What’s the value of money anyway? An art show questions demonetisation
An old Rs 500 currency note now seems like a Roman emperor of legend, robbed of all his powers overnight.
On November 8, last year, when India’s Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes lost their value overnight, it marked the start of a tumble for the economy. The surprise demonetization move raised questions about the value of our money, the power we attached to a piece of paper and its influence on social life.
Prague-born artist Stefano Tsivopoulos asks such immersive questions in his video installation History Zero, initially created for the Venice Beinnale in 2013, in the background of the economic crisis in Greece, and now showing at the Mumbai Art Room.
The three-channel video follows an African immigrant in Athens, searching for scrap to sell it and make money, an artist who roams the city, taking photographs on his iPad; and an art-collector suffering from dementia, who obsessively creates origami flowers out of Euro bank-notes.
The accompanying archival objects represent alternative currency systems from across the world: bitcoins, phone talk time minutes that double for cash in parts of Africa, and a Chennai’s NGO’s initiative of circulating dummy notes with an anti-bribery message.
In Mumbai, the moments of collapse in Greece and India both echo a crises of currency. “This show uses this context to speculate on what is fundamentally wrong with the economic space we create and inhabit - and how we may think beyond it,” says curator Abhijan Gupta. “It refuses to see them as isolated incidents, but rather crucial failures of the existing monetary system.”
The exhibition specially resonates in India’s financial capital, home to several alternative modes of accounting and payment. We have community banking and credit systems, semi-legitimate street stock markets, gold coins for gifting and other legal tender. And yet, no one came away from the evening of November 8 unscathed.
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