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Conflictorium, Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, installation view. Photo by Shristi Sharma. Courtesy of the Conflictorium Archives.
Conflictorium, Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, installation view. Photo by Shristi Sharma. Courtesy of the Conflictorium Archives.

The Vera List Center’s Jane Lombard Prize Winner, Avni Sethi, Debuts Show at Aronson Galleries

Conflictorium, also known as the Museum of Conflict, is a uniquely interactive experience based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, where visitors engage with the very human nature of conflict, and learn how to both accept conflict in life and find new methods of dialogue in order to create progress on contentious issues. Rooted in the political dimensions of its immediate surroundings, Conflictorium uses lyrical triggers to recalibrate what has been frozen into silence, and it is through this sense of the political dimension of poetics, that it addresses the often unspeakable nature of trauma.

The museum was founded by Avni Sethi, who won the Jane Lombard Prize for Art and Social Justice for her work. The Vera List Center for Art and Politics, who awarded Avni the prize, will present a new show, Owed to a Certain Emptiness: Infra-structuring the Conflictorium, from October 9 to 24, 2021 at the Aronson Galleries. The show will follow all university guidelines regarding COVID-19, and will only be open to members of the New School community.

The show, which is inspired by Conflictorium in Ahmedabad, is part of the VLC’s 2021 Forum: As for Protocols, which highlights the protocols-related work of each of the 2020–2022 Jane Lombard Fellows, online and in-person from October 12–16, 2021. Each day of the Forum is dedicated to an exemplary art project advancing social justice in its community. In addition to Avni, artists featured include the Jane Lombard Fellows: Emeka Okereke (Lagos/Berlin), NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati (Kathmandu), Underground Resistance (Detroit), and Jorge González (San Juan, PR). 

“I have in my mind always thought of this work as that which needs to sit on the slow burner, quietly, continuously, without spectacle,” explains Avni. “To build a space for possibilities is also to continuously sit with uncertainty – the prize at this juncture is an affirmation that quietude can also be heard.”

Avni was originally inspired to create Conflictorium due to the overwhelming nature of being a witness to violence, and trying to find ways to process and comprehend one’s emotions to conflict.  Although she’s found it challenging to decide which aspects of her original museum’s methodologies can find a home in an exhibition, she is excited and eager to create a new atmosphere for conversation in a context that is vastly different from Conflictorium’s space in India. 

“Owed to a Certain Emptiness, like the Conflictorium, is hoping to be a space for reflection, a space where nothing much is on display yet there are people and possibilities to hold conversation, to critically read, to also give up on compulsive meaning making exercises,” says Avni. “I hope visitors can breathe, be with themselves, pause and meditate on the many kinds of infrastructures that engulf us, those that failed, those that hold promise, those that bring joy, those that we want to build and those that we collectively dismantle.”

“Against all expectations,” says Carin Kuoni, senior director and chief curator of the VLC, “despite an easing of the pandemic at least in New York, we can’t go back to our old ways. Extraordinary police violence against people of color, drastic decline of educational opportunities, a growing wealth gap, all made shockingly clear over these endless pandemic months, necessitate a radical re-thinking of our cultural organizations and their role in democratic societies. Conflictorium and this exhibition at The New School offers us insight into what a museum can do in communities and an opportunity to recalibrate our tools, approaches, and infrastructures of cultural work, and I can’t wait to explore these with students and faculty at The New School.”

For Avni, winning the Jane Lombard Prize has given her the opportunity to think about her artistic practice beyond traditional frames of urgency, and instead allowed her to begin “crafting” her practice. 

“A prize is an enabler of dreams that are on back burners, that have not yet taken shape because they are not pressing in the here and now,” she says. “Performance has been a long standing interest of mine. I am nurturing a new space in Ahmedabad called Ordo Performance Collaboratory that allows for experimentations in performance. I hope it becomes a resource that performance makers and audiences could use to interact, build and disseminate within.”

Conflictorium is also setting up a new museum in the city of Raipur, Chattisgarh, India, where Avni hopes to further articulate the museum’s methodology and work.

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