Bani Abidi | The Song: Experimenter – Ballygunge Place

3 November - 30 December 2022
Bani Abidi’s exhibition The Song, marks her third solo at Experimenter, premiering a new film along with photographs, watercolors and an immersive sound installation at Experimenter Ballygunge Place in Kolkata. The exhibition opens on November 03 and will be on view until December 30, 2022.
Abidi’s solo debuts her film The Song in the subcontinent, bringing together her long-standing interest in using aural experiences to build textures of urban landscapes and the people who inhabit them. The work is built on a scaffolding that reveals Abidi’s nuanced thoughts on identity and statelessness, waiting, longing and fragility. This film is about sound and migration in particular, and what it means to be acoustically displaced. An old man who is a recent arrival to Europe, confronts the silence of his allotted Neubau apartment, finding his own way to settle down and possibly begin a relationship to his new surroundings.
Abidi frequently returns to ideas of masculinity in her work and while The Song portrays the nuanced emotions of a displaced old man, a room exactly adjacent to it, undermines the empty promises of men in power. Reassuring Hand Gestures of Big Men, Small Men, All Men is a body of rephotographed images of political leaders, heads of states and dictators that gently chips away at longstanding mythologies of male power. And like those myths, it works by endless repetition, of the hand gestures that have been an essential component of the performance of politics and the manipulation of the populace. The body of photographs that fill up the room, comes across as pointless, empty thrusting. Even if pointing itself is one of the primary hand gestures, and the performance of such an action is often a cover for not acting at all.
Sound and silence thread together a body of work that rely on acoustic exchanges or their suppression in the exhibition. Examining recent histories that have shaped our world, The Lost Procession, is a video that explores persecution, forced migration, sanctuary and tradition through the experience of the persecuted Hazara community in Pakistan, who have found refuge in Germany. The video captures scenes from daily life in Quetta as well as an Ashura procession in Berlin, the day when Shia Muslims worldwide commemorate the lives lost during the battle of Karbala. In the gallery next to it, is a work that is as much about sound, as it is about the silenced. A series of watercolors titled The Woman Who Talked Until She Disappeared is an ongoing project of serialized portraits of South Asian women who are bold and outspoken dissenters and critics of facist state policies. The voices of many of these women along with their male counterparts are often suppressed, sometimes violently. Abidi’s watercolors capture their indefatigable spirit through their gestures and expressions made while speaking, continuing through still images their legacy of resistance. In a leading cavernous room, a dark space engulfs the viewer in Maatam in 8 Different Beats, which is a composite of different beats taken from Shia liturgical traditions in countries like Yemen, Bahrain, Kenya, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. Performed independently of lyrical accompaniments, the beating of chests distils grief to its simplest bodily resonance. These beats, which are rooted in particular histories, collectively embody endurance and resilience through time and space.
Much of Abidi’s work grapples with the modern history of South Asia in order to address concerns of nationalism, colonial legacy, foreign intervention, forced migration, political ambition, megalomania and personal memory. Abidi’s sensitive approach to these contemporary realities affirms the need for a complex understanding in a moment of increasingly simplistic conceptions of belonging and in creating a counter-narrative to a widening polarisation of truth, memory and political reality.
Born in 1971, Karachi, Pakistan, Abidi now lives between Berlin. She studied visual art at the National College of Arts in Lahore and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Her work has been exhibited widely in solo and group shows internationally. Solo shows have taken place at the Salzburger Kunstverein, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah; Gropius Bau, Berlin; Kunsthaus Hamburg, Hamburg; Dallas Contemporary, Dallas, Texas; Kunstverein Arnsberg, Arnsberg, Germany; The Baltic, Gateshead, England. Select group shows include The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT10), Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia; The Distance from Here, Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, 2021; 8th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art, 2014; No Country, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2013; dOCUMENTA 13 Kassel, Germany, 2012; Kochi Muziris Biennale, Kochi, India, 2012; Where Three Dreams Cross, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 2005; Xth Lyon Biennale, Lyon, France, 2009; 7th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea, 2008, amongst others.