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Sutapa Biswas
23 mins 15 secs video


Kali was the first video work made by Biswas in 1985, whilst an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds. It was first screened at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London in 1985, as part of the exhibition The Thin Black Line, when it caused a strong response from art critics and audiences, that were favourable and/or outraged in equal measure.

Kali is a video work that documents and ostensibly speaks to a performance that involves two women (who are the main protagonists), and who seem to enact a narrative in which a series of strange rituals are performed. They perform with puppets in Miro-esque fashion. Half way into the piece a third person enters the room (in fact the well-known art historian Griselda Pollock, who was one of Biswas's tutors at the time). She is hooded by a pillow-case with holes cut into it to allow her to witness the events that unfold.

'Obliged to sit in the centre of a circle, hooded, though I could see through the slits at eye level, I was made to function as an icon of imperialism around which Biswas's enactments of resistance would be performed. Centred, yet made vulnerable by being deprived of the position of protected observer, I could not distance myself from the mythological representation of a historically conditioned struggle, which was concretised in Sutapa Biswas's experience as an Asian student in a British university art department. The process by which colonialism happens 'elsewhere', over there and not at home, and the temporal devices by which colonised peoples are displaced backwards in time as if they belonged to the past, or a timeless zone… were thwarted in this work by the proximity of real persons in a space that performance rewrote as the space of history and power and resistance. …Participant yet target, forced to hear and struggle to see meanings that silenced me, I was made witness to the making of a another set of subjectivities, which exploded the oppositions - black/white, Indian/English - in order to demand mutual recognition based on the mutuality or interdependency of subjectivities and meanings….Some see the present situation as a kind of postmodern hybridity, others stress the ambivalence that underlies our inevitable complexity as postcolonial subjects, and Sutapa Biswas's work operates in these mutually contaminated spaces through which she can explore this historically specific subjectivity.'
Griselda Pollock, 'Tracing Figures of Presence: Naming Ciphers of Absence Feminism, Imperialism and Postmodernity: The Work of Sutapa Biswas', in SUTAPA BISWAS published the Institute of International Visual Art (inIVA), London in collaboration with the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, Portland Oregon, 2004.

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