When I first saw Anita Dube’s work of art River/Disease, I felt watched. This work of art is indeed eye-catching. From the distance it looks like a leafless tree, knaggy branch or a delicate hand skeleton. But upon closer examination you immediately see that it contains hundreds of ceramic eyes in different shapes, directly looking at you. The eyes are packed in tightly, directly on the wall. The big eyes act as an anchor point and the smaller ones fill the space smoothly.
“It is like putting a puzzle together where all pieces do not fit,” said Warren Hicks, a local artist hired to install the work. Bit by bit the artwork grew.
On the whole, the eyes in the different sizes look unique, adding making the space dynamic and creating a whole unit.
With this work of art the beholder is no longer the viewer; it is the artwork itself which is watching the exhibition visitor. It arouses the feeling of being addressed, confronted and penetrated.
Nevertheless, there is more to this work of art than meets the eye.
Anita Dube was born in 1958 in Lucknow, India, and currently works and lives in New Delhi. The eyes she uses normally appear in a religious context, utilized for Hindu temple sculptures. In this piece, however, they stream in masses out of a dark dot on the wall. The impression of a stream and the title “River/Disease” leads us to another interpretation of the artwork. As an inhabitant of India or Asia we probably would have immediately noticed that the template for this shape is very similar to the course of the Five Rivers in Punjab. The Five Rivers flow through an area that is divided into India and Pakistan. These rivers are not only essential for life as a source for irrigation, but also symbolize the opposite: disease and death. In fact these rivers are eyewitnesses of migration, combat and oppression. In addition, both countries obtain their power from the rivers and regenerate energy out of dams. The rivers are “lines of control” which perfectly refers to the title of the upcoming exhibition at the Nasher Museum, Lines of Control: Partition as Productive Space, opening September 19.
Images: Anita Dube, River/Disease (detail), 1999 (reconfigured 2009). Ceramic eyes mounted on wall, overall height 120 inches (305 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Nature Morte, New Delhi, India. Photos by J Caldwell, Sarah Filter and Wendy Hower.