fbpx Prem Sahib | CIRCA PRIZE 2023

Prem Sahib

Although I work across different mediums, my practice stems primarily from sculpture and installation. In the very broadest sense, I’m interested in the structures we inhabit that shape our sense of self and our relationship to others – be it physical or environmental structures such as architecture, or more social ones. I work with a variety of materials, often those found typically in public design – things that might be thought of as utilitarian, cold, and impersonal, as well as archival objects, found objects, moving image, sound, and light. I use these to think about empathy, and the reciprocal relationship between how we make or organise the material world and how that consequently makes or socialises us. Sometimes I work with quite minimal gestures, as I’m curious about how these can still exert a generosity, despite their apparent slightness. I’m also interested in how the autobiographical can become conceptual – since it’s sometimes from this starting point that I develop ways to transform certain narratives into formal and material qualities, that remain as a kind of residue or commentary on the feelings and emotions of a space. For instance, I’ve made a lot of work in the past that arises from my experience in LGBTQ venues and online space, as well as domestic environments.

The work I’m submitting is a fragment of an 8min silent video titled Fox. It was made with little to no money, almost twenty years ago when I was a student. The footage was filmed in my auntie’s back garden at night, in Southall – the suburb of west London where I grew up. It’s a single shot of a still-life made using an old piece of wood and some breeze blocks to form a table, on which I laid out food and flowers, and then waited in the dark. I’ve always thought of this work as an offering to the night. The footage was lost for many years, but resurfaced much like the elusive fox, who is filmed visiting the sculpture. The intention of this work is rooted in generosity – of hope being an invitation for encounter. The anticipatory stillness of the shot, as well as the interruption it depicts, resonates with hope as a small and humble gesture, made towards forging connections – of making disruptions in the dark; and to the spirit of solidarity required in these current times.

The prize would allow me to realise a new video work entitled Kuebiko – a word that refers to the Shinto kami (“deity”) of folk wisdom, knowledge, and agriculture, represented in Japanese mythology as a scarecrow who cannot walk but has comprehensive awareness. Kuebiko will be shot from the imagined view of a scarecrow as it looks on at the cityscape of London from various marginal proximities, soundtracked by a recording of an ever-occupied phone-line (made by calling businesses and corporations at night when they are closed or when the caller is placed in a queue). Centrally, I would seek to incorporate several CGI scenes, including a reference to the religious tradition of Sadakah, practised in Delhi, where black kites are fed morsels of meat thrust from the rooftops as a form of charity. I intend for the work to raise questions around what constitutes recognition as a person, within increasingly strenuous and dehumanising systems of oppression, extraction, and surveillance that are attendant to capitalism.

I think of hope as an offering – a form of giving, without knowing what might be given in return. Hope is an intention that requires trust and imagination, which can act powerfully as a refusal of the status quo.