The Mine is metaphorically synonymous with the idea of ownership. It is something that can be refuted, with the collective use of its resources taken away. Across the numerous stores like H&M, Ikea and Wall Mart emanates the reflection of our collective greed for these natural resources.
Prabhakar Pachpute has been photographing miners since the beginning of his practice, focusing specifically on the black charcoal mines. These images that then feed into his drawings become reserves for the iconic vocabulary he employs to immortalise miners that are his own; his family. On a flight to Florence, Prabhakar and I looked at the brilliantly lit cities of Iran and oilfields of Iraq, which he captured on camera. We appreciated a bird's eye view that night when we crossed the Mediterranean. We then reached San Giovani Valdarno in Tuscany only to encounter a refugee crisis on the anvil. We worked on a project to build marble memorials for the miners of Valdarno who carved through the earth for its peat deposits, fueling an industry that no longer props steel factories and turning Valdarno into a depressed post-industrial town. The 1x1 gallery with its immense cave-like space resembles our visit to Carrara, wherein the Cinque Fratelli mine owned by 5 brothers, an anarchist union of miners, was dug to feed the marble needs of apartments in Shanghai and Bombay.
Sachin W Bonde contextualises the inherent dichotomies that connect two forms of Power together- one being political power and the other energy. His work questions the relationship between electric grids that traverse our earth and grids of political alliances. He thereby taps into how the Middle East makes travel grids that connect disparate ends through airline companies? He also inquires into how Africa and India grow closer by carrying Indian businessmen into the different corners of the continent as they seek the resources that fuel an apparent industrialisation on the subcontinent. Bonde also looks at the 'Mitti Tel' or the 'Mud Oil', that is the colloquial Indian term for kerosene, which is subsidized to all kinds of use including cooking, yet also drives a large number of Indians to migrate to the Khaleej or West Asia to work on the rapid construction that defines changing skylines. Rather significantly, their remittances pay for a deficit caused by India's energy imports.
Zied Ben Romdhane has been photographing men from Libya, Algeria and Morocco alongside men from the Tunisian countryside who migrate to phosphate mines. His latest project focuses on Gafsa, a phosphate-mining region in the southwest of Tunisia, wherein a state-controlled company called CPG extracts phosphate from the hills. Mining, an important economic resource for the Tunisian economy has been practiced since Roman times. The local mining villages of Redayef, Mettlaoui and Oumm Laarayes, are rich in resources but marginalized by the government. They remain poor and polluted, a conduit for wealth. Meanwhile, coastal towns prosper. Workers lured from Libya, Morocco, Algeria and around Tunisia live on this nearly uninhabitable land. Ethnic divisions, exacerbated by life in a harsh landscape, have produced disharmony between the people and nature. These incompatible parts remain in a state of constant flux and volatility. Romdhane’s photographic series is his testimony to the harshness of the place, balanced by the humor of the inhabitants and his affection for them.
Mouhcine Rahhaoui saw his father return each day covered in black from Collieries of Oudja, located on the border with Algeria in Eastern Morocco. After graduating last year from the Institut National des Beaux Arts Tetouan, his final thesis dealt with the use of carbon as a conceptual element but also as part of a narrative of personal history. His paintings take the deep black hue that covered the skin of his father as elements of a landscape denuded by mining, both on the surface and underneath. Rahhaoui reenacted the role of a miner in an underground mine as a performance for the defence of his master's thesis. While Rahhaoui does not know about Pachpute’s work, Pachpute has- as part of his master's final show at the MS university Baroda- projected a stop motion animation from the helmet of a miner which narrated the process of formation of coal; from the death of the Mammoth to the compression of its body into coal or peat. Later for his seminal solo show 'Canary in a Coal Mine' at the Clark House Initiative, Pachpute recreated a coalmine in detail; something Rahhaoui did too without knowing of the other’s existence. The coincidental commonalities arise from the inherent annihilation of both personal and social life as well as space that coal inflicts on those who are entrusted with its exploitation, thereby creating a visual memory of trauma that manifests in similar forms.
