Not so white: regained territories

Video x 8 (in MP4 format with no sound, video graphics + digital photographs), 120 seconds on loop

Commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre for Another Day in Paradise, Part of Sydney Festival 2017

All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. (The Dhammapada, 129, Siddhartha Gautama, 563 – 483 BCE)

All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. (The Dhammapada, 129, Siddhartha Gautama, 563 – 483 BCE)

Life is precious. The sanctity of life is a given within society. It is echoed in advertising, in reality shows, religious discussions, political speeches, essays, and so on. This vast discourse on life is largely hopeful; life is viewed as a journey which is filled with potential for joy. The notion that life is precious underpins a wide spectrum of beliefs, ranging from worldly to spiritual. The parameters set by societies in relation to this notion have been inextricably linked with significant milestones in the progress of humans and extending beyond humans to encompass all other beings in certain instances.

Coming into being entails impending cessation of being. However, despite the fact that death is inherent to life, it is not necessarily a process with comfort for the one experiencing it and those who feel for them. For many, death is a result of the common trajectory of life from birth through to cessation. For some others, however, it is forced through deliberate human action. The latter is what societies have primarily struggled to reconcile themselves with through the course of human history. 

To be forced to the boundary of death at the hands of another encompasses a myriad of emotions from total vulnerability to a guttural longing for life. It is perhaps the ultimate experience of loss of self. For one who is forced beyond that point, we have no means of knowing the violence inflicted.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 3), The United Nations, 1948)

The right to life is a moral principle and a social contract, founded on the tenet that a human shall not be killed by another human. Human societies across millennia and across different geographical regions have attempted to define the parameters of this principle. The law continues to evolve as humans continue to grapple with this issue. However, the more pressing issue has always been connected to death; to be precise, the question of who, if anyone – an individual or an institution – has the right to take another’s life or should anyone be given that right. Evolving responses to this question continue to re-calibrate the principles of the human societies and the different justice systems. 

The Sri Lankan state’s war in the predominantly Tamil North of the island continued for over 30 years with loss of tens of thousands of lives. The United Nations estimated that over 70,000 (Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Actions in Sri Lanka, The United Nations, 2012) Tamil civilians were killed in the final stage of the Sri Lankan state’s offensive against the armed militancy of the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in 2009. It was noted for the extensive and indiscriminate use of artillery, shelling and aerial bombing. Many reports of civilian and militant surrenderers being eliminated by the military surfaced. The white flag, a simultaneous symbol of surrender and refuge borne by many a group surrendering to the state military forces seemed to have failed utterly in protecting its bearers. Does this reflect an instance of the fragility of the underlying values and universal governing principles of humanity? 

Soon after the war ended, there was an influx of tourists from the Buddhist-Sinhala South into the Tamil lands of the North, which had been inaccessible to them during the decades of the armed conflict. War ‘relics’ became the backdrops for photographs. Social media was awash with colourful photographs of the battered yet picturesque regained territories that the local tourists brought back. In the company of some Tamil friends, in 2015, I traveled across the Northern Province with my children. A few families who had returned from the camps for the internally displaced persons spoke with me. Anandi who embroiders sarees for the markets as a member of a grassroots collective of women trying to rebuild their lives said “sounds of the war are still echoing” in her ears.


Open Pollination, 2015

Self Portrait Digital Posters x 6 (photography, computer aided graphics and animations), 45 second videos on loop | Performance x 4 (videography, computer added graphics and animation), 30 second videos on loop

Commissioned by the Penrith City Council for Sharing the Seeds

Note : As text can't be formatted on Vimeo, the following text looks the same from the beginning to the end though it shouldn't be so. Paragraphs that are bracketed with "//////////" make up one thread while the other paragraphs without brackets make up another.

Mono culture industrialised agriculture contributes to 40 per cent of green house gases. 80 per cent food production of the world come from family owned and small farms. In the US, more than 90 percent of agriculture subsidies go to farmers of five crops — wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and cotton. In 2012, agricultural subsidies totalled an estimated $ 486 billion in the top 21 food-producing countries in the world. These subsidies push prices artificially down making agriculture in general unviable.

The Mamre House is a place where one makes peace with the earth. It is an organic farm. ‘Open pollination’ primarily involved three people - two farmers and myself. One is Simeon who is from Burma. Simeon has first settled in Australia a few years ago as a political refugee. He has got a garden patch at Mamre. The other farmer is Nevin who has been living in St Clair, not far from Mamre for several decades.

Agri giants are disempowering farmers around the world. Under the pretext of safeguarding patent/intellectual property rights, seed saving has been criminalised in some countries and number of states in the United States in favour of agri giants. In a landmark decision in 2013 the Appeal Court of India prevented Monsanto, a global agri giant from patenting seeds. Coincidently, in 2013, The Mamre House established a community seed bank in St Marys on the outskirts of Sydney. Its objective was to collect, preserve and distribute heritage seed.

I began the conversation with Simeon and Nevin regarding their practice and experience in farming, consuming, storing, recipes, cooking, saving/sharing/preserving of seeds etc. I based my conversations on the exchange of my labour for some produce in return, by working in each one’s patch. ‘Open Pollination” allowed me to engage myself and immersed in the world of sustainable food production and consumption.

Indian farmers fought back as a mass movement against the attempts to patenting seeds and subsequent restrictions on saving seeds. Navdanya, a grass-root mass movement leading the way to achieve seed sovereignty in order to achieve food sovereignty. It has established 111 Community Seed Banks in 17 States across India. 2,00,000 farmers have been converted to organic farming in different parts of the country. Navdanya has trained about 500,000 farmers, conserved 3,000 varieties of rice.