OUTPOST: EXPLORING THE LAST FRONTIER

SPECIAL INTERVIEW: ANOOP KAMATH
February 15, 2014

 

 MOA: Tell us briefly about this project – Outpost – and how you journey to Northeast begin?

Samar Singh JodhaI started work on it during my many trips to the Northeast from 2003 onwards in connection with some other projects. I have also been involved in a bit of non-artistic, social work kind of thing. This is dealing with education, rural forestry and revival of traditional crafts among an endangered tribe in upper Assam.

My obsession with the nomadic and tribal communities in that part of the world began in 2003 when I undertook a road trip from Kunming in South West China through Burma into the Northeast on the famous Stilwell Road built during World War II. Somewhere along the way I found and began photographing and filming the vanishing Tai Phake tribe of 1,500 Buddhists originating from Burma.

On one of my many trips to this region, I stumbled upon the fascinating habitats of the miners in the Northeastern borders of India, sandwiched between Bangladesh, Burma and China. The magnificent metal structures that jutted into the lush and uninhabited landscape were an unreal testimony to man’s will to survive as well as vent his creative impulses. There were no art lovers, forget collectors or curators, to witness what seemed at first like the most stunning site-specific installation art displayed in the middle of nowhere. The region has one of the highest rainfalls in the world and was covered with tropical rainforests. It was a harsh and almost impossible terrain for rudimentary mining and here these miners had created these homes fashioned out of discarded materials.

MOA: You seem to have pursuing this project for 10 years. What were the issues you had in mind while working on Outpost?
Jodha: I have tried to look inwards at the art making process itself, which like the art that is being produced, is also getting redefined or framed by globalisation.  As any practicing artist will tell you commercial consideration in terms of commissioners, presenters or sponsors are crucial to plat forming or sometimes even producing art. But they also set boundaries of what is worth our time as an art lover, curator or collector. It is quite natural for you and me to pay attention to work of an unknown artist if it is being prominently showcased by a high profile brand for example. Whether the work itself is of merit is secondary and as viewers, we have willingly parted away with some of this judgmental power to the sponsoring brand. This process is increasing and playing on a global scale and in the end is largely servicing commercial considerations. I have tried to question some of these ideas alluding to place and time where art and creative output was not framed by this approach and was more of a collective and spontaneous affair.

MOA: How was your experience exhibiting these works at the Venice Biennale?
Jodha: There was no India pavilion in 2013 at the Venice Biennale and this one was my first solo show, platfomed independently. But it has been an exciting experience. As we know, Venice Biennale is 106 and the oldest of all art biennale, so there is a fabulous opportunity to see work of some of the best artists in the world within one single event. Secondly, being from India where contemporary art industry is very young and we are still evolving in so many respects, it is always interesting to see and learn from how they have it together here and makes it such as a vibrant affair for everyone from artists to buyers, curators, art lovers and what have you.

As far as being lonely to independently exhibit my work in this fest dominated by national pavilions,
 I think creating art is itself a bit of a lonely pursuit anyway. You are going out on a limb, creating something and in my case bulk of my projects including this one, are self-commissioned, so you are putting away your own resources and risking your own reputation every time.  So it is a bit of a lonely affair anyway, whether I am exhibiting here or any other place. But that is the challenge and excitement of it for me.