early spring 2012 series

A film series developed around “Lines of Control,” an exhibit at the Johnson Museum of Art, January 21 – April 1.  “Lines of Control” explores visual artists’ examination of the 1947 partition in India that created Pakistan and Bangladesh, and how that event reverberates and extends to political division in other regions.

“Last night I dreamt of this river. Come monsoon and it swells with defiance. Playful, unruly and rebellious it refuses to circumscribe the land on its either side. It runs amok upsetting all and assuming nothing except its own freedom. Seeing it make a mockery of its given role of a boundary, even I want to re-draw my maps every season.”
(Sequence from Temporary Loss of Consciousness, directed by Monica Bhasin; India - Bangladesh Border, Padma River)

No Man’s Lands / Everybody’s Land presents a short introduction into the prolific filmic responses towards the politics of lines being drawn, manifested and violently fought, between people, lands, practices of belief and ways of being. The legacies of partitions have occupied South Asian documentary filmmakers particularly during the last ten years, particularly in the vague of trying to find adequate narrative and aesthetic forms to address very current communalist politics and state violence. The selected non-fiction films were chosen for their specific contributions to those dense cinematic interrogations but also for their defiant gestures. In their approach, their narratives and their audiovisual ways of speaking they counter, ignore or re-draw dividing lines and hereby follow directly, and indirectly, Saadat Hasan Manto’s literary proposal of a ‘no man’s land’ - a refusal of a given logic, a given order of the sensical and the non-sensical.

Temporary Loss of Consciousness (2005) by Monica Bhasin works with and expands upon this conceptual starting point by interrogating the unruly movements and permeabilities of lines, politically and in form of the film’s poetics. As an essayistic exploration Bhasin’s work foregrounds the personal in narrative recollections and presents ways of living migrant lives while consciously addressing the fragility of the testimonial itself when problematically having to stand in for the truth of critical events. 

Way Back Home (2003) gives an exceptional account of the partition of 1947 by weaving almost epically a nation’s history with the personal memories of the filmmaker’s parents. Triggered by their return to a home that they left 50 years ago Supriyo Sen’s parents relive their experiences in the present and evoke the depth of dormant recollections that impinge, often unspoken, onto the fabric of peoples’ every day lives. The journey like character of the film engenders reflections on the relations between landscape and history, the fabrications of national borders and what constitutes each person’s sense of life sustaining relations.

Tales from the Margins (2006) by Kavita Joshi and Word within the Word (2008) by Rajula Shah enact defiance each in their different ways. Joshi cautiously foregrounds the female body as a residue of strength and resistance without further repeating a mediatization that captures resistance as a spectacle. Hence violence is not perpetuated through the camera but the power of the will sustaining a political choice is delicately brought into an audio-visual experience. Shah on the other hand engages self evidently in a dialogue with the life philosophies, which are supposedly far from the realities of contemporary urban life styles. The ease of visually affiliating the sparks of different localities and the contrasting lives lived between the rural and the urban, between different generations and occupations, strongly advances material, philosophical and ultimately political equality carried forward in a meditative cinematic experience. 

While negotiating and deriving from South Asian constellations and experiences, their structural questioning and proposing aligns these films with many other partitions and hence they become minor calls for further possible alliances to an elsewhere.
- Nicole Wolf

Special thanks to series curator Nicole Wolf, Researcher & Lecturer at Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London.