Moonis Shah, Moonis Shah, THE HYMNAL Arduino, Weather Api, Stepper Motors, Steel, Iron, Marker, Paper, Wood 2016

Moonis Shah’s anarchic archive work wins the prestigious FICA award

VCA PhD student Moonis Shah was recently awarded the highly prestigious Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art Emerging Artist Award from a pool of 300 entries across India. The prize includes a fully-funded three-month studio residency in Switzerland and an exhibition in a prominent gallery in New Delhi. We spoke with Moonis about winning the award, his art and anarchising the archive.

Moonis Shah, GUSBETHIYA (INTRUDER) 27 Portraits, Pen and Photo-transfer on Paper, Intervened Found Objects, Wooden Boxes, L.E.D Lights, Typewriter on Paper 2016

Moonis Shah, GUSBETHIYA (INTRUDER). 27 Portraits, Pen and Photo-transfer on Paper, Intervened Found Objects, Wooden Boxes, L.E.D Lights, Typewriter on Paper, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

Can you tell us a bit about the award? What did you do to apply?

The Emerging Artist Award is awarded annually by the Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) in collaboration with the Swiss Cultural Council, Pro Helvetia, to a single artist from a pool of entries across India. The recipient is given the opportunity to travel and work in an international residency and showcase their art as part of an annual exhibition of FICA Grantees in July–August every year at the Vadehra Art Gallery, one of the most prestigious galleries in New Delhi. The award also includes a ninety-day residency in Switzerland in 2018, a round-trip air travel from my hometown in India, and living costs during the time of the residency.

I submitted a folio of no less than five bodies of work, an artist statement and a brief intention of work to be undertaken after the award is granted.

Were you surprised to win?

Yes, I was surprised to win! I applied for the award very close to the deadline, at a time when I was very busy with my PhD conversion. I couldn’t concentrate on the application the way I would have liked to but my body of work and statement of interest gave me confidence, and my supervisors’ suggestions and continuous feedback also helped.

What does it mean for you to have won this major prize and be recognised in this way?

What is great about this prize is that it gives me a chance to travel. Living in a different place and meeting new people is healthy for me as an artist; it give me a chance to grow and re-territorialise my research.

Can you describe your practice and work as an artist?

My work seeks to decentre the notion of institutional history as ‘truth’: to question its premise, content and form. Through what I call ‘counter archives’, I intend to harness the transgressive potential of reorienting ourselves away from predominant systemic paradigms. Anarchic archivism, which I am proposing, aims to overturn the disciplinary power that archives have traditionally exercised in cultural memory. Anarchic archives imagine alternative semantics of time and truth that problematise, theorise, question and challenge one’s normative understanding of contemporaneity.

My work involves a lot of fun and confusion, and attempts to create a conversation about our contemporary identities through discussions about the elastic nature of past, present and future.

Moonis Shah, YOUR TOOL IS MY RESISTANCE TOO Found Objects (Stone, Soil, Organisms) from a village where an army and Local Militia were involved in rape charges, Arduino, Processing, High-Speed Microscopic Camera, Pipes, LED’s, DC Motor, Print on Paper, LED Screen 2017

Moonis Shah, YOUR TOOL IS MY RESISTANCE TOO. Found Objects (Stone, Soil, Organisms) from a village where an army and Local Militia were involved in rape charges, Arduino, Processing, High-Speed Microscopic Camera, Pipes, LED’s, DC Motor, Print on Paper, LED Screen, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

When did you become interested in art?

I’m not sure if I can trace my interest in art, strictly. I was always interested in many things from economics, to political science, to philosophy, engineering and physics. Visual art, especially the way it is nurtured at the University of Melbourne, gave me a chance to crash all of my interests into a research which seems so far very chaotic … but also beautiful.

Tell us a little about your current PhD project at the VCA.

My practice-led research uses archival materials including text, mass media, cinema and historical documents to question the archive’s constitution, boundaries and materiality. The research argues that the archive needs to be accessed as a semantic field to demonstrate its relationship to power and control (temporal and spatial). How does the archive influence the epistemology and ontology of contemporaneity?

I am interested in examining the logic, tools and practices of representation which are used to establish the authority of the archive, while at the same time creating a parallel resistance against its authority. The research argues for a new term, which I mentioned before – ‘anarchic archive’ – which calls for a new way of understanding the archive. At the moment the archive serves to uphold power, but the anarchic archive uses it as a tool for new modes of enquiry.

I am interested in the way we theorise, analyse and historicise the present. Such play with the archive’s form, material and content offers a radical reading and new possibilities for the future amid phenomena such as surveillance, mass-migration, borders, Occident and the Orient, and the local/global binary.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey from India to the VCA?

My journey was simple. I was looking for universities which provide funding. The University of Melbourne was one of the best ones and I decided to give it a try. I got great responses when I exchanged my research proposal with supervisors. Dr Stephen Haley, who is my principle supervisor alongside Dr Laura Woodward, proved to be of great help. They made it easy for me to settle down and get to work.

Moonis Shah, THE INCOHERENT LIVES OF THIS AND THAT Mixed Media, Print on Flux, Lab Print Photo Manuplated Found Images, Conveyor Belt Machine, 23 Minute Video on Loop 2016

Moonis Shah, THE INCOHERENT LIVES OF THIS AND THAT Mixed Media, Print on Flux, Lab Print Photo Manuplated Found Images, Conveyor Belt Machine, 23 Minute Video on Loop 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

What projects are you working on currently? What are you most excited about?

Currently, I am working to on creating an archive of landscapes in conflict zones. Its premise is to question how landscapes undergo changes and how, as organisms, they react and adapt to territorial conflicts.

What do you intend to do during the residency?

I intend to explore my research further in a new context, with new collaborations. This may result in a body of work which is totally different to my research. This kind of deviation is something which a healthy research practise demands, and I certainly hope that happens.

 – Interview by Sarah Hall

Banner image: Moonis Shah, THE HYMNAL. Arduino, Weather Api, Stepper Motors, Steel, Iron, Marker, Paper, Wood, 2016. IMage courtesy of the artist.


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