FILM ANIMATION & EDITING
PARTNER-IN-CHARGE, CREATIVE & ART DIRECTOR
DESIGN DEVELOPMENT & PRODUCTION DESIGN
KAUSHIK RAMASWAMY & SANJAY KAK
The exhibit Shaheed/Witness/Kashmir installed at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney is a spatial representation of the book Witness. The book won design awards and was listed among New York Times’ ten best photo books of the year. The resulting traction led to an invitation to display the work at the Biennale. The exhibit is intended as a photographic glimpse at life and politics in Kashmir over three strife-ridden decades, which is richly detailed in the book. It was to be true to the book, not in a linear or literal way but to render the book’s intent into space and volume.
A mesh of red threads on the ceiling connect words and pictures. A cloth tape runs through the exhibit (The book is imagined as a case file, tied together with a cloth tape).
Witness reflects the photography in which a generation of photojournalists in Kashmir in the period 1986–2016, responded to three decades of near continuous conflict. For them, Kashmir is not only the theatre in which they worked, but their home. Their images became a way of showing Kashmir’s reality to the world, but also what they were enduring. So each of them was a ‘witness’ an observer, as well as a part of the community they were observing, as Kashmiris. Shaheed, translates to ‘witness’ in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. It also means ‘martyr’, the sense in which it is most commonly used in Urdu/Hindustani. This dual sense is key to the book and to the installation Shaheed/Witness/Kashmir.
A separate exhibit at Cockatoo Island, a 5 km boat trip across the sea from Sydney, welcomes visitors and provides a trailer to the main exhibit. Large prints stretched across disused machine shelters take advantage of the harsh, bare industrial landscape. The silent shock of the image tells its own story.
The exhibit’s calm narration contrasts with the moments of shock and unease that the images and videos bring to it. LCD screens, light-tables and photographic prints recall the ebb and flow of the book.
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