Zasha Colah: The Scorched-Earthly
November 2020 - September 2021
Image of a basket containing the notebooks of Rani Gaidinliu (1915-93), a Naga spiritual and political leader who led a revolt against British rule in India, in the stores of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University. The basket carries a tag with the note: ‘Basket of note-books belonging to the sorceress Gaidilin containing scribbl’d characters purporting to be writing. Her supposed literary powers gave her great prestige. Hangrum village. N. Cachar Hills. JP Mills, 1932’. Photo by Zasha Colah.
Zasha Colah researches contemporary collective forms of cultural production and artistic imagination under prolonged militarized situations; and how acts of imagination become collective. She segues between at least two terrains: the region of Northeast India bordering Bangladesh, Myanmar/Burma and China, and the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. These artificially segmented terrains coalesce in this research to perceive the intersections of law, artistic imagination, constitutions, and the infrastructure of disobedient, ungoverned terrains.
Focusing on traditional practices of storytelling, poetry and weaving as forms of insurgency, for her 2020-21 fellowship with 221A, Zasha Colah pursues research around the infrastructure of disobedient, ungoverned terrains. Both the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America and the bioregion of Northeast India bordering Bangladesh, Myanmar/Burma and China, operate under the conditions of a militarized occupation of traditional territories, and are crucial fronts of systemic planetary-scale extraction. Her research takes the following starting points:
- Recognizing and qualifying ecocide through practices of “illegality,” fugitivity and subterfuge (related to Adi Ophir’s concept of “conversion”)
- Intersections of political environmental reform and mysticism/magical aliases
- Contested geographies, occupied and militarized traditional territories, and autonomous zones
- Material culture, oral objects and orality, collective fictions
Over the course of the Fellowship, Colah will work in concert with a team of collaborators from at least two geographic regions (the Pacific Northwest of North America and Indo-Burma), creating a constellation of poets, artists, activists, legal scholars, weavers, and other cultural workers who will contribute to a palimpsest of research about the intersections of law, artistic imagination, constitutions, and the infrastructure of disobedient, ungovernable terrains. Colah’s research will take the form of commissions for a series of online publications and conversations with partner organizations and platforms.
Further Feature Image Details: An account of Rani Gaidinliu’s notebooks by Dr. Arkotong Longkumer, Senior Lecturer, Modern Asia, The University of Edinburgh
Zasha Colah co-founded the research collaborative blackrice in Tuensang, Nagaland (2007). She worked as a curator of modern Indian art at the CSMVS Museum in Mumbai (2009-2011). She co-founded the curatorial collaborative, union of artists, and art space Clark House Initiative, Mumbai (under which she curated projects collaboratively with Sumesh Sharma from 2010-2015). Her art writing and curatorial research turn around contemporary art in Indo-Burma since the late 80s. Her latest essays on this region have been included in 'Interlaced Journeys: Diaspora and the Contemporary in Southeast Asian Art' (eds. Patrick D Flores and Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, Osage Art Foundation, 2020) and in 'Art & Ecology' (eds. Ravi Agarwal and Latika Gupta, Marg, 2020). Her writing on the curatorial has been included in 'The New Curator' (ed. Natasha Hoare et al., Laurence King, 2016); in 'The Curatorial Conundrum' (ed. Paul O’Neill et al., MIT Press, 2016); 'Curating Under Pressure' (ed. Elke aus dem Moore, OnCurating journal 38, 2018). She curated ‘body luggage’, (Kunsthaus and steirischer herbst, Graz, 2016); ‘I love you Sugar Kane’ (ICIAO, Mauritius, 2016). She co-curated with Luca Cerizza ‘Prabhakar Pachpute’ (National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, 2016), and the third Pune Biennale ‘Habit-co-habit. Artistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces’ (2017). She was part of the curatorial team under Marco Scotini of the second Yinchuan Biennale, ‘Starting from the Desert. Ecologies on the Edge’ (2018). She is co-curator with Marianne Zamecznik of a year-long public art commission for Deichmanske bibliotek, National Public Library, Oslo. She teaches comparative curatorial theory in the Master of Visual Arts & Curatorial Studies department, Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, Milan (since 2018).