NEW DELHI, INDIA
• Kanwar has been working with Indigenous farmers in Odisha, India for over 10 years.
• He is deeply invested in fighting for Indigenous farmers’ land rights, despite constant illegal encroachment by big developers.
• His ongoing work The Sovereign Forest, which he is being honored for as the 2014 recipient of the Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change, serves as a memorial to the local land and the lives lost to this industrialization.
In 1984, two events compelled Amar Kanwar to activism, research and filmmaking: the mass violence and brutality against Sikhs in Delhi following the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and the toxic gas leak at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, which exposed thousands to dangerous chemicals, resulting in several deaths. Since then, Kanwar’s filmmaking practice has challenged the limits of the medium in order to create complex narratives traversing several terrains such as labor and indigenous rights, gender, religious fundamentalism, and ecology. Kanwar’s key works have been A Season Outside, a reflective essay film on violence; A Night of Prophecy, on the poetry of resistance; the multiple projection installations The Lightning Testimonies, about sexual violence, and The Torn First Pages, on the Burmese democracy movement.
Kanwar’s recent work, The Sovereign Forest (2012, ongoing) is a profound interrogation of the politics of violence and justice. Initiating a creative response to our understanading of crime, human rights, and ecology, it engages viewers in manifold ways of seeing and comprehending as it presents a set of propositions that investigate the notion of “poetry as evidence.”
Emerging from the conflict in Odisha, India, The Sovereign Forest serves as a memorial to the land and lives lost to industrialization even as it provides unique insight into the land-acquisition process by both the government and corporations for future industrial sites. In the context of this “modern war,” The Sovereign Forest takes on multiple reincarnating identities, as an art installation, a library, an archive, a school, a public trial, as well as a proposition for a local space that engages with politics.
Kanwar has received numerous awards, including the Edvard Munch Award for Contemporary Art, Norway; an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Maine College of Art; the Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International Film Festival; and the Golden Conch, Mumbai International Film Festival.