"Sabda" is a eulogy to the North Indian Bhakti poet Kabir and other Indian mystical poets. The title refers to "the word,” or the original sound that precedes and creates the universe of name and form in the Hindu cosmological order. Five dynamic Bhakti poems are interwoven with a continuous flow of images and sounds captured on location during a three month pilgrimage in 1983 to numerous sacred sites and ordinary locations throughout Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu in India. The artist worked in many places including Nasik, Ganeshpuri, Alandi and the Mahabalipuram Shore Temple complex near Madras now renamed Chennai.
Reeves used as his primary instrument an innovative broadcast electronic news gathering video camera and companion video recorder that had been released in 1983 by Sony Broadcast primarily for combat reportage and weighing over 45 pounds when mounted on a backpack. The ¾ “ umatic tapes held 20 minutes of material and were the size of a thick paperback book. Over 33 hours of sound and imagery were recorded during the journey.
Often using a soaring glide movement that dispensed with the use of the cameras view-finder the artist recorded life as he found it; unrehearsed and raw. In this manner he was able to capture details of temples, commercial centers and spiritual icons where beggars and Sadhus subsist on the leavings of the affluent in the golden shadow of opulence cast by towering and exultant architecture.
Sabda posits the coexistent and paradoxical Indian worlds of endless ubiquitous toil and suffering amid the remarkable joy, strength of character and fortitude of those millions who live from day to day with meager and hard scrabble provisions amounting to an enormously lamentable destitution.
As Sabda unfolds the Indian landscape, markets and urban situations and sacred devotional sites are revealed through images of rural Adivasi women and men harvesting rice, a full moon visible between two trees, Elephants and other wildlife in their natural habitats. Scenes showing street life and details of temples and spiritual icons depict elements of Indian life as it was 30 years ago. Special effects render figures in motion as fleeting, almost transparent images.
Sabda’s deepest intention is to pay tribute to the value of unadorned devotion and the tremendous courage of the women and men of the Bhakti movement who have sung that deeply euphoric harmony for over thirteen hundred years. Listen to Kabir in just one of his myriad ecstatic moods:
Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
you will not find me in the stupas, not in Indian shrine
rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding
around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but
When you really look for me, you will see me
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.
Trranslated by Robert Bly
Featured poetry is by Nammalavar (880 - 930 AD), Kabir (1398-1448 A.D.), Basavanna (1106-1167 A.D.), and Ramprasad Sen (1718-1785 A.D.).
In memory of Debra Schweitzer (February 1, 1958 - September 15, 2007) who took every dusty footstep and bone-shaking bus ride with me throughout India side by side with undiminished love, courage and joy. May you always be among the blessed dearest Bhavani.
*Selected for Documenta 7, Kassel, Germany, 1985
*acquired for the Permanent Collection of Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1984
*Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, New York, 1985
*National Broadcast on New Television/WNET 13, New York City, 1991 & 1984
*Blue Ribbon at the National Video Festival, American Film Institute, Hollywood, CA 1984
*Featured at Convergence Video Conference, Montreal, 1984
*Work of Distinction, JVC Tokyo Video Festival, 1985
*Certificate of Merit, Video Culture, Canada, 1985
*Featured Retrospective, “Nouveau Cinema”, Montreal, 1985
*Broadcast on Austrian Television, 1984