It can be a little disconcerting to see Dutch artist Jonas Staal’s installation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. He has put up painted signs depicting flags of organisations that are on the list of banned outfits in the country. These include the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizb-ul-Mujahidin, Khalistan Zindabad Force, Indian Mujahidin, Students Islamic Movement of India, Maoist Communist Centre, United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. And Staal has a reason for it. “A majority of them say their fight is against injustice, caused by the state,” he says.
“But it is regrettable that some have resorted to violence,” says Staal. “I feel it is more effective to bring them out of the margins and allow them to express their views, so that there is a critical examination of their statements.” There is a greater risk to a society when organisations are blacklisted, because they become more dangerous. “So, they should be allowed to participate in some form of public debate,” he says.
In order to facilitate such a discussion, Stall organised a New World Summit (or an alternative Parliament) in May last year, in Berlin. He invited political and legal representatives of organisations which have been placed on international ‘terrorist lists’ to explain their views. Those who spoke included Luis Jaladoni of the New People’s Army of the Philippines, Fadil Yildirim of the Kurdish Women’s Movement, Moussa Ag Assarid of the National Liberation Movement of Azawad, and Nancy Hollander, a lawyer who spoke on behalf of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF).
The HLF was a US-based Muslim charity which financed the building of schools and hospitals in the Gaza region of Palestine. “But Hamas, considered to be a terrorist organisation, made use of the infrastructure which was not the intention of HLF.”
In Kochi, Staal has had an interesting experience. “It took a while for the people to realise that these are actual organisations,” he says. “I found there was a great sense of curiosity. There was far more tolerance among the visitors in Kochi than I found elsewhere,” he adds.