Fragile Kinships

February 2019

Fragile Kinships

Commissioned by The Embassy of Switzerland in New Delhi

Featuring works by Himali Singh Soin, Parag Tandel, Sonia Mehra Chawla and Varun Narain

1 - 3 February 2019, New Delhi


Anthropocene, one of the buzzwords of the twenty-first century, has rapidly gained currency in the past few years, moving dangerously close to the realm of overuse. The idea, popularised in 2000 by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer, is proposed as the successor to the Holocene which began 11,700 years ago, after the last ice age. While debates on the validity of the new terminology go on, one of the useful facets of the term (possibly one of the only few currently) lies in its structural formulation, acting a pointer to consider the grand centrality of humans - anthropos - in all our perceptions of the world. Thinking forward from this postulation, and thinking through the ecological and geopolitical crises we find ourselves in, what effects does the centrality of the self have on the integrity of our kinships?

New ways of living require new ways of seeing, of knowing, and of being with one another. Donna Haraway throws open multi-species companion thinking in her wet, porous, muddy and mundane imagination of the Chthulucene - Greek chthonios, meaning “of, in, or under the earth and the seas.” Through her writings over many years, she urges us not to think of, but to think with the diverse range of critters we share the earth and the seas with. This kind of thinking is also embodied in The Last Jungle on Earth a post-war story by Randhir Khare. Through his motley group of species, ranging from Elephants, to an owl, a jackal and a mind-reading dodo, journeying together to revive the Mother Tree, Khare explores the labour needed to form trust and friendships as we look to build greener futures. In this current exhibition, contemporary puppeteer Varun Narain shifts ground beneath the myth of the all-knowing human by bringing in two unlikely companions, the emanations of Theobroma Cacao and Zingiber Officinale. Our sassy hosts, otherwise known to fans as Cocoa and Ginger, bicker and banter their way through an inter-generational entanglement they find themselves, and us, in.

Flirting unbiasedly with both science and imagination, our polyphonic journey stretches across spatial and temporal landscapes, reaching no certain conclusions. Sonia Mehra Chawla zooms in to scale out, smuggling in evidence from biology experiments. Her examination of transgenic processes throws light on the complexities of human interventions in evolutionary rhythms. Is Science donning the role of Creator in this religion called Progress? As we find ourselves in the midst of climatic catastrophe (certified Urgent! by UN IPCC) inching closer to planetary shifts such as ice-free Arctic summers, Himali Singh Soin introduces an alien form into the frozen landscape, attempting to collapse polarities and fracture artificial boundaries. The melting ice will see no walls, and no visa barriers. 

Alien mourns the loss of elemental knowledge reservoirs in their celebration of stoic glacial beauty. Are there mythologies to be found in geographies that humans don't call home? Perhaps they can see beyond our civilised viewing abilities, "the word belief, contains in it the word lie." Beliefs, their contaminations, and their afterlives, occupy a new sculptural series by 

Parag Tandel. While offering traditional non-anthropocentric deities from his Koli community, Parag obscures them with the 'pan-Indian' evil eye of nimbu-mirchi. These hybrid structures hold within them the residue of cultural vanquish, slowly creeping, coercing homogeneity. 

If you too feel the limitations of living in this physicality, let's build a fire and whisper the things we've lost in our motions of choreographed individuality. Strange kin may be our only hope to survive in the face of our fragility.

(Shaunak Mahbubani, 2019)