Fluid Geographies, 2023

Installation view, Lunuganga Southern Garden, Sri Lanka

Fluid Geographies
Granite stones and steel mesh
70 m x 20 m I 230 ft. x 65 ft

This large-scale outdoor installation, which winds through the gardens of Lunuganga carrying a sense of movement across space, draws attention to man-made incisions on land. It evokes reflections upon artificially drawn cartographic borders and the territorial disputes surrounding them. In designing the familiar topography of the river, Kallat has referred to several political borders from across the world, visually re-arranging them to suggest the form articulated on the landscape. Effectively, she transforms what are seemingly immutable lines – between nations such as North and South Korea, Serbia and Croatia, USA and Mexico, Iran and Iraq, and India and Pakistan – into an unconstrained, flowing arrangement. Each of the borders referenced to create the riverine body lies between countries that are in dispute over the sharing of common waters – including the Imjin, Danube, Rio Grande, Shatt-Al-Arab, and the Indus rivers. While man made boundaries in these regions separate people based on socio-cultural identities or belief systems, these lines often cut through nature in arbitrary ways. For instance, the Radcliffe Line, drawn during the historic Partition between India and Pakistan – adversely impacting the lives of millions, including Kallat’s paternal family – was imposed by colonial officers in a manner that divided the regions without considering the communities, hills, valleys, or rivers across them.

It is no wonder that contemporary issues between the nations include questions surrounding the use and ownership of land and natural resources, particularly water. While political lines divide populations of people, Kallat’s work highlights how natural forms, ecologies, and ecosystems don’t recognise such demarcations. As trans-historical arteries that have connected regions and civilisations since time immemorial, indiscriminately nourishing banks on either side, rivers, as alluded to in this work, draw attention to our inherent interconnectedness to one another and to nature itself. They also recall the deeper, shared histories between regions, which date back much further than the creation of national divisions. While political borders associated with perpetual violence and antagonism are often perceived as fixed and eternal, Kallat draws attention to their inherently abstract nature. By transfiguring their already unnatural forms into the new configuration in this work, she brings fragile ecological and social contexts to the fore. As a form of land art, the work opens up conversations around man-made interventions in nature, whether physical or abstract – both of which have been associated with strife around the world. These issues are particularly compelling to consider on this site, where boundaries between what is natural and man-made or between land and water have been consciously rendered seamless. A walk through the sprawling gardens reveals how Bawa has retained its natural character but gently intervened to conceal disruptions or ruptures in the sight lines. By raising the land level utilizing natural elements such as foliage and terracing, he masked the road that cuts through the estate enhancing the visual flow and continuity of the gardens design. At another place, by lowering the ridge of a hill he was able to make visible the saltwater lagoon, branching from the Bentota River, at the far end. The water body with its lush tropical surroundings resonates with the subversive qualities of Kallat’s work. Through the act of playfully reconfiguring lines of division she suggests dismantling the powers associated with bureaucratically created borders and gestures towards an elemental sense of continuity and completeness, in alignment with nature and its biological rhythms.

Photo credit: Diluckshan Puviraj, Courtesy Geoffrey Bawa Trust