press release

Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence is the first international project to explore the resonance of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s (1867-1948) ethics of non-violence, or “satyagraha,” in the visual arts. This exhibition presents approximately 130 works spanning several centuries and includes paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, sculptures, rare books, and films by artists from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The exhibition’s themes echo the expansive humanitarian concerns of the Menil Collection’s founders, John and Dominique de Menil. Following their example, we aim to create a platform for international conversation on world-wide issues surrounding human rights, compassion, civil disobedience, and progress through non-violence.

A renowned photograph of Gandhi’s last possessions, a carefully constructed “still-life” of the few objects he owned at the time of his death (two dinner bowls, wooden fork and spoon, porcelain monkeys, diary, watch, prayer book, spittoon, letter openers, and two pairs of sandals), is the catalyst for the exhibition. The striking simplicity of this photograph, whose author remains unidentified, conveys the deep significance of these items, which serve as incarnations of Gandhi’s ascetic lifestyle and his conviction that the practice of satyagraha must begin “with the individual, at home,” as he once explained.

Among the diverse artworks and artifacts on display will be iconic photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson from the tumultuous time of India’s independence and partition in 1947, along with another group taken just before and immediately after Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Portraits and documents of Gandhi’s most important predecessors and contemporaries (Ruskin, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Sojourner Truth), as well as his most eminent followers and leaders of significant movements of social and political reform in the last decades are included. The exhibition will also present major works illustrating the complex artistic visualizations of non-violence throughout world religions including iconography based on themes of asceticism, compassion, abolition of slavery, and racial equality. Finally, artworks by modern and contemporary artists that resonate with Gandhi’s vision and contemplate in a critical way the unfinished conflicts of past and present will appear throughout the exhibition.

The exhibition will include works by living artists such as Mel Chin, Marlene Dumas, Suzan Frecon, Theaster Gates, Robert Gober, Shilpa Gupta, Amar Kanwar, William Kentridge, Kimsooja, Ai Weiwei, and Zarina. Also on display will be examples by Eve Arnold, Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dan Flavin, Yves Klein, René Magritte, Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Jean Tinguely, Shômei Tômatsu, and Andy Warhol.

The opening events at the Menil Collection will coincide with the 145th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth, October 2, 2014, and the exhibition will remain on view until February 1, 2015, before traveling to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva. In Houston the presentation will activate a city-wide initiative at various sites within the Menil campus and many cultural organizations in the city. Curated by Menil Director, Josef Helfenstein, in consultation with Indian artist Amar Kanwar, Experiments with Truth will be accompanied by a publication intended to introduce the exhibition’s significant figures, ideas, historical events and trends to a non-specialist audience.