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Amar Kanwar was born in New Delhi in 1964 where he continues to live and work. Kanwar studied at the Department of History, Ramjas College, Delhi University (1982-1985), and at the Mass Communication Research Center, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi (1985–87). After making a few films, Kanwar joined the People’s Science Institute in 1988 as a researcher on occupational health and safety in the coal-mining belt of Madhya Pradesh in central India. He returned to filmmaking in 1990, and his films were then shown primarily in public campaigns, community spaces and film festivals in India and across the world. Kanwar’s filmmaking practice challenges the limits of the medium in order to create complex narratives traversing several terrains such as labour and indigenous rights, gender, religious fundamentalism and ecology. In 2002, Kanwar was invited to exhibit at Documenta 11 in Kassel whereupon his work has also been presented in several art exhibitions and museums. Connecting with diverse audiences, in multiple public spaces, Kanwar also participated in the next two editions of the Documenta exhibition in 2007 and 2012. He has been an eminent voice in film and art for the past two decades.
His key works have been A Season Outside, a reflective essay on violence; A Night of Prophecy on the poetry of resistance; the multiple projection installations The Lightning Testimonies about sexual violence in public conflicts; and The Torn First Pages on the Burmese democracy movement. Kanwar’s recent work, The Sovereign Forest (2012 – ongoing) is a profound interrogation of the politics of violence and justice. Initiating a creative response to our understanding of crime, human rights, and ecology, it engages viewers in manifold ways of seeing and comprehending as it presents a set of propositions that investigates the notion of “poetry as evidence.”
Kanwar has received several awards for his work as a filmmaker and artist, including the Golden Gate at the San Francisco Film Festival (1999), the Edward Munch Award for Contemporary Art, Norway (2005) and Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change (2014). Other awards have been Best Public Service Short Film at Vatavaran International Environment Film Festival, New Delhi (2012); Best Film Award at One Billion Eyes Film Festival, Chennai (2011); Jury Special Mention at One Billion Eyes Film Festival, Chennai (2009); Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, Maine College of Art, USA (2006); Certificate of Merit at San Francisco International Film Festival, California, USA (2002); Golden Tree Award at Vatavaran, National Environment & Wildlife Film Festival, New Delhi (2002); The Grand Prix, EnviroFilm, Slovak Republic (2002); National Jury Award at Mumbai International Film Festival, India (2002); The First Prize at Torino International Environment Film Festival, Italy (2002); Jury’s Award at Film South Asia, Kathmandu, Nepal (2001); MacArthur Fellowship, India (2000); Golden Orange Award at 36th Antalya International Film Festival, Turkey (1999) and the Golden Conch Award at Mumbai International Film Festival, India (1998).
Recent solo exhibitions of Kanwar’s work have been held at the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai (2016) and at the Assam State Museum in collaboration with Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and North East Network, India (2015). In 2013 and 2014 at the Art Institute of Chicago, USA; the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, U.K.; Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA 21), Vienna, Austria and at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2012).
Recent group exhibitions have been presented at the Devi Art Foundation with Salima Hashmi, New Delhi (2016); MDE'15, Colombia (2015); Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, USA (2014); Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, India (2014); 56th Carnegie International, USA (2013); Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA (2013 and 2012); 13th Istanbul Biennial, Turkey (2013); 5th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Russia (2013); 11th Sharjah Biennale, UAE (2013); 1st Kochi Biennale, India (2013); Tarra Warra Museum of Art, Victoria, Australia (2013) and the Bristol Museum, U.K. (2013). Kanwar has also participated in Documenta 11, 12 and 13 in Kassel, Germany (2002, 2007, 2012).
Other solo exhibitions have been at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2008); Haus der Kundst, Munich, Germany (2008); the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, U.K. (2007); the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway (2006) and the Renaissance Society, Chicago, USA (2004).
Retrospectives of his films have been held at film festivals including the 5th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, Kerala State (2012); the 13th Madurai International Documentary and Short Film Festival (2011); the Documentary Dream Show, Tokyo (2010); the Parallel Perspectives Film Festival, Hyderabad (2008); and the 9th International Short Film Festival, Bangladesh (2005).
- The Sovereign Forest (2011-2015) which includes films ‘A Love Story’, (2010) and ‘The Scene of Crime’ (2011)
- The Commons (2011)
- The Torn First Pages Part I, II and III (2004-2008) which includes films 'The Face' (2004) ‘Thet Win Aung’ (2004) ‘Ma Win Maw Oo’ (2004) ‘The Bodhi Tree’ (2004) and ‘Somewhere in May’ (2005)
- The Lightning Testimonies (2007)
- Henningsvaer (2006)
- To Remember (2003)
- A Night of Prophecy (2002)
- Azaadi/ Freedom (2002)
- King of Dreams (2001)
- Baphlimali 173 (2001)
- The Many Faces of Madness (2000)
- A Season Outside (1997)
- Marubhumi (1996)
- Earth as Witness (1994)
- Talash (1993)
- The Leather Trilogy (1992)
- Lal Hara Lehrake (1992)
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-08. Retrieved 2014-09-02.
- http://d13.documenta.de/#/participants/participants/amar-kanwar/ Archived 2015-03-06 at the Wayback Machine.
- The Sovereign Forest. Vienna and Berlin: Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary and Sternberg Press, 2015.
- Evidence. Stahel, Urs and Daniela Janser. Göttingen: Steidl, 2012. 
- Pal, Deepanjana. “Art Always Remembers,” The Hindu, 25 February 2016. 
- Bailey, Stephanie. “On Sovereignty: Amar Kanwar in Conversation with Stephanie Bailey,” Ibraaz Platform 008, December 2014. 
- Lissoni, Andrea. “The Inner Sound of Waiting,” Mousse 42, February 2014.
- Terracciano, Emilia. “Amar Kanwar on the Disappearing Landscapes of ‘The Sovereign Forest’”, December 2013 
- Cotter, Holland. “Amar Kanwar,” New York Times, 1 April 2010.
- Jhaveri, Shanay. “In Conversation,” Marg, March 2010. 
- Shrivastava, Aseem. "Lightning Rarely Leaves a Trace", 2007