilogy: A Season Outside” (1997). His films often combine documentary with visual thesis, explore traditions in relationship to the contemporary and examine political practices and cultural customs.
The exhibition is complex and visually challenging, yet nonetheless worth the inquiry into its cohesiveness and individualistic qualities.
Lines of Control will be on view at the Johnson Museum until April 1.