The 85-min. single-channel film installation Such a Morning is a modern parable about two people’s quiet engagement with truth through phantom visions from within the depths of darkness. Searching for a way to re-comprehend the difficult times we are living in, Kanwar asks “What is it that lies beyond, when all arguments are done with? How to reconfigure and respond again?”
Such a Morning unlocks a metaphysical response to our contemporary reality as it navigates multiple hallucinations between speech and silence, fear and freedom, democracy and fascism. In the feature-length film, a famous mathematician at the peak of his career unexpectedly withdraws from his life and retreats to the wilderness to live in an abandoned train carriage. Creating a zone of darkness so as to acclimatize himself before total darkness descends, the professor begins to live in a realm bereft of light. Thus starts an epic sensory journey into a new plane of emotional resonance between the self and the surrounding world. A parallel story emerges within the course of the film, providing a compelling, analogous narrative to the protagonist’s. Over time, the professor records his epiphanies and hallucinations in an almanac of the dark, an examination of 49 types of darkness that emerge as a series of letters.
Based originally on Kanwar’s research into the diversity of existing narrative structures in the Indian subcontinent, Such a Morning reaches beyond place to expose the complexity of a fractious moment in history in which every truth seems to have an opposite brutal truth. As part of his film Kanwar conceived a narrative that continues beyond the film — the professor continues to write his letters — towards a research project with diverse artistic, pedagogic, metaphysical and political collaborations. These become the rubric for a continuing project, which are at the core of the series of Letters that accompany the film and are also shown in the South Gallery. The seven Letters presented here contain texts, 17 video projections, 45 light projections. The handmade paper for the Letters was made by Sherna Dastur at the Nirupama Academy of Paper, Kolkatta, India.
The train coach built for the film remains in Delhi, a memorial for the teacher who refused to conform, who stepped off the tracks and wandered into the wild.
Prompted by Amar Kanwar’s invitation to help illuminate that which is unknown or “dark,” the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School will present Freedom of Speech: A Curriculum for Studies into Darkness, a year-long series of public seminars on Freedom of Speech from fall 2018 to fall 2019. Structured like an open curriculum, the program will examine the profound transformation on common understandings of Freedom of Speech as foundational to Western democracies, generated by recent debates around hate speech, censorship, and racism in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Freedom of Speech. A Curriculum of Studies into Darkness is organized by the Vera List Center as part of the center's 2018–2020 curatorial focus If Art Is Politics. Curated by Carin Kuoni, Director/Chief Curator, Vera List Center, and Laura Raicovich with assistance by Gabriela López Dena, it is developed in collaboration with partner organizations ARTICLE 19; the National Coalition Against Censorship; New York Peace Institute; and Weeksville Heritage Center. For further information, please visit: veralistcenter.org/engage/events/2114/amar-kanwar-such-a-morning-2017 and veralistcenter.org/engage/events/2115/mapping-the-territory.
In 2017 Amar Kanwar received the Prince Claus Award, the Netherlands, for groundbreaking work in the field of culture and development: “For his profoundly disturbing, beautiful and moving works that operate at the interface between art, documentation and activism; for his critical and contemplative investigation of the nature of oppression and people’s courageous resistance against it; for giving voice to the victims of social injustice, looking deeply into the multi-layered causes and effects of problems, and recording evidence of our times; for his innovative use of hybrid art forms in a unique method of storytelling that gives viewers a potent personal experience and overcomes educational and cultural boundaries; for combining poetic sensibility and political consciousness to increase the reach and impact of documentary filmmaking; and for expanding the possibilities of art as a means of obtaining social justice and inspiring new generations of artists to think deeply about the social impact of their work.”
This past year, in 2018, solo presentations of Kanwar’s work were seen at the Luma Foundation, Arles, France, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota, The Tate Modern, London, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden and at Photo Kathmandu, Nepal. Other recent solo exhibitions have been at the Max Muller Bhavan, Mumbai, India (2015-16), Frac Pays de la Loire, Carqufou, France (2016) The Assam State Museum, India (2015), the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois (2013), Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield (2013), Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna (2013), the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich (2012), the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2008), and the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2007). Kanwar has participated in Documenta 14, 13,12, and 11 (2017, 2013, 2007, 2002).
Kanwar is the recipient of numerous awards including the Creative Time/Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change (2014); an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, Maine College of Art (2006); the Edvard Munch Award for Contemporary Art, Norway (2005); and the MacArthur Fellowship in India (2000).