Art activism at Delhi's India Art Fair

the Delhi-based blackened two of her artworks to protest incidents around then that stifled the artists’ freedom of expression.

Published: 02nd February 2020 10:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd February 2020 10:51 AM   |  A+A-

Probir Gupta’s artwork salutes the women of Shaheen Bagh

Probir Gupta’s artwork salutes the women of Shaheen Bagh

Express News Service

NEW DELHI:  Given that the ongoing India Art Fair (IAF) at NSIC Okhla is situated close to Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia Islamia, a few brazen contemporary artists have gone on to directly address the CAA-NRC political climate through their artworks. We profile the prominent four: Mithu Sen’s “by-products” (what she calls her artworks) in the recent years have come along with strict contracts for viewers to abide by. At IAF’s 2018 edition, the Delhi-based blackened two of her artworks to protest incidents around then that stifled the artists’ freedom of expression.

Over time, she’s mastered the tricks of self-censorship, to express it all, nonaggressively. The byproduct she specifically created for IAF 2020 is a collage of 50 drawings dominated by reds, chronicling her reactions to episodes that questioned democracy and free speech over the last year. “I’m extremely disturbed by what’s happening and don’t know how to deal with that.

When I do these things [draw] I can breathe, but something happens and again I don’t feel good, it’s a loop… Like on the way to the fair [on January 30], we heard about the shooting at Jamia.” Her byproducts here involve two birds with pellet wounds “to signify birds at the border”, a pregnant woman seated on a jagged fence, someone holding a black flag – her drawing on Republic day, also her last addition to the collage. Here, the handwritten contract (not the one printed on government stamp paper that hangs alongside) is her actual artwork. To evade ‘prestige’ buyers ignorant about the context in her works.

“The gallery has a more detailed contract. So, if you buy three small works, you get one more free, and such..., and only if you buy the whole thing, you get the contract, which is my actual artwork, for free.” At: Chemould Prescott Road booth

 While Probir Gupta’s works vocalise his activism (his last show, Family is Plural, saw Vemula, Mevani and other Dalit voices as Biblical icons), with A Poem of Instruments he pays ode to the women of Shaheen Bagh. The sculptural assemblage of a comb, juicer, microphone, typewriter, photo frames… mechanical components which are voluntary contributions to energise and keep in check the nutritive levels of the women protestors, so their dharna continues, unabated.

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“I’m extremely proud of these women who are not known to exercise their rights, but are being vocal against CAA-NRC, which [similar Shaheen Bagh protests] is now taking off in other parts of India … minorities mobilising us is very unique.” At: Anant Art Gallery booth Debashish Mukherjee’s sculptural column – top half sandstone- bottom half fabric – is a beautifully puzzle in balance. Note that 1,000 layers of handwoven cotton were stitched by Muslim weavers from Benaras for the fabric base.

While his works mostly highlight society’s apathy towards heritage structures going, for the first time, he references Gandhi with this dual- material sculpture being symbolic of the leader’s attempt to unite Hindus and Muslims during the Noakhali riots. “The two religions if united can create a strong foundation,” he feels.

When viewers prod Mukherjee into revealing what material signifies which religion, he playfully messes around with them. “So, if a Hindu tells me the fabric base represents Hinduism, I tell them, ‘then, this makes you a softie...’” he chuckles. At: Akar Prakar Gallery booth

Environmental activist and founder of NGO Toxic Links Ravi Agarwal, also an artist and curator, has created a photographic diptych of two hands cupping miniature busts of Gandhi and Ambedkar.

His Two Indians (archival photographic inkjet prints 24x24 inches each) is indicative of how the decision to abide to the ideals of democracy and diversity is in the hands of the masses. Renu Modi of Gallery Espace says she decided to display his work because it doesn’t criticise any ideology. “These are his own hands [in the photographs], to signify how the Constitution needs to be nurtured.” At: Gallery Espace booth

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