Book Review | Assembling Landscapes | Edited by Jeong Heon Ki, B. Ajay Sharma, Anish Cherian

Cover of the book Assembling Landscapes


Assembling Landscapes is an anthology of writing by artists. Many of them who have contributed to this volume showcased their artworks as part of the exhibition featuring Indian and Korean artists at the Korean Cultural Centre earlier this year.

The book draws on the theme around which the month-long exhibition was put together. Its overarching theme is the world around us – in the forms of landscapes, spatial as well as temporal – and how it has been progressively disintegrating due to various challenges such as climate change, war, Covid and others.

The exhibition, aptly called Synthesis of Difference, was curated by B. Ajay Sharma, an Indian painter and performance artist, and Jihyoung Park, a South Korean installation and performance artist with the help of younger artists Vanshika Sareen and Harsh Kumar, both currently pursuing their degrees in the Fine Arts. The book has been edited by Anish Cherian, a writer and multi-media artist.

The most notable works in the exhibition, according to this reviewer, and for many people who visited the exhibition, were by the reputed South Korean artist Lee Lee Nam. Lee Nam’s work – consisting of a series of animated LED screens – depicted the world as we know it, threatened by war and destruction. Huge missiles floated over the screens which depicted mountains, forests and rivers, along with cultural wonders such as Rodin’s sculpture of the Thinking Man, and the statue of Tutankhamun, Egyptian Pharoah. The minute detailing of the set pieces, intricate and layered, made the viewing of the work intensely rewarding. In the book, Lee Nam sets out his objective behind the work by suggesting that he is a student of “the meeting of classics and modernity, humanity and nature, the East and the West, and creation and cloning”. “Through the reinterpretation of the complex digital technology of the moving pixel world…Lee Nam sees the possibility of a closer relationship between the artist and the audience in a virtual world.”

The works by another well-known Korean artist Lee Jeong Lok were on display too and made for a very interesting viewing experience. In the book, Lok provides the source of inspiration behind his work.

“You would know the hidden realm

Where all souls dwell.

The journey’s way lies

Through death’s misty fell.

Within this timeless passage

A guiding light does dance,

Lost from conscious memory

But visible in trance.” (Journey of Souls, Michael Newton).



The mystic core of the above-mentioned verse is well-captured by the camera of Jeong Lok. All his works at display feature what Nuzhat Kazmi, academic and art historian from Jamia Milia Islamia rightly calls Noor or Divine Light in Urdu/Persian, with surreal landscapes featuring mountains and lakes. In his work, one gets an idea of Spinoza’s concept of divinity residing in nature.

Kazmi’s piece provides a succinct overview of the exhibition. She writes: “The exhibition here of art works of ten artists, Korean and Indian, seeks to find a space that allows to understand the synthesis of difference/s and to put into public domain, each artist’s concerted creative projects, to either dissolve the apparent difference, as a keenly deliberated endeavour…”

On Jeong Lok’s wrok, she comments: “I carefully looked at the art of Lee Jeong Lok and discovered an ability to appreciate the artist’s visual mystical experiences using the powerful, universal understanding and experience of the phenomenon of light, the concept of noor, as would be referred to in much of sufi traditions…”


The works of Haru K. also provided food for thought (pun-intended) through his depictions of landscapes suffused with food items. As he comments in the book on his work: “My work stems from an attempt to solve contemporary people’s perceptions of nature and the ideals that emerged from Eastern thought from a modern perspective.” His work has a certain playful quality, and the use of bright colours makes it even more so. In a way, his work amounts to a deconstruction of ideas surrounding nature and to find a synthesis among the varied way in which nature is viewed: a resource for human beings from which we draw physical sustenance, as well as a sacred landscape from which we draw spiritual succour. Haru K. suggests through his works that nature is all of this, but still greater than the sum of its various parts.  


The installation by Jihyoung Park stood out in its thoughtfulness and execution. Her work featured several broken objects, meticulously pieced together by Park, who titled it as “Fragile_Handle With Care.” The delicate objects on display, broken but still standing could be read as a comment on the state of the world itself, battered by the onslaught of Covid, Climate Change and wars, but still displaying enough fortitude to go about its business of existing. The other project that Park undertook was equally poignant, in the sense that it allowed people to scour for memories of Covid and to pick one physical object which reminded them most of the pandemic. This object was to be put in a jar which you could collect first from Park who spent most of her time at the venue of the exhibition, distributing them to all who came. As she noted in a social media post later, most of the jars were returned by the people who took them home.




The exhibition consisted of the works of Sharma too, largely in the form of photographs of his many performances over the year, which had an apocalyptic vividness to them, in terms of choice of location and the props that he used in the course of them. The carcass of a cow, worn over the head in the dilapidated Malcha Mahal of Delhi was one of them, a comment on the spate of cow-related lynchings in India. Another featured him in a costume resembling that worn by members of the Fascist organisation Ku Klux Klan of America, holding a rabbit in his hands, upside down. Yet another featured the biggest garbage dump in Delhi near Bhalsawa Dairy, with a fire raging over it, titled The Burning Land.

