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.
The 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. In between, we are entrusted with a series of intimate scenes from a life, recounted in an episodic monologue whose dramatic ebb and flow is sharply illumined by flashes of memory but indelibly haunted by fears and doubts.
The journey in question is inspired by the one undertaken, six decades ago, by the Biswas family. A passage from India, an exit precipitated by the artist’s father’s political beliefs, this abrupt uprooting continued to disturb and unsettle her mother. A lament for the sights and sounds of India she 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. Where history has often marginalised the female voice, Biswas reinstates it, not just as mainstay of family and home but as avatar of social conscience. Mixing archive material and newly filmed footage to embellish its bravura central monologue, Biswas lends this deeply personal narrative a compelling universal resonance. Seen through a glass darkly, Lumen sheds unflinching light on the ripple effects of a complex and turbulent past.
Lumen (2021), by Sutapa Biswas. Co-commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art with Art Fund support through the Moving Image Fund for Museums. This programme is made possible thanks to Thomas Dane Gallery and a group of private galleries and individuals. The commission has been additionally supported by Autograph. Supported by Arts Council England.
Produced by FVU. Producers, Elizabeth Benjamin and Beccy McCray.
An illustrated exhibition guide with an essay by artists Nilupa Yasmin can be found here: https://thenewartgallerywalsall.org.uk/digital/sutapa-biswas/
In Conversation: Sutapa Biswas with Rachel Dwyer
Saturday 24 September 2022, 2pm
Floor 4 Conference Room, The New Art Gallery Walsall
Join artist Sutapa Biswas in conversation with Rachel Dwyer as she talks about her practice and in particular, the film Lumen which is currently on display on Floor 4.
This event is free of charge. Please book by calling the Gallery on 01922 654400 or through Eventbrite
Sutapa Biswas is an internationally renowned artist. She works across different media including painting and drawing, film, digital video, performance and photography. Her art engages with questions of identity, race and gender in relation to time, space and history. Her works are inspired by oral histories, literature and art history. She is particularly interested in the ways in which larger historical narratives collide with personal narratives. Biswas’ works have been widely reviewed and are held in numerous collections including: TATE Collections, Arts Council England, Sheffield Museums and Art Galleries, APT New York, Reed College (USA). She is currently in dialogue with a number of international institutions regarding a range of different forthcoming projects.
Rachel Dwyer is Professor Emerita of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS, University of London.
She took her BA in Sanskrit at SOAS, followed by an MPhil in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford. Her PhD research was on the Gujarati lyrics of Dayaram (1777-1852).
Professor Dwyer has published ten books, several of which are on Indian cinema. She has recently completed Bollywood’s India: Indian cinema as a guide to modern India for Reaktion Books, London and Hachette, India. She is currently researching the Asian elephant in India.
In Conversation with Sutapa Biswas and Rachel Dwyer recorded on Saturday 24 September 2022.
Sutapa Biswas, Lumen, film installation, on display 22 July – 30 October 2022.