Warehouse421 is bringing parts of its public programs online. On this page, you can listen to past talks and new conversations, take part in tutorials, and follow along with curators and artists as they discuss exhibitions and process.


The Stonebreakers

1 September - 31 December
10:00 - 20:00

The Stonebreakers

In the following video, join curator Murtaza Vali for an overview of  “The Stonebreakers exhibition.



Inspired by the historical and ongoing importance of maritime trade to the development of the port cities of the Arabian Gulf, The Stonebreakers brings together three recent projects by Shumon Ahmed, Ranjit Kandalgaonkar and Hira Nabi that focus on a specific node within the modern shipping infrastructural network: the ship-breaking yard.

Each of the artists in this exhibition focuses on the main yard in their respective countries—Chittagong in Bangladesh, Alang in India and Gadani in Pakistan. Though each uses a distinct medium and methodology, they all complicate the purported objectivity of the documentary image, be it photographic, archival, acoustic or filmic, with a surreal twist. Experimenting with various analogue cameras, film stocks and unconventional processing techniques, Ahmed’s large-scale prints and intimate Polaroids zero in on the ships’ dismembered carcasses and capture minute details of the surrounding landscapes. In his moody images, the vessels appear as ghostly ruins and the site a picturesque nautical graveyard, much like the field of abandoned dhows near Warehouse421.

Drawing on ongoing research into the history of shipping infrastructure, Kandalgaonkar annotates and embellishes his archival sources, both personal and technical—from family photographs and anecdotes to CAD drawings and illustrations from industry journals—to recount stories and practices related to ship-breaking. While his eerie, otherworldly soundscape—filled with ominous clangs and piercing grinds—acoustically transcribes the yard and the activities that transpire there, his recent drawings provide a speculative storyboard for it, visualising a dystopic future in which decommissioned ships fuse together with the machines and marine life. Nabi overlays documentary footage shot at Gadani with an unexpected soundtrack, weaving together workers’ testimonies, which recount their hardships and the deplorable conditions at the yard, with a poetic monologue, delivered in a dulcet female voice, of an anthropomorphised container ship. Narrating her life story, the ship mourns not only her own obsolescence and demise but the disastrous effects the process has on those who break her down and the site. An unlikely intimate, a beloved confidant, she enables the workers not just to speak but also be heard.

The exhibition takes its enigmatic title from a famous mid-nineteenth-century painting by the French Realist Gustave Courbet, showing two male peasants breaking rocks. Courbet’s unflinching portrayals of the rural poor, which captured the impoverished conditions in which they lived and worked, inaugurated an important humanist tradition of social realist art. The titular reference to Courbet’s painting is a provocation, extending the exhibition’s examination of the vexed politics of representation related to ship-breaking beyond the particularities of that industry to other instances of exploited labour. Destroyed during World War II, Courbet’s lost masterpiece casts a melancholic shadow, reminding us that despite its withdrawal from many contemporary representations of work, the labouring body never comes to rest.



This exhibition is on show at Warehouse421 from 1 September to 31 December.