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Grain of a Nation

The construct of the nation itself is destructive, for its harbinger is on race, language, color and unfettering borders. These divisions despise logic that is based on scientific inquiry , races do not exist, genealogical studies and the out of Africa theories prove that these constructs are superficial and are raised to counter the commonalities of human existence.

Corn better known in Taino , the Arawakan language as Mahiz, which is the etymological ancestor of the Spanish word Maize , that has been cultivated since the last 10,000 years in Central America. The United States is the largest producer of Maize and was cultivated there first by people who now have their lands divided over Mexico and New Mexico by an impregnable border. The indigenous people who brought corn to the now what we call the United States slowly become aliens in a war fought on a political economy that enshrines power by disenfranchising humanity. Maize is used as food crop, when ground into a porridge it becomes the most common staple in Africa, it is grown by the millions of tons in China to feed livestock, the Indians have found unique recipes to roast the corn kennel and corn brought by the Portuguese saved Europe from hunger. Corn is the grain that has seen complex experimentation in genetics to produce mutant grains that are disease free and fertilizers chemically composed to aide monstrous harvests, making corn an anathema to its hunger erasing properties. Revati Singh Sharma creates a thousand pieces of corn in a natural black, white and terracotta clay, denoting the diversity of Mexico . Mexico that stands at the forefront of a xenophobic war from the north.

Syria today stands at the crux of a proxy war where millions face starvation , malnutrition and death , its is Syria that gave us wheat a serial used by the world as a staple in some form. Revati Singh Sharma weaves these grains which have been casted in silver turning them into maps that resemble quilted patterns of the Punjab Hills now known as Himachal Pradesh. They aren’t Chamba Rumals , but embroidered maps of 196 countries in cast silver grain. These grains over power the topography of these nations allowing them to be abstracted into homogeneity . Women have quilted stories across the length of India , specially amongst agrarian communities women stitch together old clothes into ‘gudries’ these are adorned with colourful embroidered wool. Revati draws from these traiditons moving away from abstraction towards an element that holds a narrative. This narrative arrived from a personal situation where she assisted her ailing mother, the act of weaving together became her meditation but also her vocation. Revati comes from a family that has roots in rural Himachal Pradesh, in this northern Himalayan state where land holdings are larger and water is abundant, global warming has taken a toll on its local crops such as apples, tea and grains. Himachal Pradesh has a long tradition of growing various pulses and grains. Each village grows a unique variety, despite efforts to encourage organic production , indigenous pulses that are more weather resistant are threatened by genetically modified seeds that have markets ascertained through the food processing industry.

Revati Singh draws onto translucent rice paper kernels of corn and maize, resembling such lace and placing behind them a decoupage of material surfaces that resembles the layers that are hidden behind the production of agriculture .

Layered social formats, festivals, rituals, observances of seasonal cycles, dances and songs elaborate our relationship to nature as farming individuals. These cultural elements brought about a symphony that help wade over droughts, natural disasters and manage natural cycles toward agricultural production. The Green revolution in the plains of Punjab sought to erase these dependencies that were seen as mere superstitions. Fields were silted with fertilizers and pesticides and arid lands inundated with irrigated water. Soon they turned over to being bad lands, barren of all the nitrogen needed to grow grains. Grains are grasses that produced seeds that can be of human and animal consumption. But our relationship to these plants was seen as one that would deny them their own natural qualities that deal with our health rather they were used to pursue modernist political goals. Hunger has not been solved through over production. Each year the United States destroys many million metric tonnes of wheat and corn flour it produces to supply the World Food Program, but by making countries in Asia and Africa depend on food aid it creates a continuance of hunger cycles by fabricating faux famines. Faux famines are created not by natural disasters by human decisions of subsidies and supply chains that favour infavourable trade balances for varied countries.

The lot of the Indian farmer is tad similar to the nation in the so called third world that finds infavourable conditions for domestic production and markets for its products outside. Farmers are crippled by debt and seeds provided by majors such as Monsanto who work in tandem with money lenders, fertilizer suppliers and local politicians who create a vicious circle of dependence that ensures poverty. Infact rural poverty has increased in states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra. These were states that depended on monsoon cycles and followed arid farming techniques rest of the year, the mills of Bombay created an expanded market for cotton and irrigation projects of a modern India brought water. Government populism coupled with feudal politicians controlling Cotton and Sugar cooperatives in tandem with the moneylenders and other stakeholders began a creeping exploitation of the returns to the farmer, now it stands at a negative rate of the return for the farmer and thus has created a cumulative debt crisis that leads to numerous suicides. The churn is unending as to pay previous debts the farmer allies himself to the same cycle again. Revati as mother imagined the crisis of hunger that is widespread an non discriminating to humans and decided to act through her practice to articulate her anguish.

Plants were there first migrants to be assimilated into cuisine. The most convinced nationalist in India will not give up the consumption of potatoes, tomatoes , chillies, onions, tapioca and other new world vegetables and fruits introduced to the subcontinent by Portuguese colonisers. It is known that modern Netherlands was first saved from starvation by potatoes brought it in from Brazil because it grew well in the poor soils of low lying lands the Dutch had reclaimed from the sea. They were thus able to then create resources to become the merchants of the world , extending the curse of colonisation. The famine of Bengal in 1943 was created by the British colonial administration using grain stocks for its war efforts during World War II. More than two million people died from this famine which was followed by the partition of India in 1947 that took the life of another one million. Our present day starvation deaths, farmer suicides and the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Yemen mirror the events of then, again it is borders, political maneuvering of essential resources, the parceling off of human needs to private hands and a man made natural disaster better known though less acknowledged – global warming is leading to numerous deaths. As an artist of conscience of Revati Sharma Singh steps away from the borders of nations to weave in an inclusivity of existence that is based on basic human emotions that accepts the diversities of race, sex and language.

Revati hangs over a beam a 24 feet painting that contains grains from across the world forming a map without borders, as the painting skirts the floor around 40,000 grains made in ceramic cover the ground in defiance.

Sumesh Sharma

December 31 2017

Bombay India

  • Paintings
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