Monica Narula on Mon, 21 May 2001 20:09:02 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Documenta Digest from Sarai Reader-list

Geert has asked us to post a digest of the discussion on Platform 2 
of Documenta XI, titled Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice 
and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation (, 
which took place at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, from May 
7-12, 2001, which is running on the Sarai Reader-List.

To write onto the Sarai Reader list,
mail to:

To join the reader-list
or send me your address at

Date: Thu, 03 May 2001


in a few days documenta flies in with guests from around the globe - very few
dehli-based people, no artists, it appears - to discuss or is it 'disclose'
finishing democracy there.

is there not a fine line between colonizing and globalizing? is 18th century
romantic travel, as the British knew, a way to divide and conquer? isn't it
easy for off-line minds to mistake that for the glocalizing effect of spaces
such as this, where daily i touch base with dehli and appreciate some of my
mail scans very much?

i am curious about sarai's position and plans concerning the india habitat
center and the importation of art and lawyers and other experts to lecture
about democracy. the list of speakers is at the site. i find
the whole thing rather curious that your initiative was not located by the
expatriot indian cultural community, ironically in london where colonization
reigned in the jet set days of 18th century travel.

aside from the colonizing-globalizing, top-down importing versus emerging
locall cultural production, one must wonder to a documenta visitor one must
spend at least $20000 to fly around from platform one to five. otherwise like
those back home we just have to accept what is said happened. that is not
globalization. it is economics and a base for colonizing and centrally
controlling the image of cultural producers in dehli from abroad.

is this a dehli platform or a platform in dehli? i hope there is some serious
dissent during the event. i would make these points were i there. rather being
lectured to by imports about truth and justice, the sentiments of melancholy
and frustration, difficulties, and so on (transient emotions in vedic thinking)
as it is billed on-line, would it not be better to hold a town meeting,
conversation being the only way forward, or are the locals there 
supposed to sit
quietyl and swallow the words professed at them from the podium by guests flown
in in style and leaving as quickly after they solve or smile about the serious
conditions in the region?

documenta is follwed in europe very closely. what we learn from the 
platform in dehli, the persons in charge, become professors here and 
represent unelected your general cultural production. don't let that 
happen without speaking and acting up. it is in my small view 
important that initiatives not based as maharaj's in london or berlin 
do not become accredited and empowered at the cost of the initiatives 
such as sarai in dehli for the future. the documenta will come and 
fly out and forget it. the few indian scholar expatriots will 
flourish, and the scene in dehli will be thereby only more unfunded. 
speaking out, speakers, films ouside the habitat center, perfrmances, 
alternative lectures, right outside the event, on the street, are 
important to stop any blindness would be fun and have meaning.

this is not a reaction, but a meta-discourse, surrounding the india habitat
center, ironically the space where the colonizers and those who will reap the
benefits of 'being part of documenta' will fly in and fly out.

cu, philip pocock


Date: Mon, 07 May 2001 19:43:34 +0100

read this!

front page today.

wow, and the truthseekers are reconciling to import all the talent for
the documenta dehli platform like coloniasts and i have no way of
participating from here. the only local input is from officially
sanctioned government sources. and read the article above for a taste of
that politic.

cold and gray day, philip


From: Monica Narula <>
Date: Thu, 10 May 2001 16:32:15 +0530

humming in Delhi since Tuesday when the events began. Here they are 
doing a series of talks as well as a series of video screenings. The 
latter - quite a large selection of films - happens in a large 
gallery and happens simultaneously i believe. Basically, if you want 
to see a film, you can come into it at any point and leave at any 
other, and hope not to get distracted by the others flowing all 
around you.

The more interesting, and i think for some readers of the list, more 
pertinent event - is the series of talks that are happening in an 
auditorium. (Here i must clarify that both the gallery and the 
auditorium are part of something called the India Habitat Centre 
which is a pleasantly designed cultural & office complex, but not the 
easiest space to enter if you do not have enough capital, cultural or 

The speakers of the talks come from both India and abroad, and i will 
make a posting soon of the people who spoke and what they spoke 
about. Right now i am just informing everyone that its going on, and 
that it is one of the less attended cultural events i have seen. 
Except for some artists and academics, there is not much of the 
general public in view. All this to say that while Documenta 
(whatever its number) may be a big 'idea' in Europe, here - except 
for the few i mentioned - it is not something that many know or care 

This is not to say that the themes being addressed during the event 
are not relevant or that the speakers are not sufficiently engaging - 
in fact some difficult problems of interpretation - historical, or 
representational - are being addressed by some of the speakers.


