Alia Syed is an experimental film-maker. Her most recent films were shown at the Whitechapel Gallery (2017), Antwerp Art Weekend (2017), Tate Britain (2016), Tate Modern (2016), BBC Arts Online, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2012-13), 5th Moscow Biennale, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010). She is represented by Talwar Gallery.
Priya is an experimental 16mm, silent film of Priya Pawar, a traditional Indian dancer, dancing the steps of Kathak and it is shot by positioning the camera directly above the dancer’s head. The term kathak comes from the Sanskrit term ‘kathakka’ meaning ‘one who tells a story’. The present work is an encounter between two artists, two storytellers.
The first part of the film shows Priya spinning, the ripples of her white
dress caught in a hypnotic twirl.
Then gradually, her dancing body is disfigured by colorful handmadelike
effects and stains. The image is abstracted. Syed writes:
“My initial hesitation in using the footage lay in its traditional figurative
depiction, I wanted to reconfigure the footage to avoid traps of fetishisation
and linear narrative, this involved burying the exposed film prints for
varying lengths of time, spanning a few weeks to a few months in order to
measure the disruption of the image over time. The rolls were unearthed
and then edited together to illustrate the breakdown of the material and its
passage into abstraction.”
Syed buried the film for a year and half in her garden, mixed with composted
materials, debris and organic refuse.
The humidity attacking the layer of emulsion produced an unexpected result of colors and stains. Using this technique, the figurative element of the work is destroyed and disrupted, creating a luminous, abstracted work. “By literally penetrating and debasing the glossy surface of the film, I drew attention away from the superficial beauty of the image and instead highlighted the physicality of the celluloid. The body of the dancer fuses with the body of the film. Film’s ability as a physical material to become an indexical trace of time passing becomes manifest through the primeval process of biodegradation.”