Autograph presents the London premiere of Sutapa Biswas’ critically acclaimed film, Lumen, in a new solo exhibition. Where history has often marginalised the female voice, Lumen reinstates it, not just as a mainstay of family and home but as an avatar of social conscience.
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Born in India and educated in the UK, Biswas’ art is underpinned by an interest in colonial histories and how this relates to gender, race and class. Her newly- commissioned film begins with the story of a baby emerging from a womb and ends on a note of departure, with its female protagonist about to embark on a journey across uncharted waters. Inspired by the artist’s journey by ship with her family from Mumbai to Dover in the 1960s, Lumen gives voice to her mother and grandmother through a poetic and powerful monologue spoken by the actress Natasha Patel.
Stories of migration and displacement unfold and overlap while memories, images and sounds ebb and flow. These are a lament for the sights and sounds of India Biswas and her family had to leave behind on their protracted sea voyage to England. The film is also an angry reproach of centuries of colonial rule, and its implacable incursions on domestic life. Shot in locations across the west coast of India and at the Red Lodge Museum in Bristol, Lumen incorporates historic footage filmed during the late period of the British Raj in India, alongside imagery dating from the 1700s when the British East India Company was established. Mixing archive material and new footage, Biswas lends this personal narrative a compelling universal resonance.
Lumen sheds unflinching light on the ripple effects of a complex and turbulent past. Imaginatively illuminating the long shadows of the past, Biswas suggests the potential to make a better, shared future.
Steven Bode, Director at Film and Video Umbrella, which co-commissioned the film, reflects: “Lumen is the name for a unit of light – a gradient of radiance. It is also an anatomical term for a bodily cavity or conduit, such as an artery, along which blood flows. These two meanings converge in the metaphor of ‘light at the end of a tunnel’ – an expression that helps light a way into Sutapa Biswas’s film Lumen, setting the scene for its fluctuations of clarity and darkness, its alternating states of euphoria and trauma, its lurches between poetry and pathology.”
Professor Mark Sealy, exhibition curator, said: “Sutapa Biswas is a pioneering artist confronting important questions of colonial and diasporic histories. Across Biswas’s work memory, time, politics and history are compounded into a composite visual experience that challenges our present. Lumen is a visual journey that takes us all to a new place of contemplation and understanding.”
Sutapa Biswas: Lumen at Autograph, London