Eminent Indian artist Tushar Joag’s sudden demise on the morning of December 18, has cut short a passionate and committed artistic career. Joag started his career in the 1990s and had come to be regarded as an important contemporary artist, both in India and internationally. Joag had been teaching as an Associate Professor at the Department of Art and Performing Art, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Shiv Nadar University, Noida. He had been instrumental in setting up this department, investing his passion and energy in art education. His ardent belief in the politics of aesthetics or even aestheticizing politics would manifest through art interventions, public projects, pedagogical practices or even his gallery based work that he undertook in the last three decades.
Joag was the founder member of Open Circle (1998), an artist’s initiative for the organization and development of platforms for public awareness and protest. In 2005, he curated “Globalisation @ Hunger” an exhibition for World Social Forum at India House, Porto Alegre, Brazil and in 2007 “Memories in Transit”, an artists' camp for World Social Forum at Nairobi, Kenya. Joag Initiated and curated 'SEZ Who' a collaborative project about the impact of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) at Experimenter gallery, Kolkata and Khoj, New Delhi (2009). He convened and curated the event 'Right to Dissent, comprising an Exhibition of contemporary art, film screenings, a panel discussion, and performance, (2011) in collaboration with Clark House and Mohile Parikh Center, for the release of Dr. Binayak Sen.
Joag had chosen to take a strong, albeit a playful and satirical position against the state, and the embedded notions of power and hierarchy. Under the guise of a mock corporate umbrella organization called UNICELL (started in Mumbai in 2004 and later expanded to London in 2013), Public Works Cell (PWC) which proposed absurd products and initiatives that were “thought-out as a remedy to the abrasive and uncompromising urban conditions”; Joag had been involved with many unrelenting and interrogative works such as those dealing with the issues of public transport, inland migration or redevelopment projects in the city of Mumbai. One such project, proposed to relocate the urban middle class residents out of their homes and businesses, and rehabilitate them, in order to turn Bombay into “Venice of the East”. Carried out in the neighbourhood of Goregaon, the project invited the ire of the residents, but at the same time provoked them into thinking about the plight of the less privileged members of the city and their suffering in the name of progress. He was always carefully documenting these projects, creating drawings, paintings and installations and widening the discursive terrain of these initiatives. Another UNICELL project involved designing sculptural handles for the over-populated Bombay local trains as “Commuter Attachment Systems” and can be seen as the artist evolving as a social engineer.
The works that he created for and showed in the galleries, had similar themes dealing with urban space, architecture and transport - addressing and trying to find creative and collaborative solutions for the everyday problems. No work of art is complete without the viewer and Joag never took the process of production and reception lightly. His public performances, sculptures, installations or educative workshops were not merely meant to provoke, but called out for an active engagement and participation by the viewers. When once asked about his art intervention works as being projects in art activism, Joag replied that he was not interested in tokenism and thus let his creative projects speak for themselves. In his video work Three Bullets for Gandhi (2007, video projection), the artist can be seen in the symbolic garb of the lions in the Ashoka pillar, an emblem of the state, and spewing fire and bullets, representing how violence and power are embodied in the idea of the state itself. In Riding Rocinante (2011), - where he rode a motorbike from Mumbai to Shanghai via the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Madhya Pradesh and the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei province in China - two controversial development projects with devastating social effects on the communities surrounding them - the artist manages to bring into focus the apathy of both the governments towards its citizens. In 2011, in a performance intervention titled Right to Dissent at Clark House, Mumbai, the artist spent six uninterrupted days in a small enclosed area filling notebooks with the mantra “I will not lose faith in the Indian Democracy and Judiciary.” The act was in solidarity with Binayak Sen and against the outdated laws in the country that curbed a righteous citizen’s freedom. Even inside the gallery spaces Joag held on steadfast to his ideas of truth, justice and freedom. A 2013 group exhibition, titled Ideas of the Sublime, curated by Gayatri Sinha at Rabindra Bhavan, New Delhi, saw Joag exhibit a multimedia pop up installation called ‘Suitcase of the Urban Planner’ where the city is depicted as being swallowed or subsumed by the jaws of ill-thought civic planning and development plans. In the same vein, his work ‘Shanghai Couch’ is a creative solution for the street hawkers to fold up their wares, through a specially designed vending cart and escape the prowling and corrupt BMC officials.
Born in Mumbai, Tushar Joag completed his Bachelors in Fine arts at the Sir J.J. School of Arts, Mumbai (1988) and a Masters of Fine Arts from the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda (1989). The artist also earned multiple awards in his life time, including Merit scholarship for Sculpture Sir J.J. School of Arts, Mumbai, India 1984- 1988, Fellowship award Kanoria Centre for Art (1990- 1992), Inlaks Scholarship for Sculpture (1995), Residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (1998-2000) and Majlis Fellowship for the Arts (2005) to name a few. He has been part of numerous exhibitions - nationally and internationally - consistently since 2002. A master craftsman, Joag’s meticulous and intricate drawings and paintings have travelled far and wide, but it is for his extensive work in the public sphere that he will be remembered and missed. The artworld has truly lost an artist, interventionist, teacher, mentor and the consciousness of a creative spirit today.
He is survived by his wife and artist, Sharmila Samant and children, Katyayani and Kashyap.