Canvassing caste: Artist Vikrant Bhise paints Ambedkar, continuing Dalit struggles at India Art Fair

The India Art Fair started on February 9 and ends on Sunday.
Artist Vikrant Bhise and his works
Artist Vikrant Bhise and his works

NEW DELHI: Taking a walk along the hundreds of modern and contemporary art pieces at the India Art Fair, the visitor's eyes were caught by a display of splashes of blue that can only be associated with Dr BR Ambedkar and his work for Dalits, labourers and women.

Vikrant Bhise, a conceptual artist based in Mumbai, brought a number of works based on Ambedkar and his association with India's labour laws, atrocities on SC/ST communities, and the suicides of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula in 2016 and resident doctor Payal Tadavi in 2019.

"For the last 14 years, I have been working with these themes that are part of the Constitution. I depict the labour acts, women act, Dalit literature and movements that have happened and are happening," the painter told PTI.

The booth by Anant Art Gallery housed a series of works by Bhise, predominantly Ambedkarite in nature.

One of his larger pieces, 'Dr Ambedkar and Labour', shows a labourer cleaning a bust of Babasaheb and inadvertently covering his eyes as if trying to shield the Dalit leader from the atrocities and injustice on SC/ST communities.

Other artworks included women protesters, Ambedkar's Mahaparinirvan Diwas, and the mass killing at Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar in Mumbai in 1997.

On July 11, 1997, 10 Dalit residents of Ramabai Nagar died in police firing. Police took the measure to subdue a crowd protesting the desecration of a statue of Ambedkar.

The 38-year-old painter pointed towards two artworks, one showcasing a newspaper clipping after Tadavi's suicide and the other Vemula's empty hostel room Vemula ended his life after being suspended by the University of Hyderabad for his alleged role in an assault on an ABVP student leader.

Tadavi, a second-year resident doctor at BYL Nair Hospital in Mumbai, allegedly committed suicide after facing harassment by three of her seniors.

"I want to show people that even after children are educated and reach such high places they end up becoming victims of caste-based atrocities and violence. I also want people to not forget how cases like Ramabai killings, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh's murders are still pending," Bhise noted, referring to activist Govind Pansare and journalist Gauri Lankesh.

Talking about people's responses to his art, Bhise said a lot of people question the purpose behind his work.

"They come and ask me why are you showing these Dalit issues, I tell them because it is about Ambedkar, the father of our Constitution. And these issues are happening right now, so why shouldn't we?" he said.

The India Art Fair started on February 9 and ends on Sunday.

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The New Indian Express