Artist talk with Sarnath Banerjee
Moderation: Juana Awad, Wilma Lukatsch
In the 2014 Kochi Biennial I did my first collaboration with a historian. I condensed a section of Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s historical account of 15th century Portuguese trade and produced a series of drawings and text called the Liquid History of Vasco Da Gama. The work is based on conversations between Digital Dutta, a government clerk at the Records and Retrieval department, and various disreputable characters from history. Dutta’s own unreliability as a historian is complemented by the shadowy lives of the historical celebrities he is in dialogue with.
Soon, in collaboration with other historians, a body of work started developing. This led to the creation of wayward textbooks. Stylistically they resemble illustrated manuals that were written in Edo under the Tokugawa period – books that ranged from topographical studies, botanical surveys, self-help to advice-books on modern manners.
At the Pune Biennial 2017, I reworked on a class VIII history textbook and displayed it in a classroom setting. It was in order to question the notion of historical truth as singular and introduce ›Doubt‹ as a crucial factor in the national curricula and thereon in civil society. Uncertainty is healthy in creating knowledge, particularly in matters concerning the creation of foundational myths.
Sarnath Banerjee has written four books of graphic fiction: Corridor (Penguin, 2004), The Barn Owl’s Wonderous Capers (Penguin, 2007), The Harappa Files (Harper Collin, 2011) and All Quiet in Vikaspuri (Harper Collins, 2015). Through these books he has explored the nature of the Indian middle-class and its transformation from Nehruvian socialism to full-fledged neoliberalism.As part of his ongoing project involving collaboration with historians, Banerjee has produced Liquid History of Vasco Da Gama for the Kochi Biennial (2014) and The Poona Circle, a series of vandalised history textbooks, for the Pune Biennial (2017). Same year, for Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, he produced I Got Ginger (2017), a series of drawings and text that proposes the making of an ›insubordinate‹ children’s book on Dutch colonialism. He has had solo participations at the Frieze Art Fair (2009, 2015), Arco and FIAC and has shown at the Saõ Paulo Biennial (2008), Setouchi Triennial (2016) and Sharjah Biennial (2017).