The performers pause
Why do people build walls between their territories? To ensure privacy? Or safeguard themselves and their belongings? But the borders between “neighbours” such as the United States of America and Mexico, India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine and other places have been doing much more than protecting the citizens of the respective countries. In fact, they have managed to sow the seeds of violence and animosity apart from separating families, friends and farms. It is common knowledge that all this has resulted in a lot of physical, emotional and financial stress to common people living on either side of these geopolitical boundaries while their sadistic governments extract maximum mileage out of these seemingly ‘deadlocked’ situations.
The above were some of the recurring questions and thoughts that surfaced during Des Murs entre les Hommes (Walls Between People), a series of free entry events on humans, walls and conflict. Inaugurated on the 9th of this month at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore (AFB), it consisted of a photo exhibition, film screenings, readings and discussions that lasted until 17th September. The programmes were jointly organized by AFB and Maraa, a community media and arts collective based in the city.
A unique display
In July 2005, Alexandra Novosseloff and Frank Neisse, two persons with exposure to global peacekeeping efforts by the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU), set out on a journey to capture stories and visuals of people whose lives have been impacted by the fences and borders between North and South Korea, Greece and Cyprus and other places mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Their two year sojourn around the world helped them portray in a poignant and thought provoking manner, the realities existing at locations like Tijuana, Belfast, Jerusalem, Seoul and Laayoune. Since 2008, the pictures and text put together by Novosseloff and Neisse have been shown in various nations starting with the International Red Cross Museum in Geneva and in the Armenian Heritage Center in Valence.
Novosseloff is a research associate at the Centre Thucydide of the University of Paris-Panthéon-Assas and specializes in international organizations, peacekeeping and the relationships between the United Nations and regional organizations. Neisse works in the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union and was a political security advisor to different UN peacekeeping operations and EU crisis management missions in the Balkans and Western Sahara.
That Friday afternoon (AFB) was a memorable one for yours truly and nearly 17 others who participated in an invigorating 3 hour theatre workshop on the themes of trust and conflict. Pallavi Chander and Deepak Srinivasan, artists and co-founders of Maraa, used simple yet powerful techniques to help us explore and experience the meaning of speed and space amidst unknown people. It ended with a spontaneous performance that was driven by internal and external impulses. Astrophysicist and civil liberties campaigner Arati Chokshi shared, “I have never done anything like this before. It has been very enjoyable”. The participants included design students Gauri Sanghi and Lopa, technologists Kavitha Prabhu and Sreeharsha M, actor and copywriter Aporup Acharya, journalist Thomas Abraham, food critic Kala Kanthan and a few others.
“A survivor of the violence during the partition of India told another like him from Pakistan: We are both bleary eyed as we share the same agony”, recalled Chiranjiv Singh, President of AFB’s Governing Body while inaugurating the programme. Incidentally, Singh, a writer, was a former Indian ambassador to UNESCO as also a retired Additional Chief Secretary of Karnataka.
On the evening of the 14th, Rajasee Ray and Ishita Dharap, students at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, interspersed excerpts from Anand Patwardhan’s powerful film Prisoners of Conscience about the Indian emergency in 1975-’77, with brief oral narratives of its fallout. According to me, this was a crucial topic as most of the audience (including I) were infants or not even born then. Following this was an introspection after a collective viewing of the film Hiroshima Mon Amour. Using love as a metaphor for war, forgetfulness as a curse on memory and the contemporary as a repetition of history, it documents an intensely personal conversation between a French-Japanese couple. Directed by French film director Alain Resnais, with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras, it creates a uniquely non-linear story line with miniature flashbacks.
The concluding event was a poetry and short story telling session on division, belonging and refuge. During the initial part of the evening, everyone present responded to the pictures shown on the themes. High school student Adarsh, performer Aporup Acharya, child rights worker Puja and Maraa’s Ram Bhat, Monica James and Francesca read out relevant poems and prose from Indian, Italian and South American writers. Dilip Sampath and architect Meeta Jain and this writer shared verses that they composed on the subject. What remains with me at the end of this crucial and topical programme is a thought provoking observation that one of the participants voiced, “It is easy for us to sit here and comment as our lives are not restricted by artificial barriers or political imprisonment. Let us remember people for whom that is a painful reality everyday”.