India and Pakistan come together at Venice Biennale

Differences between nations and people are being bridged at the Venice Biennale, where India's Shilpa Gupta and Pakistan's Rashid Rana have come together for a unique art project, says Farah Siddiqui

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A Rashid Rana installation at the ‘My East is Your West’ exhibition and (d) Rashid Rana and Shilpa Gupta

The Italian island city of Venice, once the centre of a maritime republic and one of the world's oldest tourist and cultural centres, transforms itself into the Mecca of the art world every two years when it stages the prestigious La Biennale di Venezia. The history of the Venice Biennale dates back to 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organised. It is through this means of soft power that the traditional borders that separate the local, the national and the international are quickly fading.

In recent times, artists from the subcontinent are being invited and exhibited at various international museums and art fora, but there has been no conscious or defined effort to project the contemporary dialogues of the nations. Neither India, Pakistan, Bangladesh nor Sri Lanka are represented at permanent national pavilions in Venice during the Biennale that began on May 9 and runs till November 22.

The historical 17th-century Palazzo Benzon on the Grand Canal in Venice, which was a glittering meeting and entertainment salon of the 18th and 19th century literary personalities, was transformed last week into a meaningful cross-border conversation between India and Pakistan.

'My East is Your West' brings together artists Shilpa Gupta from Mumbai and Rashid Rana from Lahore, representing the Indian subcontinent as one region in an exceptional collateral event (until October 1) under the aegis of the Gujral Foundation.

The title of the project is borrowed from a previous installation piece by Shilpa Gupta. "My East is Your West was an outdoor light installation, 10 meters long. Incorporating 'light', a very primal element associated with vision, the artwork dealt with perception and ways of looking from different sites of being, be it physiological or geographical. In a world where distances and contexts can generate non homogeneous selves, the work celebrates multiplicity. These ideas overlap with the vision of the Venice project," explains the artist.

The highlight of Gupta's repertoire was an anonymous performer who uses carbon paper to draw out lines on a piece of hand-woven cloth measuring 3,394m- representing the border that runs between India and Bangladesh and the construction site of what is to be the longest security fence in the world.

Rashid Rana is Pakistan's leading contemporary artist, educator and maverick. Best known for his clever use of photo montages and juxtaposition of images, Rana presented a new video work entitled 'My Sight Stands in the Way of Your Memory', which recreates the painting of Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio built up by a mosaic of news film and CCTV footage.

Rana's dramatic artworks continued through the rooms of the palazzo. 'Transpositions', an immersive work, was set across five rooms surveying the conception of presence, temporality and location as collective experience, across digital printmaking, video and installation. A part of artworks in Venice featured a room with a video projection of a live feed from a mirrored space in Liberty Market in Lahore. Audiences in Venice were able to see and interact with the public through live feed. The project thus has broken barriers between these two populaces across the globe.

'My East is Your West' is a utopian confluence which will hopefully be reflected in other spheres of collaborations between the two nations.

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