256 Million Colours of Violence, 2016

Visit the project: http://www.256millioncoloursofviolence.com

256 Million Colours of Violence is a survey based interactive archival research project that asks the participants to choose a colour that to them represents violence. The project started as a response to the specific events unfolding after the Malegaon Blasts 1 (2006, India). Now, a decade after the event, this response has grown to encompass several other events in a world that is radically changing.

An inquiry into colour can lead to multiple directions. Colour is troubled light – a violently oscillating frequency entering our optical system that is translated by the visual cortex of our brain. When Newton split light into the visible colour spectrum it was science.Colours have become symbolic of emotions and thoughts, taking on animate qualities and connotations that surpass their scientific properties. Colour is a central feature of social life yet its value in sociological theory is ambiguous. Colour in its perception is familiar and intuitive and subjective in its meaning where we seldom understand it beyond the parameters of our own consentual social reality.

The relationship between colour and perception is fundamental, and this project is an attempt to dismantle our selves through our understanding of colour. Perception is informed by Context. The human eye is capable of distinguishing millions of colours, but total objective colour acuity is a skill more rarified than perfect pitch (the ability to identify a single musical note without accompaniment). Most of us need context in order to make accurate colour recognition but when coupled with the proper context, we notice very subtle differences in hue, lightness, and intensity.

Colour and its perception are an unstable and contestable phenomenon shaped by personal memory and social and material factors. Similarly, Violence and its perception are an unstable and contestable phenomenon shaped by social and material factors. When colour is coupled with a subject as topical as violence, we probably have a deeply personal and unique emotional response to it. Most of us, having a sufficiently distinct understanding of things could probably assign a colour value in terms of a quick interface of the emotional quotient associated with it. This often cannot be verbalised but may be linked to a sensory memory or association – this kind of attribution is done not as an intuitive understanding but rather as a Pavlovian learning 2 or an acquired understanding. Despite having no inherited political value, colour can be made political through a sequence of contextual references. Colour can become a complex dataset presenting a person’s nuanced understanding of the world. The format of the survey is intended to gather this understanding.

Most Data mining exercises and empirical scientific surveys require a culled group in order to eradicate diversity, a standardisation of the test group to remove ‘noise’. ‘256 Million Colours of Violence’ is a celebration of that noise which represents the diversity of Human experience and collective memetic history. It is also part of an ongoing discourse to reduce effects of stereo-typification through personal scrutiny of the word and meanings of ‘Violence’ by asking how is the narrative experience of colour embodied, embedded and extended in the contexts of these meanings.

The aim of the Project is also to make the participant aware, or conscious of his/her decision regarding their choice by embedding it within series of contexts. Choice here is an active participation as well as a subliminal interfacing of several seemingly disconnected values.

Political parties and media are comfortable with the political position of attributing ‘no colour’ on religious, community or ideology based acts of violence so as to avoid issues of colour associations and its apparent, actual or perceived impacts on society. The inherent logic of the project takes their view and reverses it by stating that “Violence has a colour – it is a value of an acquired understanding unique to each individual.” The project is an artist experiment based on no previous survey or standardisation. The choice of the participants are purely their own, which is to say formed by unique combination of various elements such as parenting, religion, gender, social circles, peer group and education to name a few.

The project is addressing the notion of freely given information, conditional agreements and consent – to corporations and governments, as opposed to an artist project; that an artist may be require to profile its participants in itself seems like a joke. The survey hints at issues pertaining to equality of gender, skin colour, race and ethnicity; questions privilege, social class and problems of minimum income as well as confronts through inquiry the political-religious-socio-economic quadrangle as a constant existence in our lives today. It also acts as an introductory archive of several streams of information, and as such occupies a paradoxical position making the viewer/participant both the giver and receiver of information, if they so wish.

To this end, the viewer/participant is confronted with a question:

What according to you is a colour of violence?

If I ask you this question, chances are that you already have a colour in mind. It’s probably a very strong colour, resonating with intensity of how important this question may be to you. You probably have a specific colour in mind, you just need to pinpoint it specifically to lock it down – to triangulate its position on the map of the colour chart, as it were.

This might be easy to do in a palette of 8, or 16, or even 64 shades. As a choice, it may even fit into a colour that may be generic template for the question – but what happens if you are confronted with a digital palette of 256 million colours 3? Is your particular tint/shade/hue the exact same tint/shade/hue as the one you had in your mind – is your black / saffron / green / white / red the same as another’s?

