Imagining a world with no constraints

Featuring censored books that are mostly part of the Indian and South Asian narrative, the show features pages of books that are blurred, cut, masked, and remoulded.

Published: 06th March 2022 09:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th March 2022 11:26 AM   |  A+A-

Works displayed at the exhibition (clockwise from top left) Taiwan Ron, 2021; Jude the Obscure II, 2021; The Mute’s Soliloquy II, 2021

"I think it is good for society to have voices that call people out when things are wrong," shares Mumbai-based artist Mansha Chhatwal while speaking about her recent works on censorship.

On view till March 19 at the Blueprint 12 Gallery, Anand Niketan, Chhatwal's solo show - it was unveiled on February 16 - is a series of similar works created between 2020 and 2021 - built around books that have been censored over time. Centred on the concept of communicability, the visual artist uses the act of censorship in her artworks to address the idea of freedom of speech. 

This exhibition by Chhatwal titled 'Symptomatic (mis)Readings' is her way to allow dialogue and discussion on censorship. "The author might have written a book in a certain time to address a certain idea. But by symptomatic reading, the readers read more into the book than was intended. When I talk about (mis)readings it is those times when people go looking for reasons to censor a book," elaborates Chhatwal.

She further adds, "While the writer is only talking about a specific time, that is taken out of context and blown out of proportion."

Connecting with the author

Featuring censored books that are mostly part of the Indian and South Asian narrative, the show features pages of books that are blurred, cut, masked, and remoulded. "Over the years, I have seen a number of ways creative voices are censored. In 2014, Perumal Murugan's book One Part Woman was burnt, three Bangladeshi bloggers were killed, and writer Taslima Nasrin was threatened and exiled from her home," she says.

"These incidents really affected me. I realised that these authors were struggling to survive but still continuing to write. I went on to do my own share of research on censorship and the more I read the more interested I got in it," points out Chhatwal. 

The artist also uses beeswax in her creative work as a metaphor for "candle marches of peaceful solidarity" as well as to make the page resemble human flesh. "I feel like by doing that I am connecting directly to the author and working with the skin of the writer. It can also be interpreted as the skin of the characters who are part of the book. It is not the book that you’re burning, you are attacking human beings," she explains.

A visual enigma

Of the works that are part of the exhibition, 'The Mute's Soliloquy' is one where a book page has been blacked out reflecting on the dictatorial effect of censors. Similarly, two of her works are in the shapes of flags. A page from Taiwan ron, a manga by Japanese artist Yoshinori Kobayashi, is shaped as a flag.

However, Perumal Murugan’s book of poems, Songs of a Coward: Poems on Exile stands out in this exhibition. The book, which is Murugan’s way of reacting to the burning of One Part Woman, features a series of poems, which encapsulate the feelings that the author had gone through after the episode. Chhatwal, in her work, has cut every single letter from each page and then stuck them together in alphabetical order. A daunting task, this took her almost a year to complete. “I feel all his poems are an effort to get back to the basics—the alphabet. The poems, for me, felt like an arrival at the alphabet. So I cut each letter and put it in alphabet series as a way of showing Murugan going back to the basics. The hard work that was required to make this journey is visible both in the work as well as in the poems,” she explains.

‘Symptomatic (mis)Readings’ is thus a means to start dialogue and conversation on these unfair happenings. “This is to protect their freedom, and let others become aware of these stellar writers and poets and the services they provide to society.”

Check it out

  • What: ‘Symptomatic (mis)Readings’
  • When: Till March 19, 11:00am to 7:00pm
  • Where: Blueprint 12 Gallery


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