Date: Thu, 10 May 2001 15:30:50 +0100
To: Monica Narula <>

this is a very valuable report!

the only live report in the West concerning the 20 -40% level of
documenta 11.

the indians involved, let me ask, are they not government appointees
with aligned politics, as well as foriegner of indian origin, with
questionable roots or access to activist movements such as the very
valuable sarai initiative in dehli?

what is the primary difference between genuine involvement and tokenism?
what is the confusion that can be bred between colonization and

please keep the reports coming, who and how many attend, what audience
reaction is, statements by audience members etc., photos!

this thread is a great discursive art work that can in fact change the
course of exhibiting structures, which was after all the purpose
(unfinished) of the d11 curators. do the job for them....

thank you so much!

cu, philip pocock


From: Shuddhabrata Sengupta <>
Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 18:10:25 +0530

Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of 
Truth and Reconciliation
India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
May 7-12, 2001

Dear Friends on the Reader List,

This is a brief report of impressions garnered during some days spent 
at Platform 2 of Documenta 11 in New Delhi.Phillip Pocock has already 
written in his concerns about the event and its location in Delhi, 
and Monica has made a preliminary posting as well. For those of you 
who are unfamiliar with Documenta, it is one of the most important 
contemporary art events/expositions in the world and is held every 
five years at Kassel, Germany. The next Documenta (the 11th) is 
scheduled for June-September 2002.More information on  Documenta 11 
is available at

As part of the process leading up to the event the curatorial team of 
the next Documenta have organised a series of meetings, designated as 
Platforms, in different parts of the world, with different themes.The 
first Platform titled 'Democracy Unrealised' is in two parts in 
Vienna and Berlin. The Vienna event is over (March/April 2001) and 
the Berlin event is scheduled for October 2001.Platform 3 (Creolite 
and Creolization) is scheduled for St.Lucia in November, 2001 and 
Platform 4 is scheduled for Lagos in March 2002, under the theme, 
'Under Siege- Four African Cities, Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa 
and Lagos'. The fifth and final Platform will coincide with the 
exhibition itself in Kassel (June-September 2002).

As is evident from the rather weighty title given to the New Delhi 
platform (Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the 
Processes of Truth and Reconciliation) the ideas and themes that were 
taken up for discussion in the platform were often contentious, 
reflective of the violent histories in the South Asian subcontinent, 
The Balkans, the Middle East and in Africa that were being addressed 
by the speakers and interlocutors in the various panels. At the heart 
of a most of the discussion were questions that could be broadly 
titled as follows :

1. does speaking the truth about violence necessarily lead to reconciliation
2. must reconciliation be sought in all cases, or is there a case for 
avoiding the process of reconciliation
3. what are the different ways of speaking the truth in society-the 
legal, the extra legal, the personal narrative, the historical
4. where is the domain in which reconciliation can be sought ? - the 
political realm, in civil society, or,  in culture
5. what is the status of statements that fall outside the rhetoric of 
accusation/shame, victim/oppressor, are they transcendent or are 
there ways of escaping the task of making hard ethical choices
6. is the role of the victim or the oppressor contingent and 
provisional, or are these frozen and permanent categories
7. what are the different representational strategies that can be 
deployed to make images or artistic interventions in situations of 
8. Is it enough to indexically invoke images of violence and 
articulate the difficulty of evoking them. How may violence be 
interrogated in art practice
9. what are the different sites in which violence leaves its traces 
on memory - the archive, folk narratives, personal testimonies
10. how may we rehearse, recall and perform difference without 
necessarily getting locked into the attrition that is demanded by 
situations of conflict.

(This is a list of questions that I have come up with based on my 
understanding of what was being discussed. It is by no means 
comprehensive or exhaustive. Others are welcome to add to or dispute 
the contents of this list.)

Personally, i found it quite interesting that so many people stayed 
on to listen to what were obviously quite demanding and contentious 
presentations. Many in the audience were artists. It is not often 
that in an arts related milieu in delhi that you can find a space for 
serious reflection. This is because of the iron separation between 
'display' and 'discourse' that rules our cultural life. Another term 
for this is 'dumbing down'. In the face of this, a substantial part 
of the time spent in the Delhi Platform took the form of a welcome 
degree of 'smartening up'.

Quick, agile, thinking or intensive and imaginative intellectual 
engagement is (or should be) as much a part of an artist's or 
cultural practitioners tools as is a penchant for the bright gesture, 
or the telling image. One without the other leads either to sterile 
academism or to sterile formalism. This event was a welcome reminder 
of the necessity for a third space for a productive encounter between 
theory and practice.For too long have we suffered a climate of art 
practice that prides itself on its unwillingness to be thoughtful or 
intelligent. The 'inverse snobbery' of the artist towards the 
demanding vocation of asking difficult questions needs to end, as 
does the patronizing condescension of the intellectual for the artist.

