Article by Johanna Hardt // June 16, 2020
Recent events have reinforced questions about white hegemony and the concept of heritage and its function in terms of cohesively expressing national identity. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic might have revealed how intertwined countries are under global capitalism, yet borders have been reinforced in the fight against the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, folks meet on the streets to protest against white supremacy and police brutality against Black people. Just this past week, we’ve witnessed (successful) attempts to topple racist statues and monuments across Europe and the US.
In this context, the exhibition ‘Confluence Sangam संगम’—opening at Heidelberger Kunstverein this Friday, June 19th—pluralizes the concept of culture and complicates the notion of one comprehensive cultural heritage. It presents an extensive selection of works by Nadira Husain, laureate of the WERK.STOFF Award for Painting by the Andreas Felger Cultural Foundation and the Heidelberger Kunstverein, alongside works by Amina Ahmed and Varunika Saraf, on show in Germany for the first time.
The words ‘Confluence, Sangam / संगम’ describe in English, French and Hindi the moment when several currents from different directions meet, flow and join together to forge a new path. The practices of Husain, Saraf and Ahmed are defined by their shared Indian background and experience of migration. Daughter to an Indian father and a French mother, Husain grew up in Paris and has been based in Berlin for a while. The fusion of different cultural visual worlds that defined her childhood continues to denominate her artistic practice. References to Islamic art and the cultural history of the Indian subcontinent merge with globalised pop-cultural imagery. Her (textile) objects and paintings depict a world where figures painted in reference to Mughal-miniatures meet those of comics; Hindu divinities encounter mythical creatures and generate hybrid bodies. Her cross-cultural references do not only appear on canvases. Husain often uses textile surfaces and traditional handicraft techniques executed in cooperation with various artisans.
Saraf’s paintings are similarly informed by Mughal-miniature paintings. She uses Wasli, a paper traditionally produced for the detailed illustrations, with color pigments of European tradition. Her series ‘Caput Mortuum'(2019) dedicates itself to current Indian protest movements. She does not only investigate her own identity, defined by her family’s experience of migration within India after the partition, but also critically examines stereotypical notions of India. Her works are echoes of her perception of identity as a process and a dialogue with the past.
The geometric forms in Amina Ahmed’s collages, watercolour paintings, drawings and embroideries are no abstractions. They are concrete practices of handicraft techniques, exercised predominantly by women in many cultures. Ahmed was born in Uganda, and lived in Great Britain, Iran and now in the US. Experiences of migration and nomadism shape Ahmed’s artistic work, as does her proximity to Sufism, a branch of Islam, and her interest in practices of healing.
A monograph of Nadira Husain will be published to accompany the exhibition.
Nadira Husain, Amina Ahmed, Varunika Saraf: ‘Confluence Sangam संगम ’
Exhibition: June 19 – Aug. 16, 2020
Glossary for the exhibition, click here
Hauptstrasse 97, 69117 Heidelberg, click here for map