Other notable works featured included those of Paribartana Mohanty, who depicted through a video installation the slow drowning of a town in coastal Odisha. Inder Salim’s essay on modern art, culture and society, through a play on the word Meta is a delight to read due to the author’s irreverent take on many social and philosophical constructs. The poems by Vinod Bharadwaj, noted film critic, and Sarvesh Wahie, a young scholar and writer, are noteworthy additions to the book.   

All in all, an insightful book to match the profundity of the artworks displayed at the exhibition. Here is to many more such exhibitions by the curatorial team!





New | Poetry | Tea in the Desert | Hoshang Merchant

Original artwork by Rajni

 Tea in the Desert:

A Poem for Iran

Afsanneh, Maimouneh,

Parvaneh, Nargis and


Packed a picnic basket

Tea things, date cakes,




They wore

Scarves, veils, chador

And went for tea in the 


They walked out

Before sun-up

And walked and

Walked to the desert's 


Then they saw a sand 


So, they climbed it

The air nimble, the sun


They saw another, and


So, they climbed all the 


One after another

Behind them they left

Father, priest, and 



But still there was


The highest atoll to


From where they could


To Yazd, Kerman, Bam

They took off their


And let loose their hair

For they were flushed




Nasim's hair was best

In red fiery points, a


And when they sat 

Down to tea 

The sun was at its 


They sweated blood, 

Felt faint

Curled up in each

Other's arms


And slept and slept...

The wind whistled

Around them

And this is how they

Had their tea in the 


Afsanneh, Maimouneh,

Parvaneh, Nargis and


(Hoshang Merchant is India's first openly gay poet who lived in Iran during the first days of the Islamic Revolution, 1976 to 1979). 


New | Poetry | Jobeth Warjri

Georges Seurat, A Riverbank 


Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved…

                                                                                                 —Salman Rushdie         

Poetry cannot have meaning unless it

traverses the lines dividing you from me.

There is a muteness there of all the

things we could not say:

a sky half-filled with

constellations we cannot name.  

So, I made a home in your body

believing that, if I did, I would

not have to contend with that

which shows you for you and me for me.


I was wrong.


Lapalang means a foreign country

to which I cannot belong,

no matter how hard I try.

Mei tells me its hurt is ancient,

its blood seeping past the familiarities

of home, nation, world;

a sound to which my ears

are unaccustomed. A turn of phrase.

It slices the night, she says, with

a knife meant to wound, if not kill.


I know

it fills cities with graffiti

that skewer even indifferent clouds.


Mei also says it inhabits a form marked by what

it ought to have left behind:

your affinity for cold, for instance,

and mine for heat,

you for you, me for me;

so that the lines may fall, jagged,

where they must


and I quote Rushdie for comfort

when they eviscerate

the air from which my poetry bleeds.



When we leave this city,

there will be no light

from above to make us go blind—

there is no saviour for

abandoned boats on the River

Tapti, stranded during summer. 

The lovers along Dumas Road

know the wretchedness of parting.

They say a prayer on arrival.


And doesn’t this feel

a little bit like love—

when one picks at the wound 

to arrive at what remains?

At Amar Tiffin House

the kebabs smell

sickeningly of home.


The Valley

Here, in this city of lakes, the waters

wash a distant memory to shore: you

balancing between the hate of the familiar

and love of strangers. It is swimming

of a kind because there are no fish to greet you

like the ones the fishermen carry on their boats.

They have company you cannot keep.


It is Elah but also not quite when you

have already arrived, as it were, to gaze

upon children who barely grow up

to become adults. Eight died that week.


You notice old men in pherans

at the market and you wonder if

they ever felt lucky to be on this side

of the bridge and not the

other side with eyes closed. 


You walk the streets no earlier than 8.00

and no later than 11 hours from then.

Happy schoolchildren fill a battered Maruti

with the scent of ink and chalk-coloured dreams.

A man behind the counter hands you

your packet of cigarettes. You smile your thanks.


There are firs in the garden to

keep you from peering too closely

through the windows of homes.

Their exposed bricks remind you of

of tents in a snowstorm.


You remember Munnu from

the deer story, the one you clutched

to your heart on your way here.

You delude yourself into thinking that

this cannot be history. It is only a graphic novel.


The thing about it is you’re never prepared.


One: remain calm when you hear the noise of the ocean

turn off the fan just to be sure,

words don’t float on a page.

Massage your body, gently

you are not air, you are not bird

be sure that you know this when


two: something tells you you’ve bungled

even when your life depended on it.

Don’t compare yourself to Scheherazade

remember, you’ve already died a thousand times

shivering in the last throes as you do now


without a language and tongue, a past.

Three: the lead in your brain isn’t actual

weight inviting you into silence

empty your pockets of stones

before waves take away your remains


you are Virginia Woolf but also


not really.




