WAR OR PEACE ?
Commemorating 100 years of First World War
Curated by Mrinal Ghosh, War or Peace?, at Kolkata Art Gallery, Kolkata, India, was a tribute to history – the 1st World War and its implications in our modern civilization that has been beset with conflicts since the world underwent two major wars since then. It was also to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, the Great War that saw the largest mobilization of troops in human history across the European continent, one that started on 28 July 1914 and lasted for four years. The curatorial note doesn't fail to emphasize the civilizational implications of such a large scale spurt of violence into the second decade of the twentieth century which was supposed to have been based on 'science and reason'. 'It caused the death of eight million people and collapse of three empires – Germany, Austro-Hungary and Russia. It was the first industrial war that globalised not only the technology of war and victims of it but also the structure and nature of violence, where human ethics turned out to be totally inconsequential that ultimately gave rise to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring a forceful end to the Second World War in 1945.'
The impact of the First World War on human civilization and human memory is therefore what informed the artists participating in the exhibition. To revisit the time and context of the disaster is to translate the loss as well the causality of such human folly in light of the present. This is exactly what one witnessed in War or Peace?, where Arindam Chatterjee's The Cradle, Chandra Bhattacharya's An Illusion of Peace, Robin Roy's Destruction 1-2, Samindranath Majumdar's It always happens to other people – hone in on the ever-spreading violence through various conceptual registers. If the first three artists concentrate on the locales of disaster, Samindranath, perhaps, casts a seemingly disinterested eye on the subject as he makes the most relevant critique of the rest of the world that watches without objections. When violence escalates in certain parts of the Middle East and Africa, chiefly through overt US invasion and also in covert operations such as drone attacks, notwithstanding the rising Jihadi groups aiming their backlashes to all and sundry, perhaps artists can only raise a voice of concern. Artists of this venue did exactly that in their own respective languages and through the lens unique to their personalities. Exploring the wound through a contemplative gaze were artists Samir Roy, Shipra Bhattacharya, and Jaysree Chakraborty.
The premise of this exhibition was 'not to document the facts of war, but ruminate on the contradiction between the concept of war and peace.' And the exponents working to contemporize their own artistic stratagem in the context of this new register of violence and memory were committed to history and were equipped with various forms and techniques pooled from both modernist and post-modern belief systems. The exhibition was planned as an intersection of the present state of existence and also that of contemporary art, where local and global wisdom is very significantly assimilated into each other to flower into a rich visual mosaic. War or Peace? ran its course from 15th November 2014 to 4th January 2015.
Some lines on the Great War are lifted from the curatorial note.