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Regional Art Stories Broken Time Music

Sam Romero for Regional Assembly

The one question that remained with me after the January gathering of Regional Assembly was about Paribartana Mohanty. How was it that Pari managed to laugh a small real laugh from the depths of the hell he had been inhabiting over the past two months? His face stretched, the eyes closed for a moment, and his mouth pulled into a little peal of laughter. We had seen him laugh before, but sitting in a hospital corridor, waiting on his one and a half year old baby fighting with cancer, that laughter was unlike other laughters, even though it was probably the same.

Pari later spoke about his art. How? How in the midst of an annihilation at whose centre lies a child, did Pari manage to speak and listen to other people, and speak about other people, about the water rising in the sea and people leaving behind their lives on the shore in a coastal district in Orissa? In Pari’s face we were confronted again by the weak human whose smile can be love and defiance and hope, and helplessness, hopelessness, and defeat too. What else is a child battling alone with forces so terrible? A defeat for the parents. The birth of a child is the birth of a father, Pari had said in one of our assemblies several months ago. Might the death of a child be a death of the parent then? Pari spoke briefly about Gaza, about violence, about the vast areas of hell where children are being bombed on their hospital beds, where those that lay on the beds, and those under the knife, and those waiting on them, are all equally distant, equally near to death. What is art in the face of death? What is art in the face of the death of little children? What does one write or draw or sing in a world where one presses a button and thousands die, their faces and lives and fates mutilated, where those at the helm of affairs smile at cameras and embrace each other and sign Memorandums of Understanding sitting on lands filled with dead bodies, dead bodies suspended by ropes swinging from trees, dead bodies walking to report their own death. Dead bodies so dead that the TV cameras miss them in their frames, their little voices too low for the frequency of the sound waves. When the bombing doesn’t stop in Gaza we look away. How long can we look, after all? Who is winning the war in Ukraine? And Yemen, when and why did Saudis stop bombing them? And what about Rohingyas? And what about those countries on whose throat a larger bigger power has put their boot so that no sounds escape its bloodied mouth? What about those whose name one can’t even speak because one is inside them? The terrible truth might be that power alone is real, stealing entire continents, stealing lands, rivers, seas, and drowning those previous inhabitants into those very seas. And why look at people being drowned into the sea. Buildings become rubble with a press of a button. Why look at rubble? To what end? Looking is not easy. Besides, this kind of looking is a new thing. Never in the past thousands of years of history did people know in real time that twenty places were being bombed right at that moment, never did someone in Sri Lanka or Chile know in real time that a land and its people were being massacred in another continent, another country, another place. Confronted with news that runs all day long, with images carefully selected, people after a while give up and return to the old ways that prevailed for thousands of years. We don’t know what is happening in places we are not at, we barely know what is happening in places where we are at, we want to forget what happened anywhere, we don’t want to know what might happen where we are. Fair enough. Let us distract ourselves.

Meanwhile, Pari sits in the hospital, where two months are not two months, neither there, nor among the rubble of bricks and limbs and hopes, nor in the prisons of the world, nor in places where the past is being erased and a future schemed into being by a bunch of well-dressed moneyed lunatics.

In Pari’s film, clicks of time tick into music, as if time has been wound inside a machine, and in winding it has broken, and now when it plays back, it plays music. Sticks sounding against each other, their dry naked bodies making music. A beautiful soundtrack for a doom that visits one place at a time, several places at a time, ticking over children playing, women walking, men sitting, time running, water rising, the houses by the shore emptying. The truth might be much darker, because the truth might not be human, the truth might be shooting with a camera without a lens, without a frame, the truth might be the cameralessness of the sea.

In Pari’s film, a fading old teacher shows maps of the past, when other people lived in other places; he speaks of migrations and of places left behind. On the maps themselves, though, strange mythical animals flicker, an old practice of cartographers to fill the empty spaces with something, sometimes the western cartographers filling entire countries with savages. Horror Vacui. The fear of empty spaces. On the ruinous shores of the sea, the film, too, fills the emptiness with something, with music, with fading people, and with lingering voices. And might that be art? Filling the emptiness with something. An emptiness that never quite fills. On the camera on the shore, and the camera into which he speaks from the hospital lobby, Pari with his film does for a moment almost fill the emptiness.

Sam Romero is a writer, raised in regional Queensland. He travels often without a map.