Matti Braun ‘s R.T./S.R./V.S., 2003-12.

Can you explain what the black sun is?

‘Black sun’ is a term with multiple meanings. Predominantly it represents a solar eclipse, and as such it also acts as a symbol of mystery used in various belief systems. The starting point for us was the relationship between day and night, and the sun and the moon – simply put, an understanding of vision that comes with the threat of overwhelming blindness. The idea of the ‘Black Sun’ is a recurring aspect of many cultures, seen for example in representations of Indian Kali worship, Renaissance alchemical treatises, through the writings of Carl Jung and Ajit Mookerjee, and on into Julia Kristeva’s explorations of melancholy. At the same time, the gradual ‘eclipse’ of the ideals of the Enlightenment in society has brought with it a sense of uncertainty about the future and a loss of belief in continual progress. In parallel, the concerns of artists have increasingly turned towards the unknown, speculating upon the unpredictable future that lies ahead, and taking refuge in a subjective world of poetic transformation.

What aspects of black sun iconography have you used within the exhibition at the Devi Art Foundation?

The idea of the ‘black sun’ is linked to the notion of a turn towards the ‘unknown’ in contemporary art, as well as to Jung’s discussion of the ‘dark night of the soul,’ used to describe a crisis in a person’s spiritual life, or belief system, that leads to a process of transformation. One of the starting points at the Devi specifically was the notion of ‘diaspora,’ and the new conditions of globalisation, which have brought together different understandings of modernity, often generating cultural misunderstandings in the process. The exhibition looks at a group of artists, beginning with James Lee Byars in the 1960s, and Nasreen Mohamedi and Zarina Hashmi in the 1970s, together with the current practices of artists such as The Otolith Group, Ayisha Abraham, Lisa Oppenheim and Tejal Shah, who use or encounter the iconography of the Black Sun, seen from different cultural perspectives. An installation such as Matti Braun’s ‘RT/SR/VS’, which references the opening scene of Satayajit Ray’s screenplay ‘The Alien’ (a film that was never realised but which is reputed to have been the basis for Stephen Spielberg’s ‘E.T.’), is a poetic investigation into what happens when aesthetic forms and practices transit across different traditions and cultural contexts.

Tejal Shah’s Unfurling Series, 2000.

How important is an institution such as the Devi Art Foundation to the contemporary Indian art scene?

The Devi is an important initiative in India, and Lekha and Anupam Poddar, Directors of the Devi Art Foundation, have been key figures in supporting contemporary art in the region. Together they have nurtured a collection that finds articulation through challenging works that explore a plethora of concerns through multiple media. They are constantly encouraging and supporting artists from their region who take risks in their respective practices.

A fully-illustrated 192-page publication, Black Sun: Alchemy, Diaspora and Heterotopia, has been produced to accompany the exhibition, published by Ridinghouse in association with Devi Art Foundation and Arnolfini.