Vivan Sundaram: Disjunctures

Haus der Kunst honours Indian artist Vivan Sundaram (born 1943 in Shima, India), whose career spans almost five decades, with the yet most comprehensive and wide-ranging survey of his multimedia practice in an European institution.

Sundaram started off as a painter (a medium in which he was to persevere for the next two decades). In the early 1990s, he adopted a spatially more expanded conception of art which coincided with his interest in exploring the materiality of a range of substances, whether artisanal or industrial. Moreover, the choice of materials usually resonates thematically in the different bodies of work that Sundaram has made over the last twenty years.

Sundaram’s work comes freighted with a range of references - topical as well as art historical - and “Memorial” is exemplary for his historical consciousness. “Memorial” (1993/2014) is a room-sized multimedia installation and pays homage to an anonymous victim. In the wake of the destruction of a 17th century mosque in Ayodhya in northern India by militant right-wing Hindu extremists, Hindu-Muslim riots erupted in 1992-93. The found newspaper photograph of a dead man lying in the street is the starting point of Sundaram’s melancholy work of mourning.

History, Memory, Archive: the three keywords that he has designated as the overarching concerns of his practice are the signposts for the structure of the exhibition. Furthermore, desolation and destruction are recurring motives in Sundaram’s work, for as an artist he has never shied away from being a witness to his times.

The display is conceived as a sequence of juxtapositions with a view to suggesting how formal and thematic concerns ricochet from one work to another. Whatever medium he has elected and whatever the nature of the materials deployed - artisanal or industrial or ‘high-tech’ - Vivan Sundaram’s practice always betokens empathy.