Press Release

Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Present "Amar Kanwar: The Lightning Testimonies and The Sovereign Forest," Opening February 27, 2019

Madrid, Spain
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The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) present The Lightning Testimonies and The Sovereign Forest by Amar Kanwar, two major installation works by an artist whose practice is defined by the gathering of testimony of India’s most vulnerable populations. 

Co-commissioned by TBA21, both works explore notions of justice and the way it is applied to individual actions, to laws, and to public policies—topics that are especially relevant in today’s climate of fake news and fabricated narratives. Curated by Chus Martinez, and opening to the public on February 27, 2019, to coincide with ARCO Madrid, The Sovereign Forest and The Lightning Testimonies is part of an expanding collaboration between the museum and TBA21, founded by Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, daughter of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. The presentation will remain on view through May 19, 2019.

The Lightning Testimonies is a multi-channel video installation that reflects upon a history of conflict in the Indian subcontinent through the often repressed, always sensitive, and newly urgent subject of sexual violence against women. The work confronts visitors with accounts of victims of wide-scale abduction and rape during the Indian partition in 1947 and the anti-rape demonstrations in Manipur in 2004. As a montage of simultaneous accounts, each projection features a different woman recounting a multi-layered memory of trauma and resilience, revealing multiple submerged narratives, at times through people, images, and memories and, at other times, through objects from nature and everyday life that stand in silent witness. As relevant as the day it was conceived, the work transports visitors beyond the realm of suffering into a space of quiet contemplation, where resilience creates the potential for transformation in a world marked by a continued struggle for women’s rights and dignity. The Lightning Testimonies was co-produced by TBA21 and Public Press, and premiered at documenta 12 in 2007.

The Sovereign Forest is an ongoing investigative project initiated in 2010 that arises from the conflict in Odisha in eastern India between local communities, the government, and businesses over the control of the land, forests, rivers, and minerals, which has resulted in the forced displacement of indigenous communities, farmers, and fishermen and generated a climate of violence. Presented as an archive of films, books, photographs, and documents, the work provides multiple ways to enter and become immersed in the social, moral, economic, and political issues specific to Odisha yet faced today by many communities across the globe.  

Developed in collaboration with the activist Sudhir Pattnaik and documentary filmmaker Sherna Dastur, The Sovereign Forest opened to the public in 2012 on the Samadrusti campus in Bhubaneswar (Odisha) as a semi-permanent installation. Numerous visitors shared their viewpoints and ideas, in some cases providing further proof and evidence, highlighting that The Sovereign Forest is a constantly expanding project. Since then, it has been presented as part of documenta 13 in the Natural History Museum in Kassel (Germany); a cement hut in Bhubaneswar (Odisha); a granary on the estate of a ruined colonial mansion in Kochi for the Kochi-Muziris Biennial (Kerala, India); an empty bank building in Sharjah for the Sharjah Biennial (UAE); the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (UK); and TBA21–Augarten in Vienna (AU). 

“In keeping with the spirit and philosophy of TBA21, the Amar Kanwar installations invite visitors to re-examine their value system through the lens of art. The works presented at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza provide a sharp focus on such issues as social justice and environmental degradation through the poetry of interpretation and real life,” stated Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, founder of TBA21. “The TBA21 Collection is distinguished by works that convey a sense of the current social and political obligations that we face, both as individuals and as citizens of a world in transformation. Art is at the epicentre of Madrid life, and this is where these works can truly resonate.” 

“Francesca is a collector of conscience, supporting artists in the production of their work and its public presentation – and, in doing so, as an advocate for the pressing issues they bring to light,” stated Guillermo Solana, Artistic Director of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. “This exhibition catalyzes a dynamic dialogue between historical and contemporary art that enables the public to experience works that may appear vastly different, but explore many of the same questions shared by different generations of collectors coming from the same family,” he added.

“Both The Sovereign Forest and The Lightning Testimonies are as poignant as they are timely, giving voice to those who don’t have one and seeking justice where justice is hard to find,” stated Martinez. “In Kanwar’s works, justice is a virtue, a trait that defines the relationships we build, and a duty that compels us towards life.” 



The exhibition will be accompanied by a range of public programs, free and open to the public, which will take place throughout the duration of the exhibition. 

The first event, on Tuesday, February 26, will be an artist talk, with Amar Kanwar and curator Chus Martínez, introduced by Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza. The program starts at 19:00 in the Museum’s Auditorium. This event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited so please RSVP to Additional events will be announced shortly. 



Amar Kanwar’s work focuses on such issues as nationalism, politics, justice, power, violence and sexual abuse in the Indian subcontinent. His installations are complex narratives connecting personal histories with broader social and political processes, associating legends and ritual objects with present-day symbols and events. He has had solo exhibitions at the Tate Modern, Stedelijk Museum, and Haus der Kunst, among others, and participated in documenta Kassel (Germany) in 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017. 


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Amar Kanwar, The Scene of the Crime, 2011. Co-commissioned by TBA21, supported by Centre Pompidou. TBA21 Collection. Video still: Courtesy the artist | Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris & New York.

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