Kochi: The humanity stands at a precipice – confronted by the choice to retreat or over the edge, says eminent historian Prof Dilip Menon. Delivering a talk on at a seminar held as part of Kochi Muziris Biennale on ‘At the End of Time: Thinking the World from Kochi’ Prof Menon events such as biennale offer time and space for reflection and a resurfacing of the imagination. “We tend to think of art as an excess – something that stands beside and above the urgency of the present and the contemporary. But the Biennale is a space that is very engaged with the idea that we live in the end times. That we stand on the edge of an abyss,” said Menon, Director of the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.
The seminar incorporated diverse topics like climate change, lessons from history, the diminishing importance and role of art and culture and situated Kochi’s role in shaping conversations and discourse on these issues. “Kochi is literally at the edge of the Indian Ocean world at one end of India, at a place where the land becomes the ocean. It finds an apt metaphor in the ‘edge of discovery’, which represents the willful closure of the mind – the twin ills of ignorance and hubris – that always impedes imagination,” Prof. Menon said. Stating that there was a clear sense of gathering crisis around the world, Prof. Menon stressed on the importance of making clear choices. “If choosing not to know is the greatest crime of all, can we afford ignorance? What does it mean to deny climate change? That ignorance is deeply ingrained in the imagination,” he said.
Terming the present as the “age of the great derangement” where art and literature act toward “concealment not illumination”, he said, “artificial entities like nationality and the idea of svayambhu (self-generated identities) don’t allow us to think out of this common predicament. We have to dwell on affinity and kinship because, in the end, it is we who will create the flood.” Prof. Menon said works of art show how to think outside of these ideas of empire, nation, “of narrow entities in which we binds ourselves” and instead engage with the “imaginations that have we lost” and the concept of a “simultaneity of identities, not contending, but co-present”.