Amar Kanwar

The Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change


New Delhi, India

Amar Kanwar was compelled to make films addressing the violence, abuse of power, and other traumas by two convulsive events of 1984: the mass brutality against Sikhs in Delhi following the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and the toxic gas leak at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, which exposed hundreds of thousands and killed many.

Amar explores documentary filmmaking and how its limits might be challenged to create complex narratives. During this process he reveals our own relationship to the politics of power, justice, and ecology. Amar’s recent work The Sovereign Forest (2012 – ) takes on multiple identities, continuously being reincarnated as an art installation, a library, a memorial, a public trial, an open school, an archive, as well as a proposition for a local space that engages with political issues. It attempts to reopen discussion and initiate a creative response to our understandings of crime and politics, human rights and ecology. The project features a video composed of a series of visual “maps” that document the landscape of Odisha, India in minute detail. The Sovereign Forest serves as a memorial to the local land and the lives lost to industrialization, depicting specific territories that are in the process of being acquired by both the government and corporations as proposed industrial sites. Kanwar’s work has consistently emphasized the critical need not only to continuously gather evidence of injustice, but also to present it in diverse ways across multiple audiences and venues.

Kanwar has received numerous awards and honors, including the Edvard Munch Award for Contemporary Art, Norway; an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Maine College of Art; the Golden Gate Award of the San Francisco International Film Festival; the Golden Conch, of the Mumbai International Film Festival, and a MacArthur Fellowship in India.