Or how invisible borders remain just as hard to break down


You climb the stairs of the Garrison Command building in Timişoara and you find yourself in a labyrinth of micro-universes where each room has its own identity, as if you were crossing parallel dimensions simply by opening the double curtains. In this wing of the Chronic Desire exhibition, the building is an actor itself. The walls, the door frames, the air, all bear man’s carelessness and the relentlessness of time in their essence. At some point, this can seem overwhelming. All this until…

You pull back the curtains that hide probably the most generous exhibition space of the building. Room 14. And the shock is almost immediate. The room is dimly lit by old lamps hanging almost randomly. Nothing is accidental, for they make room for the great guest of space – the absence. It is not the usual kind of absence, but materiality that is waited for, so solemnly that your first thought is to stay on the sidelines. Because the space seems already full. Harmonious voices flood the place with ancestral songs of resistance, martyrdom, activism.

Microphones hang from the ceiling down to the your eyes, betray their nature and become loudspeakers. Each of them has a distinct voice, so when you close your eyes, you think you hear a choir whose members are spread across the room. And the music carries a special weight, like suffering transmitted through generations, accompanied by the hope for a better future. You hear a composition by Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, an Italian activist song, a martyr’s song specific to marginalised communities in central India and a musical interpretation of a work by Nigerian poet and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Time dilates as you become part of a recital given by absent artists. Solemnity hangs heavy like lead in the air, yet it brings a sense of release. Hope rises with each subtle tone of the songs.

Shilpa Gupta, an artist of Indian origin, is drawn to how objects, places, people and experiences are defined and questions how these definitions are enacted through processes of classification, restriction, censorship and security. Her works communicate the impact of dominant forces on communities of all kinds, causing a reassessment of identity and social status within them. In other words, the artist’s practice acts as a spokesperson for those who are marginalised, who lack a distinct voice, the strength and the autonomy to defend themselves. We, the members of the audience, become witnesses to this exposure of an endemic, generational, transnational inequality. And the question remains: how complicit are we in this system that keeps fortifying the borders between us instead of breaking them down?

Through lack of a better answer, all we can do is pull back the curtains that separate us from the next room of the exhibition.