About Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest + Other Stories

There have been few exhibitions in recent memory as moving.

Yorkshire Post

In October 2013 YSP opened the first major UK exhibition of work by internationally-acclaimed artist Amar Kanwar. The exhibition, in YSP’s Underground Gallery, centred on The Sovereign Forest (2012–), which explores the impact of mining and other commercial activities on the landscape and communities of Odisha (formerly Orissa), India.

The Sovereign Forest is an enquiry into an understanding of crime, politics, human rights and ecology in a constellation of moving and still images, texts, books, pamphlets, objects, and seeds.

Artist and social activist, Amar Kanwar is renowned for his compelling and meditative filmic essays, which evolve from documentary practice and explore the political, social, economic and ecological conditions of the Indian subcontinent. His multimedia works question the validity of historical ‘facts’ without human stories and poetry becomes a subtle but powerful force. Having journeyed through distress and dislocation, the works of The Sovereign Forest frequently return to the natural world and the implication of its ability to nurture and heal. Kanwar points to possible routes by which we can navigate.

The Sovereign Forest continuously reincarnates as an art installation, an exhibition, a library, a memorial, a public trial, an open call for the collection of more ‘evidence’, an archive and also a proposition for a space that engages with political issues as well as with art. Largely connected to mining rights in the Indian region of Odisha, The Sovereign Forest had a particular resonance at YSP since the estate is situated above the Yorkshire coalfield and is ringed by former, now destitute, mining towns.

The exhibition debuted a new element of The Sovereign Forest and a commission by the artist especially for YSP. The Listening Benches were Kanwar’s first sculptural objects for the open air, sited around YSP’s Bothy Garden, a place for rest, pause and contemplation overlooking the 18th century Bretton Estate.

The associated public programme included opportunities for all ages to delve into the themes and issues of Kanwar’s work and their relevance within contemporary society. There was a focus on YSP’s woodland ecology through information, tours and workshops as well as a special session convened to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike to consider the historical and continued impact of mining internationally and locally.

To coincide with the exhibition we worked with National Coal Mining Museum for England (NCMME) to invite people to share their memories of mining, its impact on their lives and communities.

This beautiful and ominous inventory is on view at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

- Modern Painters