Amar Kanwar (b. 1964)
An artist and filmmaker, Amar Kanwar is known for his documentaries on issues of the environment, political power, gender, religion, and labour in postcolonial South Asia.
Born in 1964 in New Delhi, Kanwar did his undergraduate studies in history at Ramjas College, University of Delhi from 1982–85, followed by a diploma at the Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia University from 1985–87. He was politically active as a student. After finishing his education, he joined the People’s Science Institute in 1988 as a researcher, travelling through coal-mining regions of Madhya Pradesh to research alcoholism and occupational hazards. He continued making short documentary films, achieving critical acclaim for Earth as Witness (1994), produced for the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Kanwar’s documentaries are marked by an emphasis on narrative, often told through multiple voices. In his film A Season Outside (1997), Kanwar explores the story of militarisation and conflict in Punjab. He melds the narrative with violence experienced by his family, alongside Gandhian reflections and critiques of violence witnessed during the Partition. In another major work, The Lightning Testimonies (2007), Kanwar produced an eight-channel video installation that broached the issue of sexual violence in India, magnifying and tying together firsthand accounts of rape and abduction from the anti-rape demonstrations of 2004 in Manipur.
Kanwar’s use of the documentary as both an archive and a narrative of experiences has been widely recognised. He has been awarded the HME Helsinki Commission (2022), Prince Claus Award (2017), Creative Time’s Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change (2014), Edvard Munch Award for Contemporary Art, Norway (2005), MacArthur Fellowship in India (2000), Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International Film Festival (1999), and the Golden Conch at the Mumbai International Film Festival (1998). He has also been awarded an honorary doctorate by the School of Fine Arts, Maine College of Art, USA in 2006.
His films have been showcased at venues such as Tate Modern, London; National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo; Goethe Institut, Mumbai; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi and the Assam State Museum among others. In 2012, the 5th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala presented a retrospective of his work.
At the time of writing, Kanwar lives and works in New Delhi.
“Amar Kanwar.” Google Arts and Culture. Accessed, March 29, 2022. https://artsandculture.google.com/entity/amar-kanwar/m063zf3x?categoryid=artist
“Amar Kanwar.” Guggenheim. Accessed, March 29, 2022. https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/amar-kanwar
“Amar Kanwar.” Sharjah Art Foundation. Accessed, March 29, 2022. http://sharjahart.org/sharjah-art-foundation/people/kanwar-amar1
“Amar Kanwar: Biography.” Tate. Accessed, March 29, 2022. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/amar-kanwar-18243
O’Toole, Sean. “Fault Lines.” Frieze. April 4, 2009. https://www.frieze.com/article/fault-lines