Stories are difficult to write


believe me, I’ve woven some from your hair,

untangled knots others do not see

like that day when you wanted to

make the sea your home and not return to me.


I fancy myself a gardener, sometimes


I’ve re-fashioned plots from loss and longing

separated your tree from its roots,

so I can graft branches

that grow in little pockets of the sky.


Other days, I am a petty mechanic


oiling parts of the evening with your misery

bolted down the setting so that your

hero wouldn’t have to die a slow death

I have blood on my hands, thick and viscous   


in short, I kill.

Mostly, I am a thief


I have stolen from your hurt

its tortured limbs and labyrinthine arteries

to give unhappiness its due regard:


stories when you weren’t even looking.



When we got here,

light rain streamed down

windows of a plane;

we became birds cooing

from rafters damp with weeping.

      In an airport humming

with arrivals,

we called strangeness

by another name,

named new places

after the ones we’d left. Just in case.

We grew accustomed to habits―us foreigners―

only for a time, for

a time, for a



You remembered Marco Polo; I, Ruth, opened an atlas

to welcome your coming with

the agony of




Sometimes            the wound hurts

like roots of a tree           torn from its earth,                   a great cavity

whose jaws rip apart


who have left                           

and keep on leaving.

We tend to blame it                  on the losses,

those worn out tents                                    we’ve stapled to the


while we were out. Camping.


Really, it is not cities that haunt us―

the maps whose

loneliness we have felt               drive nails through our palms.

Nor is it the baying of wolves in


before we traced

the wetness of betrayal                                 on our cheeks.

We’d left them on our way out

the psychologist’s office.


One day, I shall pluck it out of you―                      that poisoned dart

      which causes you

to never return.





























New | Poetry | Pratibha Nandkumar



You are shirking your responsibility as a woman
if you don’t, sometimes, wear high heels, do your
hair and wear a bit of pink.

Isaac Mizrahi, Fashion Designer


The untimely doorbell
brings me hurrying in bare minimum
And he stands there, the god almighty,
all dressed up in expensive silks

It was no wardrobe malfunction
my torn nighty, untidy hair,
does my mouth smell?
did I wash between legs?!

Why are we discussing some
godforsaken seminar, goofed up by some
good-for-nothing idiot, who should have been kicked out
but was given a promotion and an award too?

The coffee comes to the rescue
and the mug is big enough but
allows an unintentional touch and then
everything changed

That carpet, the windowsill, the afternoon sun
that blaring music from the next door
cart vendors calling out fresh tomatoes
Nothing was pink.


He mouthed an impromptu poem
on my brown lips,
my flat feet and of course
on my thick dark eyelashes.

Translated from original Kannada by the poet 

Defining pleasure

If you are searching for that poem written especially for you,

you must remember that

writing a poem is like drinking coffee

brewing, filtering, whitening, and sweetening

precedes consuming

which is what happens in courting

But then drinking coffee is like making love

hot yet not scalding

sweet but not too much.

Enough but not unlimited. 

Now, if you are thinking what I am thinking

let’s have some coffee.


The fish at the pond were a surprise;

Didn’t expect such abundance.

The snake in the grass evoked a hearty laugh;

What did it symbolise for the modernist? 

The golden sunset was a perfect backdrop.

Someone had made a proper bed;

Fresh sheets tend to have an allure

God, when was it, the last time? 

To get under the shower and get ready

was a pretext. You went for a drink at the bar

and I stepped out onto the lawn to speak to the fish.

When we finally met in bed 

I didn’t notice the lipstick mark on your shirt collar

and you didn’t bother about the grass in

my dishevelled hair.

What an orgy it was!


You know every detail.

The black mole on my back

the small scar behind the left ear

the thumb with a nail lost.

You recognise every single curve

the silky smoothness

even in the dark.

You did not know...

when my sighs burned down the roof

when I crossed the seven seas

buried in your hug

when I just slipped away, vanished

while I kept kissing you...

You did not know. 

The Shadow of a Crow

The shadow in the shopping window shows a crow

The nude mannequin is untouched by the crow's beak

She is not tickled. Nor does she make any effort

to pull up the sheet

there is nothing to cover. The artist left out the details.

The display boy hugs and dresses her up

like she can feel

his erection but sorry, no wetness,

she is dry right through.

It’s important for him to place the price tag prominently.

It’s a sale. Discount is the order of the day.

If you don’t get a butter-fry

piece of meat you only have to pick at 

the toes made of the paper mâché and

it is at that exact moment that the shadow

of the crow disappears and the glass-eyed

mannequin stares back

with her fixed smile and the crow is

not interested anymore.


Did I unwind all of my

binding six yards

carefully chosen by him

like a snake uncoiling? 

Did I reveal in a careless

or calculated casualness

the unmentionable? 

Then how come you know 

of all the bruises and black marks

on all my most intimate parts

hidden well under the six yards? 

I don't know, but why did you, 

didn't you, by the end of the second cup

tremble, remembering a woman in rage?