The exhibition ‘Anamorphosis: Notes from Palestine, winter in the Kashmir Valley’ resembles a travelling diary written by a flâneur-cum-researcher, into territories and histories familiar to the artist Praneet Soi. In response to The Mosaic Rooms commission, the artist decided to travel during June 2019 across the Occupied Palestinian Territories including Golan Heights, Jericho and Hebron, and in Israel, in Haifa, Akka andTel Aviv. His aim, the artist states, was ‘to understand productivity and entrepreneurship for people in Palestine’, as was the case in his previous body of work, ‘Notes on Labour’. While working on this exhibition, in August the Modi government revoked Indian-administered Kashmir’s autonomy status. The Kashmiri have been in the middle of three wars between India and Pakistan since the British partition of the region in 1947. Like Palestinians, Kashmiris are treated as second-class citizens in their own land which determined Soi to incorporate local histories from both regions and influences his exhibition of ongoing work with craftsmen in Kashmir.
Women street vendors, children attending a fair, young people diving in Akka, an Arabic city situated in Israeli territory and a small business owner populate the film ‘Yalla Yasmeen!’ (2019), which takes the form of a visual essay aimed at registering the minutia of everyday life in the Occupied Territories and Israel. Murad, a hardware store owner just outside of Salfeet in the West Bank, who sells to customers from settlements, talks about ‘the desire of some of them to start a dialogue’. When politics fail, a family business can become a social space for interaction and engagement. Displacement affects all people encountered by Soi in his journey and he mentions how families in his native India return to their hometowns to ensure their children stay connected to the culture. The camera looks at the natural landscape intensely and lingers on an old tree which he considers it to be ‘a witness to civilizations and empires’, creating a slight affectation since the image itself tells enough.
Some of the people, plants and natural landscapes featuring in the film from the first room, gain a life of their own and are further immortalised by becoming protagonists in Soi’s drawings presented in the second. Some of these works use silverpoint, a medieval drawing technique that adds to Soi’s specific interest in crafts and responds to his long interest in labour conditions. Almost all his sketching of the surrounding landscapes subtly depicts frontiers and fences. The experience of understanding borders as consequences of illegal occupation, as frustration and obfuscation informs the exhibition design, using a structure allowing points of visibility and sections that are blocked off. This play with ellipsis has been part of Soi’s repertoire for some time through his engagement with anamorphosis. This artistic technique perfected by Hans Holbein the Younger in his ‘The Ambassadors’ (c. 1533) experiments with optics and perspective to create a detail in the painting, namely a human skull, only visible from certain angles. Used as a metaphor, it allows Soi to throw back to the spectator the responsibility for engaging with some uncomfortable states of affairs.
The third room is dedicated to Soi’s collaboration with Fayaz Jan, a master craftsman interested in exploring Sufi history in Kashmir. The tiles presented are made of papier-mâché, a medieval technique imported from Iran, and they feature local, floral motifs. The walls are written on with pieces of legislation from 1948, are reminder of the lack for self-determination on behalf of the Kashmiri.
Soi’s oblique portrayal of social unrest and displacement as a result of occupation brings to the fore the inherent violent nature of representation with all its political entanglements. The incorporation of his artistic research surpasses a well-rehearsed self-curated exhibition and allows new existences for the sketches and drawings.