Why you should check out the new Amar Kanwar exhibition in Abu Dhabi

The artists work is on display at NYUAD Art Gallery

Why you should check out the new Amar Kanwar exhibition in Abu Dhabi
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London, Paris, Moscow, Sharjah, Mumbai, Sweden, Turkey, Amsterdam, New York, Hong Kong, Vienna - it is fair to say Amar Kanwar has exhibited art all over the world.

In fact, the New Delhi artist is one of India’s most critically-acclaimed and widely exhibited modern artists working today. As well as being venerated by the international art community his works have been given awards and recognition everywhere they show.

So, it can be considered as something of a major coup that he is following up solo and group shows across the globe with an exhibition of the acclaimed The Sovereign Forest at the NYUAD Art Gallery.

Maya Allison, executive director and chief curator at the gallery says: “This is an exceptionally exciting exhibition and collaboration for The NYUAD Art Gallery. It is a unique privilege to host his thought-provoking and critically important work.

“The Sovereign Forest is, in many ways, a ‘living’ art work, one that continues to grow and shift with each installation, as do the questions it brings to light.”

The exhibition, a multimedia installation that has toured the world, is seen as a political collection in that it asks difficult questions about the environmental and cultural concerns of communities in the Indian state of Odisha.

When Kanwar observed how easily corporations and government bodies were able to buy land in the state, often at the expense of indigenous populations and environmental concerns, he was moved to document the reactions, results and responses. That documentation, and the art it inspired, is what makes up much of The Sovereign Forest. There are films, handmade books, tactile artefacts such as clothing, fishing netting, newspaper and even seeds and leaves included in the exhibition.

The viewer has much to soak up, with audio projects also included in an exhibition that has evolved since it was first out on display in 2012. Visitors can get hands on with the books and turn the pages and learn the stories of the people and organisations Amar Kanwar is documenting.

When viewed as a whole Kanwar’s Sovereign Forest as questions about the corporate and political conflict that has been replicated across India since the 50s and beyond. A resistance between local peoples and commerce. Can an artist intervene in societal struggles? Does art have a place as, not just cultural commentary, but as evidence of criminality or political malpractice?

It is an exhibition that will bring up different questions, perspectives and interpretations for each visitor to check out its limited run. Visitors are encouraged to take time over the films and documents on display to thoroughly digest their own understanding of Kanwar’s work. The Sovereign Forest is not the only one of Amar Kanwar’s works to be exhibiting in the UAE. The Ishara Art Foundation, in partnership with Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue district, will also present a work. In what is a landmark collaboration between the NYUAD Art Gallery and the Dubai art space, Alserkal Avenue will exhibit Such a Morning, until May 20.

Maya Allison said of the partnership: “The opening of the Ishara Art Foundation earlier this year marks an important new chapter for South Asian art in the UAE. When we opened our doors five years ago, I hoped we would one day see such a trans-institutional collaboration – one that benefits our university faculty and students, as well as our broader UAE audiences.”

One of India’s most challenging and thought-provoking artists and a two of the UAE’s most intriguing artspaces all working together? Yes please.
Free. Mon-Sat, noon-8pm. Until May 30. The Art Gallery at NYU Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, www.nyuad-artgallery.org (02 628 8000).

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