BUILDING BRIDGES

March 15, 2018

 

By Ushmita Sahu

This International Digital & New-Media Art Project 2017-18 will open in Gallery Sumukha, Bengaluru on March 17, 0218. This was previously shown in Kolkata and Delhi. MOA reproduces the essay by the curator.

Like a leviathan machine, whose parts are breaking down faster than they can be mended, our globalised world is increasingly plagued by growing intolerance, conflict and war so much so that volatility seems to have becomes the zeitgeist of our times. Discord, whether international or national, quickly spreads like wildfire through the world, creating non-anticipated disruptions far removed from epicenters of unrest. Social, cultural, linguistic and historical differences; economic, gender or physical inequalities; fight for political power and resources; ethnicity, religious ideology and disparity; desire for cultural autonomy are just few reasons for intractable turmoil. One could say that the idea of ‘otherness’, of not being alike, of being different underlines the growing divide between ‘us- them’, ‘insider - outsider, giving rise to stereotyping, bias and discrimination that in turn feeds the vicious beast of fear and enmity.  

Faced by an exponential growth of prejudice, and hatred it has become more important than ever, to know about   our so called opponent, to listen and re-discover the threads of similarity that hide within the folds of ‘otherness’. Only by knowing how the other feels, or by uncovering facts that one was previously unaware of, can we hope to build connections with each other. Taking inspiration from Newton’s adage - We build too many walls and not enough bridges, Project Building Bridges was designed to encourage 13 young artists from across the globe to come together and foster a voice of reason and dialogue and help create a platform for empathy, and understanding through art, creativity and exchange beginning with an online blog for a period of one month (October 2017).

Together we hoped to bring to the virtual exchange a multiplicity of culture, language, geographical locations, heritage, ethnicity, religious belief and faith systems, socio-economic backgrounds, gender and sexual orientations, physicality, family dynamics and more from across four continents, nine countries, seven time zones and possibly more than fifteen linguistic backgrounds!

Faced with such panoply of variety, where did one begin the conversations? Self and identity is always a good place to start, especially as artists. However, identity is also a double-edged sword, undeniably dependent upon distinctiveness of the individual or of a group from what is known as the ‘other/s’. Identity thrives on opposition, stereotyping, segregation, on alterity. So, the moot question was - if identity and otherness are two sides of the coin then is reconciliation between the two even a remote possibility? Cultural homogeneity has often been suggested as a possible answer to this as it supposedly eases communication due to shared views and value systems. This, however, to my mind, is a dangerous space to occupy, as seen from historical instances as well as many present-day circumstances where dominant groups in power try to trivialize, dehumanize or in more serious cases remove all traces of those who are deemed as ‘lesser’ or ‘outsiders’.

The answer, to my understanding at least, lay in celebration of inclusivity and our heterogeneity. I feel it is the demand of our times that we need expanded value systems which will help knit humanity together, especially in the face of exponential changes sweeping the socio-political landscape of the world. Mahatma Gandhi said- ‘be the change that you wish to see in the world’. Change, to manifest itself in the world has to, ironically, start at the individual level. Therefore, as individuals, we need to start really ‘looking’ at the world with knowledge, respect and understanding. This exchange platform offered every artist a chance of doing just that. For a short window of time the artists opened channels of discussion and became virtual hosts by welcoming each other into their lives. This cultural immersion has hopefully helped them to find out more about value systems which were alien to them, to hear the voice of the other that they might never get the chance to otherwise, to understand other cultures not as an outsider looking in at something exotic, but as a friend who gets invited to someone’s home. Each individual’s identity and uniqueness reached across to build bridges of empathy. This exhibition is a selection of some of the works that came out of the process of engagement with the idea of the Self & the Other.