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and turning

Turning took its cue from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming"

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

The original installation and performance at APJ Media Art Gallery.

And Turning is a cry of outrage against war & the cruelty being practiced by the technologically superior, nations of the Western world. It demonstrates how after the massive disasters of the 2 major World Wars, victims of the western  world’s Armaments Build Up are exclusively the peoples of  the  Middle East and the Third World.

This 4 channel video and dance performance was designed for installation in the 36’ long open gallery of the APJ museum. 3 screens measuring 9’X12’ were placed against the 3 walls, while a low wooden platform, laid on the entire length of the gallery, enabled the 3 dancers to move across the entire space and interact with all three screens. The fourth channel was projected on the floor and used intermittently, as & when the dancers required it .The performance consisted of 4 sequences; duration 16mins. 

Sequence 1: Whose World takes its name from a circular painting of planet earth by artist, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. The painting depicts digital images of  masterpieces from different periods, different regions, different civilizations, fused into one circling space, with Sheikh’s own painted interventions.On the extreme right and left of this ‘World’ are two open palms, suggesting the crucified Christ as painted on medieval altar cloths.The painting, animated into a circling globe, is projected in full shot, mid shot and tight close up on the 3 standing screens, enabling three different perspectives of the painting. The dancers move in as the world continues to turn, and the painted images are overtaken by filmed images from contemporary action films which valorise contemporary warfare. 

Sequence 2: In About Seeing a hugely magnified TCU shot of an eye operation, with the scalpel gently probing the cornea, is projected on screen 1. On screen 3 (opposite screen1) we see the full shot of the operation in which the surgeon is performing the eye operation.Simultaneously, the well known 30 second eye slashing shock-sequence from Bunuel’s  “Un Chien Andalou” is projected on screen 2. (A woman stands on the balcony gazing at the moon. A man approaches her from behind. He grasps her face with his right hand. He slashes her eye open with a razor blade held in his left hand. The gesture is performed coolly with meticulous precision. In the next shot, the full moon, momentarily covered by a wisp of a cloud, is revealed in all its glory.) This dissolves into contemporary footage of the expanse of the Milky Way, myriads of stars in the universe seen through a giant telescope. A man-made satellite tracks its way through this sky scape – very much an “eye” searching the Universe.

Sequence 3:  In “20th Century Wars” all 3 screens stagger short grabs from documentary footage from World War 1; World War 2; the Vietnam War; The 1991 Iraq War; of massed soldiers – armies on the march.This is intercut with repeated takes from live footage that was televised during the war. A bound prisoner is shot in the head at point blank range by a soldier as he casually walks past him. A Vietnamese monk sets himself on fire in a gesture of protest; A woman runs past the camera holding two wounded children in her arms, her face a grotesque mask of fear. 

Sequence 4: “Anthem for Doomed Youth” mourns the Iraqi children killed in the first weeks of the US and UK bombing of Baghdad.  One by one the screens depicting the documentary footage  of wounded and killed Iraqi children get taken over by images of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus, as depicted in Western art from medieval to modern times.The  final image is animated, so that as we watch, the Madonna seems to withdraw her arms, leaving the  Child without support.   


Sophocles’ play Antigone has been used through the ages to assert the rights of the individual against State repression.

This series of five 2 channel installations followed by one single channel installation was made for the Hindi adaptation of Brecht’s version of the play directed by Anuradha Kapur, soon after the State propagated carnage inflicted on the minority muslim population in Gujarat.

The installations combined documentary footage taken in Godhra, with enacted and painted footage, as a means to relate the 5th century Greek play to contemporary events in India. Sequences:

  1. The Dead Man

  2. The Blue Mosque

  3. Destruction

  4. Testimonies

  5. The Refugee Camp

  6. Returning Home

Documentary Footage Courtesy: NGO Majlis, Mumbai.

Enacted Footage: Subodh Gupta.

Painted Footage: Gulam Sheikh;  Bhupen Khakhar

Scheherazade at the White House

Scheherazade at the White House conflates the real life violence that the US and Coalition forces were inflicting on a daily basis on the Iraqi people, with the mythologized violence of the popular American movie. What provoked the making of this installation was a news report that trigger happy American soldiers shot dead ten Iraqi civilians, five of whom were children under five years old when a car coming towards a checkpoint failed to stop. [Washington Post 01.04.2003]

Unbearable events when told and retold become “stories” which help us survive our reality. Story telling was Scheherazade’s survival technique when confronted by the senseless killings of king Shahriyar. It was her way of countering stupidity with intelligence; aggression with Art; death dealing with life giving. But in Scheherazade at the White House, we see that the mythological heroine of the Arabian Nights is forced to capitulate  to the violence of the 21st century western world.

Scheherazade, rising Phoenix–like from the rape of Baghdad and flying into direct confrontation with the state aggression emanating from Capitol Hill, doesn’t stand a chance against the twin violence of  the American Congress and The Terminator. 

This 3 channel installation requires three large (12’x9’) screens and a dancer. The 3 screens face in the same direction, but are staggered so as to allow the dancer to move through them and in front of them. The installation consists of 4 sequences:

Sequence 1: Documentary Footage

  • President Bush announces the invasion of Iraq to a cheering Congress, all of whom give him a standing ovation.

  • The bombing of Baghdad; followed by the Occupation. - American soldiers break into an Iraqi home, separate family members; force men onto the floor at gunpoint. They shout and swear throughout the operation. 

Sequence 2: An Enacted Sequence

A car drives in. A woman gets down. She approaches what looks like the American flag.. Thugs who are standing in the shadows (sentries at check-posts?) start shooting. The woman screams – a long and terrible cry. The camera zooms out to show that the Stars and the Stripes are wrapped around the head of Saddam Hussein’s statue which is still standing in a central square of Baghdad. (documentary footage) The woman gets back into the car and drives away. The statue of Saddam, his head still wrapped up, his right hand uplifted, slowly dissolves into the Statue of Liberty. 

Sequence 3: Video Dance

Scheherazade is seen taking flight from the morass of violence in her home town of Baghdad. She is seen soaring through space, like a missile, towards Capitol Hill, rising up through the great hall of the Congress- displacing cheering Congressmen as she shoots up through the floor and out the ceiling. The latter metamorphose into gunmen of the Terminator type (how can we forget that the flip side of the Governor of California is the Terminator?) and instantly shoot her down.

Sequence 4: Live Dancer Performance

At this moment the dancer emerges from behind the screens. She is recognized as the flying Scheherazade who was shot down in the previous sequence. As she enters and circles the space, her right hand uplifted, like the Sufi dervishes of old, she seems confrontational, but her dance soon disintegrates into anger, fear and despair. Her  swirling skirts, projected on the 3 screens behind her, bring up  memories of the Dervish dancers of Iraq, but what their turning folds reveal are images of the inhumanly torture d prisoners of Abu Graib. 

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