MONIKA WEISS, TWO LAMENTS (19 CANTOS) (2015 - ongoing)

Two Laments (19 Cantos) is a series of 19 film projections (19 Cantos), addressing public memory and collective amnesia in the context of the space of a city, and the nature of mourning. Inspired by the events in India, Two Laments is a response to the two forms of globally occurring violence: the rape of women and the colonial subjugation of cities. It proposes time‐based, performative and participatory commemoration of female victims – in opposition to the vertical solidity of monuments of men who died in wars. In addition to 19 short film projections (3-30 min) with sound and text by the artist, Two Laments comprises of a series of drawings and photographs, a public performance and a large scale sculpture with video projection and water. Canto 1 was shown at Weiss' solo exhibitions at the Sanskriti Museums, New Delhi, and in Bolognano, Italy, 2015.

Weiss asks questions that many feminists or artists would often deem taboo. […] Her work is what Griselda Pollock terms “post-traumatic” in that it contends with events that remain within collective psychic consciousness but are unable to be fully or properly mourned because the extremity of the trauma defies speech.                                          
                                                                                                                                                                                  – Vanessa Gravenor, Monika Weiss’ Two Laments, in: n.paradoxa, vol. 37, 2016



In October 2014 Amit Mukhopadhyay, curator […] based in Kolkata, India, invited me to create a new project related to the city of Delhi. […] I focused on two instances of trauma: the recent brutal bus rape and killing of Jyoti Singh Pandey on December 16, 2012, and the colonial resonance of India Gate memorial, whose foundation was laid on February 10, 1921 by the Imperial War Graves Commission.

On December 16, 2012 in Munirka/Delhi, 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey (sometimes referred to as Nirbhaya (Fearless) or India’s Daughter) was brutally gang-raped on a bus moving through the city and later died. In court transcripts of the trial, I found a statement by one of the perpetrators who remembered seeing a red ribbon coming out of her body. The red ribbon, which upon further investigation, transpired to be her intestine, signified her body being turned inside out, a horrific and transgressive mirroring of the act of the rape itself. This fact became a catalyst for the entire project of Two Laments (19 Cantos), where the red ribbon/ veil poetically enshrouds Delhi, which becomes a meta-city standing for all cities bearing traces of historical trauma. Dedicated to Nirbhaya, 19 Cantos were inspired by 19 Treny (Laments) by the 16-century Polish poet Jan Kochanowski on the death of his daughter.


[…] A woman’s rape is often associated with victimhood and actively erased from cultural memory. The city – understood as public space – protects its public memory from being 'polluted' by remembrance of crimes against women’s bodies. There are no memorials engraved with the names of rape victims as there are no memorials to women who have fallen as victims of war. […]


India Gate memorial was built by the British Empire in the center of New Delhi to commemorate Indian soldiers who died in the service of the Empire during the First World War. India Gate, modeled after Arc de Triomphe in Paris (albeit larger and taller than the original), mirrors the grand design of New Delhi; the same architect, Edwin Lutyens, designed both. It seems New Delhi is intended as a form of architectural and cultural response to Old Delhi, perhaps to 'teach' India what culture should look like. […]

The war itself is usually absent from war memorials in order to enable our selective forgetting of its full dimension, which is destruction of life on a massive scale. India Gate thus represents a typical heroic style, institutionalized and cleansed from the embodied death/ war pollution. In Two Laments the polluted, embodied, intimate, and quickly erased memory of rape and torture is contrasted with this monumental, heroic, and cleansed form of public memory.

In Two Laments (19 Cantos) the city of New Delhi becomes a meta-city bearing marks of trauma: Nirbhaya and India Gate. The work addresses global narrative of violence against women and cities. While Nirbhaya stands for often-erased memory of gender-based violence, the memorial represents colonial history, collective amnesia of war, and heroic, institutionally cherished memory of fallen soldiers.


Evoking ancient rituals of lamentation, the project will include, whether imagined in film or executed in reality, a large-scale performance around India Gate, filmed from an airplane, with participation of hundreds of women volunteers performing silent gestures of lamentation.