‘In wandering we are lost and this is the attraction of wandering’
‘In wandering we are lost and this is the attraction of wandering’
13 January 2015
The notion of wandering within a transnational cultural context was addressed at an inspiring and cutting-edge cultural symposium held at Asia House.
The figure of a wanderer drifting from place to place emerged in the 10th century in the ancient Anglo Saxon verse The Wanderer, followed by Caspar David Friedrich’s The Wanderer above the Mists (1817-1818). Next orienting East there was Li Bai’s (701-762) Daoist Wanderer during the Tang Dynasty and then in the 20th century the ‘cosmopolitan nomad’ emerged that artist Simon Leung referred to, in terms of a contemporary figure of the wanderer as displaced or in exile.
It was thus the right time for Asia House to hold an event, The Wanderer: Home (land) Exile Dislocation, which opened up a stimulating dialogue to debate notions of wandering, drifting home and displacement across borders.
Art historian and curator Dr Alice Correia, a Researcher at the University of Salford, whose current research examines British-Asian diaspora art, spoke about the sense of displacement felt by Hindus and Muslims in British India at the time of Partition. She then compared different ways that South Asian artists had addressed this in their art.
Printmaker and sculptor India-born American artist Zarina Hashmi, for example, was born in India to Muslim parents, who fled with her from Delhi to Karachi at Partition, leaving behind their family home, roots and friends when Zarina was just 10.
Zarina’s work, which has been exhibited at The Guggenheim Museum in New York, is often about her deep sense of exile and displacement, journey and memory and the concept of ‘home’.
In her portfolio of nine etchings titled Home I made/A life in Nine Lives (1997), she presents floor plans of each of the different homes she has lived in. Correia explained that Zarina left India in 1958 and married a diplomat so has lived in many countries.
Correia said: “These seem to suggest home can be any place, wherever she is – but there is also a melancholy and a sense of being never settled, an exile and a profound sense of loss at leaving her homeland. There is a great sense of trauma and loss in her work.”
Zarina’s artwork conveys a sense of “longing for permanence or security and the state of home being a mental condition – longing for a return that can never be fully achieved. She felt torn between Pakistan and India her whole life,” Correia said.
“She said she felt betrayed because they thought they were part of this wonderful secular experiment in India,” Correia added.
Correia then talked about Dividing the Line, a woodcut by Zarina printed in black on Indian handmade paper, that shows a jagged line representing the border between India and Pakistan.
She also referred to Letters from Home, a series of prints with Urdu characters on inspired by letters written by the artist’s sister who lived in Pakistan, often expressing the death of family members.
Correia compared Zarina’s experience to another artist Navin Rawanchaikul who was born in Thailand to Indian emigrants. “He approaches it with more reverence and humour. His parents settled in Thailand as a consequence of Partition. He interviewed local Indian people (known as kheak) living in Chiang Mai, where his family settled, to find out how an Indian population came to be in Chiang Mai,” Correia said.
“The sense of loss present in one was not present here. Many Thais and Indians have fallen in love and got married,” she said, showing us an image of his very colourful Places of Rebirth (2009), designed like a Bollywood poster, which shows pictures of his family and friends on his journey through different cultures.
“There is no single South Asian diasporic identity, no singular Asian experience of Partition as proved by this,” Correia said.
Art historian Brian Hatton, Professor at The Architectural Association in London, said: “You may be wandering most when standing still. It’s that point at which you hesitate and you don’t actually know which path to take. This vast proposition is somehow encapsulated in the open house architecture of the 20th century,” he said, showing a picture of a lady in a house looking outside wanting to get out and escape the industrial revolution. He also spoke about how open plan Japanese houses had lots of places to wander in.
Artist Antoni Manilowski, who produced the beautifully painted walls and ceilings at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, which recently won the prestigious RIBA Sterling Prize 2014 for architecture, described how he was born in Poland in a small flat that his parents had allocated for them after being kept in Stalin’s prison.
“I discovered a way of enlarging my space as a child to escape the constraints of Communist reality. In my adult life putting a line on the walls became my main tool in opening up pictorial spaces. Lines and colours are the foundation of our evolution as Homo sapiens and the foundation of our psyche. Lines have the ability to transgress space and dimensions. Lines open up emptiness,” he added.
He then reflected on one of his ongoing collaborative works, Bridging Colours with Korean choreographer Yong Min Cho, in which nanoparticles on a screen “create reflections so strong that they are overriding emptiness – like a bird who sings spontaneously and then identifies with the universe. Painting is the expression of a desire to move beyond the world of things,” he said.
Artist and theorist Carolyn Roy pointed out: “By having questions to answer we subvert the state of wandering. Wandering has long been practised as a means of generating clarity of thought by writers and philosophers. By walking we understand the world. Artists have long engaged in walking as art. Walking is an act of neutral engagement with our environment. As we are walking our perceived world is changing. The texture of the ground alters beneath our feet. Walking frees you to think whilst simultaneously reacting to a range of environments. It allows us to be present in the present and gives us our ground. In wandering we are lost and this is the attraction of wandering.”
Head of Arts and Learning at Asia House Pamela Kember spoke about a number of Hong Kong’s diasporic artists, including Suki Chan, who as a child left Hong Kong to live with her family in Oxford initially, and her work wanders “back and forth between her home in London and the idea of not belonging.” Her light box, which is currently in the Asia House foyer, titled Sleep Walk Sleep Talk, captures the sounds and motions of places in constant flux.
“It blurs our awareness of time and distance between past and present, between ‘now’ and ‘here’ and ‘nowhere’ as the comforts of ‘home’ have been replaced by the shifting nature of being in space and time,” she said.
“People who have split homes tend to not long for the home; the very idea of home seems strange. Hélène Cixous wrote this beautiful line: I’m perfectly at home, nowhere,” Kember concluded.
The event ended with a special closing performance by Korean dancer Yong Ming Cho, who was the dancer-in-residence at Asia House 2014.
The renowned Japanese dancer, choreographer and filmmaker Kaori Ito will be in conversation with Pamela Kember a few nights after her evening performances of Plexus at Sadler’s Wells Theatre on 22 and 23 January. To find out more and book tickets click here.
Broadcaster and journalist Bidisha’s latest book Asylum and Exile: The Hidden Voices of London goes behind the headlines to offer a moving account of the lives of refugees in the UK. To mark the book’s launch, Asia House is hosting a thought-provoking discussion on the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers from countries such as Syria on 28 January. To book tickets and find out more click here.