This review first appeared on Mumbai Boss.
Think back to the last time you were waiting to be interviewed for a visa. Remember dressing up so that you look like you’re visa-worthy, waiting to meet a dour official, carrying a file of every possible document to prove your financial worth and respectability? Chances are, you didn’t consider yourself to be a work of art while sitting around in the visa office. Unless, of course, you’re Pakistani artist Bani Abidi. Delhi-based Abidi has been interested in the way power dynamics play out in everyday life for a while now. Last year, she made a short film that showed streets getting clogged as the traffic waited for an unseen VIP to pass. A recent set of drawings showed her fascination for the neat and clean geometry of everyday security devices, like the intercom. The works in her latest show, Section Yellow continue to explore the idea of power dynamics in seemingly banal settings.
Section Yellow is set in a consular office that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. It is made up of two sets of photographs, a few photographic pieces using text, and a video titled “The Distance from Here”, which is dedicated to her husband, graphic novelist and artist Sarnath Banerjee. The video is literally at the heart of the show. It’s a quiet, subtle short film that watches people who are waiting and preparing themselves for their interviews. Look out for how the expressions of people change, observe the quiet power dynamics at play, and wait for the little twist at the end. However, the tour de force of the show is the set of photographs showing the folders in which the paperwork supporting visa applications are kept. Against opalescent white shelves, the coloured plastic folders look luminous and are transformed into a fascinating combination of abstracts and landscapes. The other photographs are montages. They take the yellow lines marking out the queues in the video and alter their geometry.
Powerful as the works in the show are, Section Yellow feels incomplete. This isn’t only because the gallery feels half-full. With the photographic pieces using text as well as the single portrait (it’s of one of the people in the video), Abidi seems to have taken a step towards exploring individual stories. However, this angle is barely worked out and feels like a half-hearted attempt to make the walls look less empty. We recommend standing in the middle of the gallery and imagining the half behind you doesn’t exist. Focus instead on the video and the plastic folders that have become magical thanks to Abidi’s eye.