IHME Commission 2022

Installation View: Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest, Documenta 13, Kassel, 2012, Photo: Henrik Stromberg.

IHME Helsinki 2022: Amar Kanwar, Learning from Doubt

If every moment contains the possibility of being alive and being dead then could an acute awareness of every moment also create an acute consciousness of living and dying? If a crime continues to occur regardless of the enormous evidence available then is the crime invisible or the evidence invisible or are both visible but not seen?”

Amar Kanwar

The IHME Helsinki Commission 2022 Learning from Doubt by artist, film maker Amar Kanwar is an online, ten-week educational course based on and emerging from Kanwar´s art installation and exhibition The Sovereign Forest. Lessons learned from experiments on ecological sustainability with a unique rice seed bank in the village of Narisho in Odisha, India and the experiences gained during the making and exhibiting of The Sovereign Forest are integrated into the course.

The Sovereign Forest is an art project that has been ongoing since 2009 and has been evolving, expanding and experimenting with different forms and presentations. It has been made in collaboration with Samadrusti/ Sudhir Pattnaik and Sherna Dastur. Samadrusti is a fortnightly Odia political and social news magazine, Sudhir Pattnaik is the editor of Samadrusti and a social activist. Sherna Dastur is a graphic designer and filmmaker based in Delhi.

The project emerges primarily from the state of Odisha, Eastern India. Odisha has been the epicentre of conflicts between local communities and the government and corporations over the control of agricultural land, rivers, forests, mountains, and mineral sources. The forcible displacement of indigenous (tribal) communities and peasants has been a brutal part of the cycle of life since the 1950’s. How could we begin to comprehend differently, intervene, respond and develop solutions to this continuous cycle?

The Sovereign Forest attempts to initiate a creative response to our understanding of crime, politics, human rights, and ecology. The validity of poetry as evidence in a trial, the discourse on seeing, compassion, justice, and the determination of the self, all come together in a constellation of films, texts, books, photographs, seeds and processes. The Sovereign Forest has overlapping identities. It continuously reincarnates as an art installation, an exhibition, a library, a memorial, a public trial, an open call for the collection of more “evidence,” an archive, a school and also a proposition for a space that engages with education, politics and art. In 2022, in collaboration with IHME Helsinki, we again seek for another way to learn, share, address contradictions and dilemmas, and find newer solutions.

The online course Learning from Doubt will share in detail the making of the exhibition’s various elements: films, books, stories and processes. It will also share lessons learned from the engagement with the rice seed bank, its principles of indigenous seed ownership, conservation and farming. An experiment with seed sustainability will also be done in 2021 and the course will integrate this experience and evaluate the seed sustainability intervention.

The course will be taught online through films, readings, podcasts, and live interactive sessions with the artist.

Some of the films will also be shown in a physical location in Helsinki. Inputs and experiences from various multi-disciplinary collaborators will also be included throughout the course. It will include optional assignments designed to further personal and professional growth, and not for evaluation. Through the online course it is hoped that participants also gain an understanding of varied approaches and solutions on ecology, agriculture and sustainability issues as well as developing different parameters for measuring art, output and impact.

The online course Learning from Doubt will be available to all residents of Finland who may be interested to register. Students from the Fine Arts Academy of the University of Arts and from Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science of University of Helsinki will take part in the course over ten weeks in the Spring of 2022.

The course will take place 31.1.-6.3.2022 (five weeks ) and 14.3-17.4.2022 (five weeks) and the participants are advised to reserve 30-35 hours to do the whole course. The course will be conducted in English. Details on registration will be announced in Autumn 2021.

Introduction to Amar Kanwar

Amar Kanwar is an artist, born in 1964 in New Delhi, India, where he currently lives and works. His films and multi‐layered installations originate in narratives often drawn from zones of conflict and are characterized by a unique poetic approach to the personal, social and political.

Recent solo exhibitions of Kanwar’s work have been held at the Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai and New York University, Abu Dhabi Art Gallery (2020); Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (2019); Tate Modern, London, Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York (2018); Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden and Frac Pays de la Loire, Carquefou, France (2017); Goethe Institut Mumbai (2016) and at the Assam State Museum in collaboration with Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and North East Network, India (2015). In 2013 and 2014 at the Art Institute of Chicago; Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2012).

Kanwar has also participated in Documenta 11, 12, 13 and 14 in Kassel, Germany (2002, 2007, 2012, 2017). Other solo exhibitions have been at the Haus der Kunst, Munich and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2008); the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, (2007); National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, (2006) and the Renaissance Society, Chicago,(2004).

Amar Kanwar has received several awards, including the Prince Claus Award (2017); Creative Time´s  Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change (2014); Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, Maine College of Art, USA (2006); Edvard Munch Award for Contemporary Art, Norway (2005); MacArthur Fellowship in India (2000); Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, USA (1999), as well as the Golden Conch, Mumbai International Film Festival, India (1998). He is also the co-curator of the 17th Istanbul Biennial 2021-22.


Why Amar Kanwar

“Amar Kanwar´s career as a contemporary artist is remarkable in many ways. His poetic and political film installations at the Documenta exhibitions were already familiar to the Advisory Board. But what weighed the most when we were deciding on the IHME Helsinki Commission 2022 was Kanwar´s long-term commitment to the community in Odisha, India, and how that manifests in his continuously developing installation The Sovereign Forest. His creative investigations on crime, politics, human rights, and ecology remind us of how important compassion, encounters and listening are on our way towards a more sustainable and resilient future and how art can lead change.

From the perspective of ecologically sustainable art-institution practise we wanted to select an ongoing project that could be shared with our audiences in Finland, while at the same time be already happening in another location outside of Finland. Amar Kanwar´s Learning from Doubt online course further supports continuous learning, learning about life itself and its interdependencies. What could be more relevant in the times of ecological transition to learn about? ” says Chair of Advisory Board Paula Toppila on the decision to select Amar Kanwar.

Amar Kanwar was selected by the Advisory Board of IHME Helsinki. The members are Professor Ute Meta Bauer (Nanyang Technological University), Dean Hanna Johansson (Fine Arts Academy, University of Arts), Professor Jussi Parikka (Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton and FAMU, Prague), artist-researcher Antti Majava and it is Chaired by Executive Director and Curator of IHME Helsinki Paula Toppila.