Birender Yadav comes from Dhanbad; a city built on its proximity of iron ore and coal and once forested and inhabited by indigenous people who compose the Gondwana. The forests were felled and immigrants from northern Bihar and South India were brought to exploit the mineral resources. The indigenous people- called tribes by the British colonialists- were then dispersed as they were seen incapable of labouring. Birender Yadav- while studying for a course in fine arts in the city of Benaras- encountered these people that are from his hometown Dhanbad, albeit trafficked to work in brick-kilns. He recognised them from the creole language they spoke to communicate with immigrant families such as that of Yadav. Yadav, who was studying art to become a blacksmith like his father in the Dhanbad coalfields, then changed his focus towards documenting the activities of the brick kilns and trafficking. Yadav had been sent to Benaras a young boy to study art so that he could easily design equipment his father casted at the foundry in the mine. Yadav found that indigenous tribes from Dhanbad were being exploited by gangs that would gather them in groups and make them work in kilns, where bricks were produced by burning charcoal. He began collecting their thumb signatures on their portraits, as they had been dispersed and did not own identity papers so as to be paid minimum wages. Yadava's work taps into the complexity of language, labour and migration as conceptual constructs of personal stories that he has inhabited.
Amol K Patil and Yogesh Barve mine YouTube videos and counterfeit dvd's of Bollywood movies shot with coal mines in the backdrop, resembling American Wild West thrillers. The 'Gangs of Waseypur' is a Bollywood thriller with a sequel that was filmed in the badlands around Dhanbad. The two artists easily receive permissions from State mining authorities; a luxury never granted to Prabhakar Pachpute, who has long wanted to shoot the mines of Rajoura that engulfed his village. They stitch the footage together as a format of solidarity playing it to incantations to Shiva's dance of destruction. Patil and Yogesh also helped Prabhakar Pachpute with his monumental mural, '' No it wasn’t a Locus Cloud,” at the National Gallery of Modern Art , Bombay. Pachpute's solo discussed the epidemic of farmer suicides in the hinterland of Bombay in the state of Maharashtra; alienation in agriculture is a reality faced by millions of Indians encouraging migration towards the city. Patil and Yogesh filled in the drawings with charcoal and created the animation video that was projected onto the ceiling. Later, they placed their hands onto white archival paper creating palm drawings, titling it the ' Untouchable Hand''. Coming from Dalit Panther families, the fight against the ill of untouchability is a cause that both Barve and Patil inhabit and inherit.
Ravi Agarwal- in collaboration with the author Jan Breman- invites a view that encapsulates the ideas the exhibition puts to view through "Down and Out: Labouring under Global Capitalism 1997-2000". Moving across India, he captures in intimate detail the quotidian life of the laboring class- from a man lighting up a rolled cigarette 'Bidi' as he breaks stones in a stone quarry, to labourers celebrating the festival of colour in a slum in Patna, and to women working in a brick kiln. Perhaps the same women or their daughters were the subjects of Yadav's inquiry. These photos were taken before the onslaught of labour by global financial capitalism in India, where people were made poorer due to the mercenary competition of corporate interests.
Yogesh Barve takes a photo of a tall glass structure from Kowloon that shimmers in its brilliance. The work evokes notions of construction, which uses hours of human labour- not only in its processes but also in the elements that make it. Coal is needed to make bricks and glass, which make up our homes and offices. Brave’s work is a reminder that an urbanscape is a diagram of exploitation.
Mohammed Fariji exhibits various material takes on the changing status of Casablanca. His work looks at how the city loses its heritage to economic change, which in turn fuels social and architectural change. The stratification of our cities along class and wealth lines resembles a mine that is exploited across various degrees of mineral strata. Agarwal is also an environmental activist. His recent work brings an insight into the social cost of the Tsunami on the Southern-Eastern coast of India. Agarwal explores how the environment is connected to nature and how its destruction inherently equates to self-ethnocide.
Landscapes have not been altered and people displaced at such scale since the ice age; except this time the action has been endeavoured by man. Crises such as the Rohingya talk also of a scramble for land and water resources that has resulted in war. Artists here speak as artists but also as subalterns who have found their vocabularies of speech with extreme clarity of thought; as actors who participate in these realities through close quarters, from the Mashreq to the Maghreb - India, Tunisia and Morocco.
On three different walls we have projections of films that denote landscapes that have denuded the earth onto them, becoming what we often call Martian. Sammy Balloji often comments on the manner in which Belgian Colonial policies made not only the land bare of forests in the Congo but also a small country like Belgium rich in diamonds and a bourse to trade the resources of another. In her movie Habitat 2017 premiered at the Palais de Tokyo, Taloi Havini makes known a fact of the Australian government; that is that private mining companies and politicians in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby, inflicted damage on the spirit of nature and the people to fuel a popular demand for the independence of Bougainville. Shanon Te Ao, an artist of Maori heritage, pans the camera to shoot a movie that records how humans change landscapes for their utilities, which accelerates change in the cultural pasts of people. Their heritage is lost, while nature continues to hold memories that are not built but inherited. The Star is Mine reminds us of the possibilities and the limitations of possession, narrated by artists who poetically attempt to predict our destiny.