Ali Akbar Mehta

    1. The Indian Connection – The Malegaon Bomb Blasts, 2006 and ‘Saffron Terror’:
      Saffron terror is a neologism used to describe acts of violence motivated by Hindu nationalism. The acts are allegedly perpetrated by members, or alleged members of Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Abhinav Bharat. However, in some cases the motivation for the acts has not been clearly determined, and in others it has been determined to be unrelated to Hindu nationalism. The term comes from the symbolic use made of the saffron color by the Hindu nationalist organisations.
      The first known use of the term ‘Saffron Terror’ is from a 2002 article in Frontline. However it was in the aftermath of the 29 September 2008 bomb blast in the predominantly Muslim town of Malegaon in Maharashtra that it came to be used widely. In late 2008, Indian police arrested members of a Hindu terrorist cell allegedly involved in Malegaon blast. The blame for several of these attacks had been placed on radical Islamist groups.
      Former Home Minister of India P. Chidambaram urged Indians to beware of “Saffron terror” in August 2010 at a meeting of state police chiefs in New Delhi.
      Since that remark was made, a Hindu Swami in the Patan district has filed a defamation lawsuit against Chidambaram, saying that the saffron color is symbol of Hindu religion and that saints across the country wear attire of the same color. The Swami also said that saffron was a symbol of peace, sacrifice and God, and that Chidambaram has hurt the sentiments of Hindus by linking the symbol with terrorism. On 6 September 2010, a Gujarat court ordered a probe into the use of the term by Chidambaram. Chidambaram was also criticised by members of his own party (the Indian National Congress) for the use of the term.
      “Saffron or bhagwa or kesariya (Hindi equivalents of saffron) is not the issue here. The issue is terrorism. Terrorism does not have any colour other than black,” said Janardan Dwivedi, Congress general secretary and head of the party’s media department.
      Making plain the party’s disapproval of Chidambaram’s controversial formulation, Dwivedi said terrorism could not be associated with any color, “be it saffron, green, white or red”. He further said, “Terrorism is terrorism and should be opposed in whatever form it comes.” Significantly, he also stressed that “saffron colour has been part of our ancient tradition and is associated with our freedom struggle”.
      Home minister P Chidambaram did not exactly use the phrase ‘saffron terrorism’ but made it clear it was not his patent and in the past UPA and Congress leaders have found it quite expedient to refer to ‘saffronisation of education’ to target the previous NDA government.
      While vowing that he would follow the ‘party line’ as supreme, the minister said there were right-wing extremist groups and the message that they could be capable of violence should not be lost in phrases. He said, “Perhaps the use of that phrase has brought home the message. So, the purpose, in a way, has been served.”
    2. A method to cause a reflex response or behaviour by training with repetitive action. The Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov conditioned dogs to respond in what proved to be a predictable manner.
    3. Photoshop has a digital palette of 256 Million Colours.

Narrating War: Performance excerpt, Pispala, Tampere, Finland, 2016

This reading from the book took place at The Memorial of the Red Guards, who died during the Finnish Civil War in Pispala, Tampere. The inscription in the stone says, ‘On this Pispala ridge, the Red Guard in Tampere last stood with weopans in hand defending their cause in 1918’.

The project is ongoing and a copy of the book in its current state is donated to the Pispala Library on the occasion of the exhibition, ‘Where does poetry nest?’, on 6th September, 2016 in memory of the over 5000 year old Civil War that the world, it seems, has not seen enough of.

Ali Akbar Mehta


  Missä runous pesii? | Where does poetry nest?
Poetry—an everlasting inquiry of art, drives language outside its
borders. Poetry sets into play every possible moment of
signification by placing the exercise of imagination at the center
of all contradictions. Poetry as an aesthetic praxis outlines our
possibilities to challenge the everyday, locating potential
transformation at the centre of our political enunciations. Poetry
contradicts and slips between the cracks of meaning, propagating
evidence that something else is there. In its intimacy, it draws
complex figures from our emotions, just to blur them into new and
old unreachable impossibles, to keep us moving, desiring.

If we listen to poetry carefully, we realise that it is something social. Its sociality is voiced as a constant transgression to the de politicised forms of enunciation; these poetic echoes keep on challenging every space of retreat. Poetry captures tautology and pushes it to the edges. Since there is no purity in poetry, it confronts general assumptions with a subtle whistle that triggers a dance of our subjectivities, nude and broken out in sweat. There is nothing too radical for poetry; even if something has already been said before, it can always be said differently.

Poetry is looking back at us from the other end laughing,
flirting, fugitive.

Poetry grounds utopia not as something reachable, but as a practice for keeping the unreachable present. Inhabiting between sentences, it bears testimony that other histories have always been present, through gluing their words together. Within it, art becomes our interlocutor for these other histories, always rebelling, always demanding justice and dignity, driven by the air which feeds change. Another history which finds in every wall not a border, but a place for public denouncement and mobilisation.

Where does poetry nest? It is not a question asking for an answer,
but a question mark waiting to be followed.
[*] The Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros recalled this question during his
time in Lecumberri prison: “Where does poetry nest? I can’t say how long ago this
question emerged within me. But it reemerged when I listened to Macario Huízar. And
the first time I followed it through to interrogation was in prison among a group
of dopers.”

