REV-CONF Sep 3, 2001

Documenta Platform 2, Delhi May 01

New Delhi, May 7–21, 2001

Report by Sonia Khurana

Documenta 11 "As a fundamental and central feature of the dynamic
process of creating Documenta11, Okwui Enwezor will develop, together
with his co-curators, a series of so-called Platforms. The Platforms
will introduce a variety of complex topics, at selected locales and
in cooperation with chosen partners. These highly involved issues
will inform the exhibition Documenta11 in Kassel, June 8-September
15, 2002, the final Platform. Therefore the discourse of the
Documenta11 begins way ahead of the actual opening of the
exhibition." ArtHist will report about the second platform at New
Delhi in two parts today and tomorrow. As well ArtHist is looking for
reviewers who will be able to participate in and monitor one of the
other platforms.

Im Sommer 2002 beginnt in Kassel die Documenta 11. Zum ersten Mal
seit Gruendung der immer noch als wichtigsten Kunstausstellung der
Welt geltenden Documenta begann das Programm bereits mehr als ein
Jahr vor dem Eroeffnungstermin in Kassel mit so genannten
Plattformen, Diskussionsforen, die auf unterschiedlichen Kontinenten
stattfinden. Die zweit Plattform wurde vom 7. bis 21. Mai in New
Delhi unter dem Titel "Experimente mit der Wahrheit: Rechtssysteme im
Wandel und die Prozesse der Wahrheitsfindung und der Versoehnung"
abgehalten und wird in Berlin vom 9.-30.10. fortgesetzt. Wir werden
heute und morgen einen Bericht ueber die erste Konferenz in Wien
senden und suchen noch Interessierte, die an den naechsten
Plattformen in Berlin, St. Lucia, Johannesburg und natuerlich Kassel
teilnehmen und ueber sie berichten koennen. (I.M.)

Neu Delhi 07.-21. Mai 2001
India Habitat Centre
Konferenz 08.-12. Mai 2001
Film- und Videopraesentation 07.-21. Mai 2001

Experimente mit der Wahrheit: Rechtssysteme im Wandel und die
Prozesse der Wahrheitsfindung und der Versoehnung.

Part 1: Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Process
of Truth and Reconciliation.
Reviewed for ArtHist by Sonia Khurana, New Delhi - Amsterdam

India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
May 7 - 21, 2001
Platform 2 was twofold. There was a conference from May 8 - 12, and a
video and film exhibition from May 7 - 21.

For those of us who are concerned with problematising the meaning
of the terms art and art-making, it was very gratifying to witness
and to engage with the recent Documenta event in Delhi. For a few
weeks in the month of May this year the art space at the Habitat
Center in Delhi was twisted, flattened, re-invigorated and re-
shaped, as we traversed through an entire trajectory of several
rarified fields of humanities at once. The entire conceptual
orientation was meant to be interdisciplinary, connecting a wide
range of scholars, philosophers, artists, filmmakers, institutions,
cities, and audiences.

Conceptually, the gaze was shifted from the microcosm of personal
introspection to the political gaze upon the big landscape of global
politics. "It is important to do so because we are witnessing a
global transition and it is more important than ever to engage in a
dialogue with the various strands of this process." says Okwui
Enwezor who is a writer, curator , a political scientist and is also
the artistic director of the Documenta 11.

As an exhibition the Documenta has traditionally commissioned new
works in the fields of sculpture, painting, photography, film, video,
and installations. Since its inception in 1955 in Kassel, Germany,
the Documenta has remained a vigorous supporter of the most difficult
art, and has played a crucial role in introducing new vocabularies of
contemporary art to a wider artistic and institutional sphere.
The Delhi chapter of the Documenta is the second platform in a series
of five platforms of public debates, symposia, film presentations and
lectures. Following the conclusion of these, in June, 2002 the very
last platform will open in the form of the exhibition of Documenta11
in Kassel in Germany, its traditional home.

What is remarkable about the ongoing Documenta is that to begin with,
it has attempted to move out of a euro-centic set-up, into places
like Delhi, St. Lucia and Lagos. " The idea is to de-territorialise
Documenta," says Nigerian - born Okwui Enwezor.
Further, the discursive space set up by the Documents has striven to
animate the intellectual and creative methods that underpin the
social, cultural, political, juridical, religious and philosophical
confrontation with one of the central pre-occupations of the 20th

In the last few decades a series of political, juridical and social
assessments have been initiated all over the world to consider the
nature of state impunity, genocide and gross human rights violations.
The trauma of loss and the debilitating aspect of its impact on
collective psyche have increasingly called for other mechanisms such
as the Truth Commissions that could build a credible bridge between
the juridical form of justice on the one hand and on the other the
personal need of victims stories to be heard and entered into a
historical record.

