When art aficionado, businesswoman, and philanthropist Feroze Gujral – who is of Indian, Arab, and British origins – visited the Venice Biennale in 2013, she noticed there was neither an Indian nor a Pakistani pavilion. With great experience sustaining large-scale arts projects via the Gujral Art Foundation, she decided to change that, and selected internationally recognised artists, Shilpa Gupta (India) and Rashid Rana (Pakistan), to collaborate on ‘My East is Your West.’ The project is an official Collateral Event of the 56th Venice Biennale, and unites at the Biennale for the first time the historically conflicting nations of India and Pakistan. Rana and Gupta have previously collaborated on the cross-border project ‘Aar Paar’, in which artists from Mumbai and Karachi each created public works in the other’s territories.
On view in Venice, Shilpa Gupta’s work, characteristically both poetic and direct in its delivery, reflects on her own experience visiting the borders of Mumbai, Bangladesh and Kashmir, which are partly controlled by India and partly by Pakistan. As a central focus of the work, she stages a performance wherein an actor diligently works away at a crafts table in a dramatically lit red room. Without acknowledging the presence of visitors, the actor traces a shape on carbon paper that rests on a pile of cloth. The cloth itself is significant, measuring the width of a sari and one-thousandth the length of the 3,400km security barrier, the longest in the world, that India is currently building along its’ perimeter with neighbouring Bangladesh. Although open-ended, the piece seemingly alludes to the vast and somewhat arbitrary effort of retaining distance through the gesture of drawing borders.