Karen Dabrowska visited the London exhibition of Indian-born artist Praneet Soi, at the city’s Mosaic Rooms
In his first solo London exhibition Anamorphosis: Notes from Palestine, Winter in the Kashmir Valley, Indian artist Praneet Soi was determined to get away from the usual media image and convey an alternative representation of Palestine.
In June 2019, Soi travelled across Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel. Beginning in Haifa, he drove up to the occupied Golan Heights and from there made his way down to Bethlehem, Battir, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, Jenin, Salfit and Ramallah before driving back to Haira, Akka and finally to Tel Aviv to fly back to Europe.
His aim was to experience the country through its landscape and to visit, en-route, farms, workshops and factories. His meetings with Palestinian people were recorded and annotated and later, in his Amsterdam studio, developed into the works currently on display in London’s Mosaic Rooms until 7 December.
“You see media images of Palestine but when you are there the reality is totally different,” Soi told The Middle East. “I wanted to experience the country and be led by the landscape. When I got to Palestine I was surprised at how immense and beautiful the landscape was. Everyone I spoke to said that the real heroes are the farmers because they have no recourse to any kind of assistance. The Palestinian authority does not help them and they are subject to the whims of the Israeli forces and the settlers. They suffer but they continue farming.”
Soi’s drawings, sketches and portraits of the farmers, the landscape and 2000 year-old olive trees are exhibited in the upstairs gallery. They are pinned to a specially designed structure, with points of visibility alongside sections that are blocked off, featuring partitions which are interconnected yet separate, hinting at the reality on the ground in Palestine.
Soi uses silverpoint, a medieval drawing technique, to etch out some of the images. Silverpoint oxidizes over time, adding a temporal quality to the artwork. Soi’s use of silverpoint connects his drawing to photography, which he frequently uses as a tool in his work.
In Room 1 of the upstairs gallery, a video Yalla Yasmeen tells the story of a young girl who watches men diving from high upon the embankment in Akka down into the Mediterranean Sea and longs to follow them. Yasmeen hesitates for an hour and then jumps. The video also has images from the farmlands of Deir Ballot where Soi finds himself in the midst of a community of women farmers who speak perfect Spanish, having returned from exile in Venezuela to maintain the ancestral lands. A stop in Bettir finds him looking down upon an Israeli railway that follows the armistice line that separated Israeli from Jordan until 1967.
“I am a painter but in recent years I have been moving towards audio visual diaries and installations,” Soi explained. “Painting and drawing can’t address everything but I address certain issues in the video.”
Some of the drawings are taken from scenes in the video that compares one of the biggest olive oil factories in the land with a small farmer, struggling to sell his hand pressed oil.
“When one sees the news about Palestine one is immersed with maps and overloaded with information and none of this really helps. I was always disorientated when people were talking about ‘west of this line’. It was difficult to take in. The most interesting thing for me was to look across the landscape at the cities.”
At the beginning of August, while Soi was working on this exhibition, the Indian state of Kashmir had its autonomous relationship with India revoked. It was split into two parts along religious lines (Muslim and Buddhist) and its state-hood was terminated. Kashmir has long identified itself with the Palestinian struggle. 1947 marked Indian independence from British rule, and the beginning of Kashmir’s quest for autonomy. In the same year, the UN voted to end the British Mandate in Palestine leading to the Nakba (catastrophe) and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. For Soi it became imperative to include his ongoing work with the skills of craftsmen in Kashmir in the exhibition.
In the downstairs gallery the works show Soi’s immersions within the atelier of the Kashmiri master craftsman Fayaz Jan with whom he has been exploring the region’s Sufi history. The tiles are made of papier-mache, a medieval import from Iran, with handpainted motifs.
In this body of work Soi utilises his archive of images taken mainly from the media. These images are used as outlines which the craftsmen have filled in by hand with traditional Kashmiri motifs that have been used for centuries.
The Ramallah based composer Dirar Kalash was commissioned to compose a sound-piece that connects the works which resulted from the journey to Palestine, to the installation containing works relating to Kashmir.
- Praneet Soi was born in 1971 in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. Following studies in India and the USA he moved to the Netherlands in 2002 and divides his time between Amsterdam and Kolkata. His work is internationally recognised for his explorations of socio-political nuances. His work incorporates traditional methods of miniature painting and sculpture as well as video. His recent exhibitions include Third Factory – From Kashymir to Lisbon via Caldos at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon and Notes on Labour at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai.
Farmer Beit Ummar (Pic: Polly Brock (REIBER and PARTNERS)