This brings to the fore the role of culture/ cultural activities in
the processes of truth and reconciliation. The Documenta, then, set
out to highlight and examine this role with the support of the Prince
claus Fund that has for long been engaged in looking at the truth and
reconciliation initiatives aroound the world. Els Van Der plas ,
director of the Prince Clause Fund believes that "the bringing
together of theoreticians and artists, and theory and art could
develop the thinking about T&R processes and change the behaviour of
people towards traumatic experiences. Cultural memory
(Literature/films/art) are essential for the cultural heritage and
the writing of history for a country and for an individual. It can
have a therapeutic role if you want and therefore help the healing
process, and contribute to forgiving, and to not forgetting."
Okwui Enwozer further proposes that : "It is the intention of this
conference to examine not only the central arguments that form the
core of the juridical and social methods of "Truth Commissions" as
they pertain to state crime and violence; it also argues for a sober
reflection on other complex conflicts (ethnic, racial, religious, and
sectarian) that are seen as extra-territorial and marginal to the
discourse of the search for truth and reconciliation."

The symposium at the Habitat Center was significantly titled
Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of
Truth and Reconciliation. With the symbolic inclusion of Gandhi's
moral philosophy, the symposium then extended its focus to the
catastrophic fate of the holocaust and other systemic state violence
and repression all around the world, while peripherally including the
diverse issues from within India. As the week progressed, hazy areas
on the map of the world began to sharpen to focus, unveiling lives
and histories of peoples from all over the world. Delving into the
very meaning of "reconciliation", "transitional justice", the
"subaltern", one traversed the whole wide territory of ethics and the
nature of evil; the representation of trauma; and modes of justice
for healing, the individual as well as the collective psyche of the
victim and the victor; the role and relevance of "truth commissions"
and indeed the very meaning of " truth" and "What constitutes

Amidst the debate that ensued, in which the meaning of each of the
words in question is minutely examined, someone in the audience -
Ramu Gandhi ( Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, as it happens) - stood up
and gently insisted that reconciliation can only ever mean any good
if it were accompanied with 'original ' felicitation. Dwelling upon
the 'absolute' nature of Truth, he pointed out the very paradox of "
truth and reconciliation", suggesting that any auxiliary to Truth
that less than matches it in strength of meaning could well be

Gandhi in his Experiments with Truth had touched upon the complex
intersection between truth, justice, and representation, which
presented itself at the time of postcolonial transition in India and
South Africa. Today the search for "truth" proliferates into an array
of perspectives and such notions as juridical truth, narrative truth,
experiential truth, ontological truth, and finally, performative
truth, the significance of which is perhaps that much greater for the
purpose of representation and art-making.

The role of the artist as witness, as narrator, and as a presentor of
truth came to surface several times during the Symposium:
traversing a series of fragments, stories, anecdotes, memories, and
testimonials Rustam Bharucha's paper reflected on experiments in
truth - making and conflict resolution on the borders of theatre and
public culture. While Rory Bester's paper explored the role of
historical representations of interrogation and torture in
"criminalizing" the apartheid state, as well as the truth
commissions' use of policing amnesty to mediate contemporary
attituded to the impunity of the apartheid state. In one of the
stirring moments during the symposium artist Alfredo Jaar made a
presentation/ performance of his work on genocide in Rwanda.
This, then, became the poignant framework in which one could set out
to understanding the times we live in, and how to make sense of it
within the context of what we do.

For the global media audiences who are inundated by unrelenting
spectacles of suffering and trauma, the demand today is for
comprehension. If this is true, then how can visual documents speak
about that which resists language? How to bear witness and ensure re-
presentation? How to remember and represent the past and historicize
its reality? How to find mechanisms to both represent and narrate the
truth? How to negotiate the tensions between collective memory and
official history? How to engage one's art-practice to these 'larger'
human concerns, in the present day context?
These to me are the big issues, and it was exciting to see these
being tossed up during the course of the Symposium. While much was
said and shown, my training as a visual artist sensitises me just
that much more to the central value and facility of representation of
the 'unspeakable' that the visual can often afford. It is, indeed,
the unique language of film that probes the taut membrane of that
which resists representation.

A rare collection of films were shown in the Visual Arts gallery at
the Habitat Centre, which became "the extended discursive space, for
the dialogue to continue", explained Dr. Alka Pande (Indian co-
ordinator for the Documenta symposium Event)
The films were largely concerned with the dilemma and problematics
of representing the history of the tragedies of the modern period,
while keeping in view the imposssibility of experiencing tragedy in
the modern world. The Documenta catalogue claims that " its purpose
is not to grasp the totality of what Hannah Arendt had called the
"banality of evil" ( with reference to the trial of Eichmann). but
instead to take the measure of the historical responses to various
modern tragedies through the purview of committed filmmakers who have
mapped out a critical orientation of filmic strategies to analyse
their impact on our collective consciousness."

Part documentary, part archival - the films engaged with a critical
assessment of the representation of tragedy and of the banality of
evil.The "truths" of the archive are always provisional, forever
requiring qualification and correction. Each of the films shown here
marked an attempt to give a language to the unspeakable while trying
not to bear witness. Instead, what we could glean from each recording
is an audiovisual writing of history.

Recommended Citation:
Sonia Khurana: [Conference Report of:] Documenta Platform 2, Delhi May 01 (New Delhi, May 7–21, 2001). In:, Sep 3, 2001 (accessed Apr 19, 2024), <>.

Creative Commons BY-NC-NDThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License. For the conditions under which you may distribute, copy and transmit the work, please go to