top of page

The Sovereign Forest (2012)
Installation: films, projections on handmade books, seeds, photographs

The Sovereign Forest attempts to initiate a creative response to our understanding of crime, politics, human rights, and ecology. The validity of poetry as evidence in a trial, the discourse on seeing, on compassion, justice, and the determination of the self—all come together in a constellation of films, texts, books, photographs, seeds and processes. The Sovereign Forest has overlapping identities. It continuously reincarnates as an art installation, an exhibition, a library, a memorial, a public trial, an open call for collection of more ‘evidence’, an archive, a school and also a proposition for a space that engages with education, politics and art. The Sovereign Forest has been made in collaboration with Samadrusti/Sudhir Pattnaik and Sherna Dastur. Samadrusti is a fortnightly Odia political and social news magazine, Sudhir Pattnaik is the editor of Samadrusti and a social activist. Sherna Dastur is a graphic designer and filmmaker based in Delhi. The Sovereign Forest emerges from work done primarily in Orissa (now renamed Odisha). Odisha has been the epicentre of several conflicts between local communities, governments and corporations over the control of agricultural lands, forests, rivers and mineral sources. The forcible displacement of indigenous (tribal) communities and peasants has been a brutal cycle of life in Odisha since the 1950s. In the past fifteen years, several mountain ranges, wildernesses, and agricultural lands have been sold or leased to mining cartels and other corporations for commercial use. A new economic regime allowed for the formal removal of legal and bureaucratic restrictions. The process of land acquisition became easier, and exacerbated the corrupt practices indulged in by political parties, government departments and the judiciary. A series of local resistances by peasants, fisher-folk and tribal communities emerged. Powered by autonomous local leaderships, primarily non-violent, stubbornly resilient, occasionally supported by urban activists, they have shared their experiences to enable a local discourse to emerge on development, industrialization and rehabilitation. This resistance has faced police repression or violence by local mafias hired by politicians or corporations. Examples of this include the movements resisting the bauxite and aluminium companies in Kashipur; against land acquisition by the Korean steel company POSCO and the industrial group TATA in Kalinganagar. The above events are similar to the experiences of various communities across India over the past 25 years. Odisha is unique in that the local movement has successfully delayed acquisitions, thus influencing the departure of international corporations or enforcing fresh regulations to be assumed by corporations toward human and community rights. Over the years, certain regions within these states have come under the influence of militant armed left-wing organisations (Maoists) fighting on behalf of the ´local communities’. The state governments have used their mandates not merely to attack anti-state armed insurgents but also to target local non-violent resistances. As state violence increases, smaller non-violent movements find it difficult to survive. This creates a spiral of violence in which only those who can practise and negotiate violence can function as the so-called main actors in this ‘theatre of war’. The Sovereign Forest is inspired by a search for answers to a series of questions: Can an artist intervene in this scenario? And if so, how and where? Can new temporary cultural institutions and processes be created to respond to this situation? How to understand the crime? Is legally permissible evidence adequate to understand the extent and nature of a crime? Can ‘poetry’ be presented as ‘evidence’ in a criminal or political trial? What is the validity of this evidence? Can we create a public process of ‘evidence collection’ in multiple forms and can this be located/initiated in local communities in a conflict? How can it create a new and valuable perspective about the crime? What is the vocabulary of a language that emerges from a series of simultaneous disappearances occurring across different lives, domains and terrains? How to see, know, understand and remember this disappearance? How to look again? The Sovereign Forest was opened for public viewing at the Samadrusti campus on the 15th of August 2012, in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. The exhibition was bilingual and accessible to visitors in Oriya and English. Visitors were invited to contribute a photograph, a film, a document, a text, an object, seed, cloth, pattern, drawing, or any ‘evidence’ in any form to the constellation of evidence presented. The exhibition in Bhubaneswar was temporarily closed on 30th December 2016. The Sovereign Forest exhibition comprises a number of elements including films, handmade paper books, projections and seeds. The Sovereign Forest has been made possible because of multiple long-term collaborations with artists, activists, farmers and institutions.

Elements from The Sovereign Forest exhibition:

bottom of page