Contemporary Ruins of Kruunuvuori: The Perfect Ghosts of Helsinki

In in the midst of an old forest, next to a pond that could be anywhere in wilderness is the area of Kruunuvuori, which in the etymology of Suomi means ‘The Crown Mountain’ – which is about three kilometres from Market Square in the very centre of Helsinki as the crow flies – has ghostlike old villas hidden amidst ancient forest left at the mercy of nature, with only the slow inevitable passing of time as its companion. Dilapidated and forgotten for decades, these villas still struggle against elements and time.

The Kruunuvuori villas – one of Helsinki’s oddest and simultanously the most treasured and the most publicly well known secrets, may probably not exist for much long longer – (many believe that the year 2015 is the last year of the presumably indefinite building ban that it was placed under, and so the demolition of almost all of the villas could very well take place in the Summer of 2016). Of all the villas surviving their various states of ruins, only a few seem to be structurally sound enough to be conserved as Heritage Sites, although that they will be done so, is doubtful.

It’s hard to experience the Kruunuvuori villas without thinking of Charles Dickinson’s Miss Havisham’s abandoned mansion. After being left at the alter, the estranged character lets time be the sole master of her house and mind:


It was spacious, and I dare say had once been handsome, but every discernible thing in it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces. The most prominent object was a long table with a table-cloth spread on it, as if the feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite indistinguishable. 

– Great Expectations

It used to be a village full of villas built in 19th century, when Laajasalo and all of eastern Helsinki were just fields and forests. The stunning coastline and lush forest made it a paradise. In 1905 Jacob Cygnaeus, (the son of the founder of Finland’s previous grammar school system Uno Cygnaeus), bought the area, and in 1914 it was sold to a German commercial councellor Albert Goldbeck-Löwe. Albert Goldbeck-Löwe acquired the area and developed it into a resort for the upper classes and the wealthy Germans who lived in Helsinki, but over time it became available to the middle class masses as well. The period from 1920 to 1950 are considered the peak golden years of the Kruunuvuori villas, with a steam boat service run for the residents connecting to the main land city of Helsinki.

After Germany lost the Second World War, ­as part of the armistice between Germany and the Soviet Union, The Governing Body of foreign properties moved the Germany-owned Kruunuvuori to the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Finland and it became a holiday resort for its members. After that it was used by the Soviet Union and Finnish communists.

In 1955 the founder of Palkki Oy, Aarne J. Aarnio bought the area and in the late 1960’s architectural company Toivo Korhonen envisioned a city plan ofor 2800 citizens with 78900 floor squares of residential development. The signature of the deed of sale was the proverbial fatal blow to the status of premium and delux villa communities. Aarnio’s interest in construction was the development of a residential area – not the maintainance of a villa area.

Drawn up in 1968, the building plan included up to 12-story tower houses. However, the city did not want to agree to such a thing, because the area was too remote, the planned infrastructure was too massive and the task of construction would have been no small thing. And so, zoning laws hindered the construction plans – Aarnio tried to get the area zonimg and building permits from the governemnt proposing the building plan in 1977 – and again in 1982 with a reduced floor area. And once again 1998 – to no avail, the city governemnt was by now developing the southern part of the Laajasalo Peninsula – the Oil Port area for future use.

Of course, the villas still belonged to their former owners and while the community remained vibrant and active for a while, a feeling of uncertainty began to creep in and maintenance of buildings was soon being neglected. The negative successive building permit made Aarnio loose interest in the project – and the area was ordered to a building ban ­­. Silently, the decadence faded, and decay began to seize the mountain. In an ironical twist of fate resulting from thisstalemate, more than 90% of the region is owned by the CEO, who cannot do anything with it due to non-compliance of the governement, and the City Planning project concerning the Oil port in southern Laajasalo is already underway

The vast majority of villas are dilapidated, collapsed or burned. Last arson was 04/06/2015, when the red cottage – Lilla Kronberg turned into heaps of coal. In 2011, Helsinki was doing a study of two or three of the villa on the protection, but since then nothing has been heard. One of the possibly to-be-protected villa has been destroyed as a result of arson. The museovirastokin mapping found that two of the Kruunuvuoren villas are still active and urgent measures may still be salvageable, although the refurbishment would probably be too expensive an option.

The Crown Mountain is a mysterious place, ideally seen and experienced in person. Amongst the woods and fog stands this beautifully sad monument, a decaying memory of the old glory days of the aristocracy and high bourgeoisie that still resists the ravages of wind, snow and builders without scruples.

The possibility of alienation in a city that claims cosmopolitanism as a constant, cannot be attributed to the loss of cultural space specifically due to revisits to the city’s history, but bizarrely it has and specifically in particular covering up of history that attempts to erase many diverse histories. The Project aims to shed light and make people aware of the forgotten public and personal histories related to the Kruunuvuori Villas. it fights nostalgia by documenting it, recreating it through videos, conversations, staging ethnographic reconstructions and most importantly through a dissemination of information that is misconstrued and twisted to hide facts in plain sight.

Ali Akbar Mehta