A Riot that Unites

Harshita Bathwal writes about the opening day of our project, Keep the Canvas Rolling, at the School of Arts and Aesthetics in New Delhi on 7th May.

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Inder Salim marks his charcoal impressions on the canvas

The sun has been raging on for days now and just when we thought that the glaring white gallery space at SAA (School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, New Delhi) couldn’t have looked more vexed, there it was – the canvas, with its riot of colours, spread like a sigh across a long, tense wall. This riot that had started off in Kashmir has finally reached down to the capital. We hope it gets louder, we hope it gets deeper, as the canvas travels across the globe, breaking boundaries by brushstrokes, bringing artists together and therefore uniting in the spirit of art.

The canvas should ideally have been spread out in the open, and not within a gallery; as a closed space can only accommodate a certain amount of audience. Besides, it is not as much an exhibition as it is an on-going project and so it demands a certain kind of audience, an audience that can participate rather than passively view what is on the canvas. A gallery does not guarantee such an audience. However, the weather had been too uncompromising for us to make such a move.

It is interesting that the canvas should start its journey from Kashmir and come down to the capital and then go back to Kashmir after travelling around the world. Such an endeavor by the organization, Kashmir Art Quest, reflects Kashmir’s own identity as a microcosm of the world. In bringing together artists from around the world, this project makes an honest plea – let us all get rid of the false stereotypes that surround us and come together to celebrate our own cultural diversity that has so far been neglected. And let us not do so mindlessly but in a way that it empowers each one who participates in the celebration.

Day one saw some very young artists turning up for the event. Their overwhelming creativity brought the canvas in dialogue not only with the viewers but also with itself. While some of the impressions were neatly framed within outlines, others were left to their own device in an attempt to create a visual conversation on the canvas. The artists from Srinagar had already done a stupendous work and the artists from Delhi will continue to work on the canvas for the next two days. It will be exciting to see what happens to these preliminary strokes once the canvas goes back to Kashmir, where it will rest as a permanent public installation by the banks of Dal Lake.

In the evening, as the sun got a wee bit considerable, there was much more enthusiasm in the air and colour on the canvas. More and more people gathered within the gallery in anticipation for the performance that was to take place. It was gratifying to see both the young and the old in groups discussing art and aesthetics over cups of tea.

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Born as a Kashmiri Pandit, Inder Salim rejected his identity 25 years ago and started working in Delhi. He has been performing since then and was invited to do the same at the gallery, as a part of the event. He refuses to call himself an artist, believing identity itself to be a performance. He would rather say, “I am a liar and that’s the truth of me.” A spirited man with a quirky sense of humour, Inder Salim’s introduced the audience to his earlier performance through videos, especially to the protest that took place in ‘Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir’ at Srinagar against the extravagant Zubin Mehta concert that the state officials had organised over there.

He went on to talk about certain concepts which he wishes to explore through art. One of which was the idea of the middle space. To demonstrate this he took two examples, one of which was the ritual of stoning of the Jamarat (walls) as a part of the annual Hajj. He talked about how the architecture reveals a space between the walls which is neither here nor there, a space which cannot be defined. Similarly in his next example, he showed a picture of a meeting which took place on the first death anniversary of Afzal Guru, where he was asked to perform. He very deliberately chose the space between the audience and the speakers to put up a banner that spelled out the Supreme Court’s verdict: “the collective conscience of the society will be satisfied if death penalty is awarded.” In both these examples, his idea of the performative space becomes clear, as he situates it in the empty blank space in the middle, which has neither a beginning nor an end and hence ends up becoming a liberating space.

This was followed by his performance, in which he used sticks to impose outlines on a video that was being projected onto the canvas. He made a freehand sketch of the video as it went on. While sketching, he deliberately made noises with the stick, scratching with it on the canvas. His performance created a dialogue between the moving image and the white canvas. By drawing on top of the image, he converted the screen on which the projection moved (the canvas) from a mere backdrop to an active medium where displacement is taking place and the artist is trying to capture the displacement. Sound becomes an important element of his conception of space. That is why the constant scratching. This sound, like the middle space, could not be defined and hence is liberating in its utterance. This was another way he explored the materiality of space. In fact, the moment sound enters the arena of performance, space becomes three dimensional and etching sound onto the canvas (as he does) makes the drawing seems alive and in action. Consequently, the canvas becomes a theatre of sorts.

All of this went on well with the event’s attempt to bridge gaps between artists everywhere. Inder Salim had successfully set an emphatic start to the unique event that has a long journey to cover. Hope the next two days sees much more activity, much more vigour and much more discussion.

Harshita Bathwal studied BA (Hons) in English from the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Arts and Aesthetics from SAA, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

 

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Artist Biplab Roy at work

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Artist Prasanta Bandhopadhya at Work

 

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