Kailash Cartographies is an exhibition of artists from India, China, Nepal, and the US exploring conceptions of sacred geography, particularly in the Himalayas. Devotees encounter the sacred through ritual, art, and acts of pilgrimage and circumambulation of mountains and temples. The artists in the exhibition pose questions about the nature of both the sacred and the secular by drawing on the points of connection with landscapes and lived worlds. The photographs, videos, works on paper and installations, deploy cartographic modes that are both personal and political.
The title of the exhibition refers to Mount Kailash, the symbolic center of the Buddhist and Bön cosmos and the seat of Shiva for Hindus. Although associated with a multiplicity of geographical sites and religious representations, its earthly manifestation is most often located in Tibet. “It is the simultaneously singular and plural aspect of this sacred geography that caught our imagination,” said Sreshta Rit Premnath, curator of the exhibition and participating artist. “Every gesture within such a geography is both specifically located yet can be powerfully invoked elsewhere.”
Featured artists are Atul Bhalla, Kevin Bubriski, Vibha Galhotra, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Ashmina Ranjit, Nitin Sawhney, Radhika Subramaniam, Charwei Tsai & Tsering Tashi Gyalthang, Zheng Bo & Jiang Chao and Qiu Zhijie.
Presented by the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center and the India China Institute.
An opening reception will take place on March 15th with Bo Zheng and Steve Lam, and a closing reception and talk will take place on March 30th with New School faculty and ICI staff.
About the Exhibit
Kailash Cartographies presents artists from India, China, Nepal and the US exploring conceptions of sacred geography, particularly in the Himalayas. Devotees encounter the sacred through ritual, art, acts of pilgrimage and the circumambulation of mountains and temples. The artists in the exhibition pose questions about the nature of both the sacred and the secular by drawing on points of connection with landscapes and lived worlds. The photographs, videos, works on paper and installations, deploy cartographic modes that are both personal and political.
The title of the exhibition refers to Mount Kailash, the symbolic center of the Buddhist and Bön cosmos and the seat of Shiva for Hindus. Although associated with a multiplicity of geographical sites and religious representations, its earthly manifestation is most often located in Tibet. It is the simultaneously singular and plural aspect of this sacred geography that interests the artists in this exhibition. Every gesture within such a geography is both specifically located yet can be powerfully invoked elsewhere.
Kevin Bubriski’s video Karpo follows a white horse as it navigates the rocky terrain of the Limi Valley during a thirty-day pilgrimage to Mount Kailash. Viewing the landscape from this unusual vantage, the viewer is invited to consider pilgrimage from the viewpoint of a non-human being.
Sreshta Rit Premnath’s Sleeping Dogs, is a compilation of long shots of stray dogs sleeping in the streets of Kathmandu. These denizens appear passive in the midst of a bustling city, but as the saying goes, are best left undisturbed. Like loci in a map, these video fragments of sleeping dogs, animals whose presence is ubiquitous in Kathmandu, present a different logic of navigating the city.
Bo Zheng & Jiang Chao’s video Pteridophilia, explores the relation between humans and nature through the Buddhist concept of Karmamudra, the pursuit of enlightenment through sexual practice. In the video, naked men are seen licking, fondling and rubbing their bodies against lush green ferns in a dense rainforest. By picturing a carnal relationship with a forest, Zheng proposes an enlightened state in which the distinctions between humanity and nature collapse.
This idealist project extends to Qiu Zhijie’s Map of Utopia, which plots philosophers, philosophies, organizations and places (both real and imaginary) that are associated with utopian thought onto the same map. By flattening out disparate moments of history into a single temporality and consolidating distant geographic locations onto one island, Zhijie proposes a blueprint for a global utopian project that is yet to come.
Not as the Crow Flies Take 2, an eighteen foot long print and text piece akin to film strips, presents frames from Radhika Subramaniam’s walk along a section of the historic Indo-China trade route in the Kathmandu Valley. Subramaniam uses walking as an embodied research practice that affords a felt relation to the innumerable traders, pilgrims and travelers who have walked the same path over hundreds of years.
Nepali performance artist Ashmina Ranjit follows the same route, but backwards and in the opposite direction. Her twelve kilometer walk, from the oldest settlements of Kathmandu, and her childhood home, to the city’s thriving cultural center traces the Bagmati and Bishnumati rivers. Titled Same River – But the Water? her performance is framed through the chronic pollution that chokes both rivers.
Atul Bhalla’s photographic installation, titled Contemplating Drowning also considers the tragic pollution of the Bagmati river, but through the figure of Shiva, who is thought to create and destroy the universe in the blink of the eye. Bhalla juxtaposes the brass monkeys from the Golden Temple in Kathmandu with images of oil lamps, that appear like spirits which may be snuffed out by the river, photographed here at dusk. The title makes reference to a statue of Shiva that is found half sunken on the bank of the Bagmati and is seen as an omen of the end times.
This engagement with questions of the human impact on nature extends to the artist Vibha Galhotra’s photograph Who Owns the Earth, which documents a site-specific earth-work made during a residency in Mongolia. Written with cow dung on the Mongolian plateau, the titular text, legible only from a great distance, questions the status of fundamental resources like air, water and soil that have been divided and parceled by colonial and capitalist forces.
Charwei Tsai & Tsering Tashi Gyalthang touch on notions of homelessness and belonging in Songs of Chuchepati Camp. In this video, earthquake victims in a resettlement camp in Kathmandu sing songs expressing loss and longing. While some sing traditional Nepali folk songs, others improvise upon stories from their own lives. Eliding the politics that surrounds the issue of resettlement itself, the project gives visibility to the personal experiences of those seeking refuge and their desire to be free from suffering.
Suffering takes on a more ritualistic role in Kevin Bubriski’s large photograph Kailash Prostrations, shot during the same expedition to Kailash that is the subject of his video Karpo. This image documents pilgrims who circumambulate the mountain through repeated prostrations. By placing us as viewers directly in front of the pilgrims during their long and arduous journey, we are implicated into an empathic relation with the photographed subjects.
Nitin Sawhney’s Soundscapes of Kora, a four-channel sound installation in the center of the gallery that fills the space with audio recordings from two circumambulations performed by Sawhney, one around Mount Kailash and the other around the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu. Ranging from the sound of monks chanting, to bells ringing, conversations between pilgrims and dogs barking, the artist invites the gallery visitor to enter into the soundscape and perform their own Kora.
The exhibition emerges from a three-year Luce Foundation supported research project by the India China Institute at The New School focused on Sacred Landscapes and Sustainable Futures in the Himalayas. In conjunction with this project, a group of artists initiated creative explorations from 2015-2016. Many of the works in this exhibition were the direct result of a creative workshop convened in Kathmandu in March 2016.