Publication: Tautology of Memory | Rupal Shah

Foreword | Ahmad Mashadi
Essay | The Art History and Archaeology of Ajanta | Priya Maholay-Jaradi
Essay | Come To Play | Shabbir Hussain Mustafa

Tautology of Memory is one of the first exhibition projects in Singapore to engage with a South Asian archaeological site through the medium of video art. It takes into consideration an Indian art practitioner’s evolving perspectives on the Ajanta caves in western India (2nd century BC - 6th century AD); simultaneously it also showcases the curators’ evolving engagement with the artist’s views and the site itself through archival records. This combination aids the exhibition to at once display an artistic and academic process; both these processes fittingly converge in the Sherd Library at the NUS Museum, a space which strikingly represents the visual, material and academic threads of Southeast Asian archaeology through the renowned archaeologist Prof. John Miksic’s collection.

Tautology of Memory consists of three components: two single channel videos and a 1927 newspaper article dedicated to the archaeological site of Ajanta in western India. These three components draw on multiple voices to comment on the colonial, national and post-colonial interpretations of Ajanta. The curators’ video draws on the colonial archive, i.e., both text and pictures of Ajanta as documented by British officials. Excerpts from these colonial records are highlighted to reflect on the making of archaeology and art history as disciplines. In sharp contrast, the artist Rupal Shah’s video exposes the vulnerability and arbitrariness of archaeology as a colonial discipline; it plays down the colonial and nationalist emphasis on the paintings by positioning the tour guide at the periphery of the script and instead draws the viewer into the architectural features of the site. This exploration of the architecture occurs through a child’s eyes which in turn serve as a proxy lens for the artist’s hand-held camera. The third component of the display, i.e., the newspaper article is positioned as the interstice between the colonial and post-colonial comments to celebrate the idea of Ajanta as a national monument. In the end, the exhibition undergirds the three components with the following idea: An incessant process of loss and reclamation is set in motion as Ajanta lends itself to contesting exercises which range from colonial documentation to nationalist and post-colonial artistic and curatorial projects and the tourism industry.

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