Having said that, one would have thought that more amongst the 
speakers would have taken the trouble to relate or inform their 
presentations with a sense of the contemporary 
political/social/cultural context that they were encountering in 
india. The 'Asymmetry of Ignorance'  between Europe/North America and 
the rest of the world was quite visible. The audience always knew (or 
was expected to know) something of the history of the holocaust or of 
the course of European intellectual history, or even of the history 
of ethnic conflict in Africa or the middle east. But many speakers 
made little (barring token attempts to invoke Gandhi's notion of 
'Experiments with Truth') effort to relate their concerns with their 
listeners lives and environments.Perhaps one function of events like 
this is act as gentle reminders of the need of transcultural 
intellectuals to enlarge their horizons of curiosity.

More Later...


To: <>
From: <>
Date: Fri, 18 May 2001 06:17:21 -0000

While attending the Documenta conference a problem kept on disturbing me.

The clashes between irreconcilable views are increasingly giving rise to a
massive annihilation of population and ideas.

How do irreconcilable or incompatible cosmologies begin a dialogue.  Or can
there be a position outside these identities? Further is it possible to have a
dialogue without slipping into a larger identity (`national`, or vague `we are
all the same humanism` - these positions can only work with a high degree of
enforced historical amnesia). Finally, what can be the possible vantage point
from where you can imagine a possible aufheben?

Yesterday a small sound byte from a film suddenly opened a new door to this
predilection. Prof J.P.S. Oberoi, while explaining the possible philosophical
underpinning of the complex matrix of overlapping lived practices and
cosmologies found in many subaltern subcultures said that the equality maybe
arises out of shared notions of incompleteness, what one owes to the world and
in dispossession, i.e not as haves but as have-nots of culture.

What struck me was the simplicity of the formulation and its ability 
to allow a radically different way of entering a dialogue. I am yet 
to workout the
implication of this mode of thinking but maybe some of you can give it a try...


From: Rana Dasgupta <>
Date: Fri, 18 May 2001 03:16:02 -0700 (PDT)

Just wanted to build on Shuddhaís last point about the
"Asymmetry of Ignorance" at Documenta.

Like him I was somewhat dismayed at the general
ignorance about India on the part of the visiting
artists and scholars, particularly given the title:
"Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and The
Process of Truth and Reconciliation".

Partition, an event that fell squarely under this
rubric, was something they had little conception of
("I never knew it was such a big deal" said one
visitor) and the Babri Masjid events, equally relevant
to 'Reconciliation', had to be explained from scratch.
  In the light of this, the determination to discuss
"Truth and Reconciliation" in "New Delhi" "because of
Gandhi" seemed a bit Hollywood.  There seemed to have
been no briefing on any of these issues by Documenta
themselves and very few gestures were made in
presentations towards things South Asian.  They wanted
to talk about 'global' cases such as Rwanda and South
Africa - and Delhi was just a place to do so.  On the
whole there was not enough shared ground between
locals and globals for much flow of knowledge back
into Documentaís own thinking.

For me this demonstrated well the imperviousness of
the agenda of the imperial academic/artistic network
to the truly local.  The imperial agenda might be
deeply concerned with - I hate this word but anyway -
the Other - as an object of concern and suspicion, as
a bleeding object of melancholic and self-righteous
contemplation, or as a receptacle for charitable
feelings.  But that Other has already been constituted
by certain iconic places and personalities by the
imperial meaning system (from CNN to university
departments), and one should not mistake the
fascination for these things for a bucolic curiosity
in just anything faraway.  In fact this
always-already-constituted nature of the Other makes
the voice of the local almost unheard in the imperial

The claim of some exceptional artists and academics to
"authentic" knowledge based on their courageous
journey from far-off places to NYU or Columbia gives
them a special platform within this complex; but as
NYU professor Manthia Diawara made clear at Documenta,
even these people must make highly strategic
compromises with the structures they work within in
order to be listened to ("if I print a book in Africa,
no one's going to read it, but if I print a book
through NYU Press itís a masterpiece").  It is clearly
not enough to say intelligent things for one's thought
to impact at the global level.  When Partition or the
Babri Masjid are so clearly not an important part of
the imperial meaning system it's difficult to imagine
what language could be employed here in Delhi that
would have an impact on the work, concerns or
self-conception of Documenta.

Given one's inevitable involvement in a global space
as soon as the Internet becomes one's platform, I
think these questions of how one communicates across
this divide and speaks meaningfully to audiences that
have already written the script for the speaking other
(the pathos of inequality, the pathos of disappearing
traditions, the high drama of competing imperial
philosophies etc etc) become important for us all.

Of course at some level this inability to communicate
arises out of simpler stories of gaps of language and
wealth.  One New York academic I was speaking to on
the last evening handed her card to a local Delhiite
with a sincere though unschooled interest in the
issues of the conference, asking him 'Are you often in
New York?'  Even before his incredulous 'No' she must
have known the answer, but maybe it's easier for the
jetsetting academic to pretend she thinks that
everyone is a jetsetter.  Otherwise the inequality of
the discourses that purport to address equality and
reconciliation becomes too obvious.

Monica Narula
Sarai:The New Media Initiative
29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 054

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