Astonishment of Being, Birla Academy of Art and Culture, 2010.

A borrowed phrase.

A phrase that is incomplete.

A phrase of surprised self-awareness.

A phrase that conveys hope.

A phrase that situates individual investment in collective futures.

A phrase that stands both at the beginning of a journey and part way through it.

Caught in the tidal wave of an uncontrollable and, in some part, unplanned development, we Indians are like deer caught in the glare of headlights, surprised with where we find ourselves, as a citizenry today. We are astonished at our being; at the ‘we’, our and ‘us’ which mark our collectivity through our national, regional, linguistic, ideological, professional, gender, generational and vocational affiliates. Contrarily it is these vert notations that also separate us and force our differences onto our flesh. Like marks we are tattooed by these categories and like tattoos we simultaneously flaunt out affiliations and camouflage them. Body art, after all, is both an act of acceptance and defiance.

This exhibition is an exercise in regarding ourselves - nation, polity, community; our context-political, social, economic; our actions- speech, militant, counter-militant, legal, resistant methodology, peaceful and otherwise, discursive moments and /or their absence.

An identifiable self, grounded in contemporary realities, emerges from such an exercise. It is upon the recognition of the constituted self that we can examine what issues require our address and how ‘we’ (you and I) may begin to articulate individual and collective viewpoints. The aim is not at a passive experience but an active engagement with the world as we see it and as we’d like to see it change.


I may regard (look) objectively, critically, respectively, wrathfully, lovingly, judgingly, devotedly, carefully, curiously….I may simply look at you and not really see you. I may gaze at you at some length. I may glance at you in passing. I may scrutinize you. I may notice you briefly but intently. I may spy on you. I may behold you in awe…

I may do all these with and in regard (relation) to you. I may do the same with regard (with respect) to myself as well. Whatever position I take, it necessarily draws me into a relational engagement, an engagement which builds on the premise that I am invested in this looking/acknowledgment/examining. The quality of the investment is changeable, and the notice we pay is dependent on a variety of internal and external factors. I am beginning this essay on the assumption we, the artists and the audience, are invested and engaged in the exercise of ‘regard’.


And thus we are in engaged in the practice of contemplating and recording.

Record: chronicle, document, evidence, testimony, witness, immortalize….

Re-cord may also imply a re-knotting, a re-establishment of relationships and links. Thus it suggests a kind of hopefulness in this exercise of regarding and recording it suggests that such an act may repair damaged threads and strengthen bonds. And so for me it denotes, and this may be overly sentimental, a possibility that the retrenchment of certain ideals may infact lead us down the path toward their achievement.

What these ideals should be depends on each individual. Some may be more concerned with strengthening national affiliations while others may see it as the root cause of war and conflict. Some may want cities to become the centers of civilizations bracket open one bracket close while others prefer a healthy division between rural and urban populations with better opportunities for villager . Some may want a country to run like a corporation while others fear such a move may make money the common denominator and thus Cause a decline in the social responsibilities the same state assumes such as health care employment guarantee education rights etc. In my wording perhaps it is already clear that I hold a conservative viewpoint. Yours may be very different.

This exhibition highlights my optimism with regards the nationstate framework that the world has adopted and still functions within its many faults. Some may consider it regressive to be retrenching donation space in an age when it is fashionable to speak of and from Borderlands metaphorically if not literally. A nation is not only a demarcated space. It is also an imagined space that is a powerful signifier of constructed communities and their futures. A nation is a symbol of something larger than individual ambition; it is a symbol of collective enterprise. I dare to believe that we can work through our local differences And border disputes and build positive futures on sound idealistic visions such as secularism and liberty.

How does a visual exercise aid us in this endeavor? Kaja Silverman has drawn from phenomenology of the principle that the act of looking opens up a field of love between myself and my object of regard [2] and this field has potential of turning enemies back into compatriots and disenchanted people into healthy communities. Because when I really see someone I see beyond their many affiliations to the one common factor our humanness. It is in this spirit that this exhibition has matured. The visual keys provided in this exhibition will perhaps draw us out of a selfish reverie and open up the public space to attention. They will channel our thoughts and our words towards dialogue (as opposed to matters and murmurs snorts and speeches).


Our Nation

I direct our regard onto the national canvas. Every nation is obsessed with its image its history, its people, its progress, it’s politics, its economy, its episodes of violence, despair and also triumph, its relationship with neighbors, allies, business partners and enemies and finally it’s future. And we as a people are invested (and should be invested) in the Nation. For whether we like it or not we would much rather fall in the category citizen then an alien/ immigrant/asylum seeker/ refugee/ disenfranchised … for to be a (wo) man without a passport is a truly lonely thing . Of course to belong has its drawbacks. As a citizen you are subject to the rules, policies and policing by the State. But that is a trajectory we will traverse another time. Most of who ‘we’ are is determined by a geopolitical context.

Thus as citizens of a nation if we are not invested in its present and future we have no voice with which to speak. For change to happen it has to be demanded. India has based its modern identity on the assumption that its citizens are shaping it. Indians proudly proclaim themselves the largest democracy and this imply a citizenry invested in the governance of the country. Every election is viewed with great hope that an improbable phoenix will arise from the gloomy ashes of dishonest politicians an

At the time of its conception the leaders oftheindependentandmodernnationcalleduponitspeopletobeproudtobeIndian.Inthenewcentury this call for pride saw the popularization of ‘India Shining’ slogan in 2004 referring to the overall feeling of economic optimism in India after plentiful rains and the successOff the Indian IT boom . And though it is was originally the political slogan of the Hindu right wing party agenda to party BJP during the 2004 general elections and election it has transcended the particularities of the moment to fuel a sort of self congratulatory feeling that has enveloped India in the last two decades. And every detraction attacks these two words with journalist stories titled, ‘Not So Shining Really’ (Outlook, 2 Feb 2004); ‘From India Shining to India Snorting’ (IBN, 9 June 2006) or ‘India Shines as Women Grapple in Darkness (Times News Network, 4 February 2004).

In this mood of jubilation that the two words denote we have and must keep our eyes trained on the unresolved unjust and inhuman, on the faces of evil and the facts of distress. We must keep our focus on Kashmir. On Gujarat. An Assam. On chattisgarh and Jharkhand. On Mangalore. On Nandigram. We must keep our eye on the United progressive alliance. On Rahul Gandhi and his team of young politicians. On Raj Thackeray. L.K. Advani Narendra Modi and Mohan Bhagwat . On The Third and Fourth Front. On the Naxalites. On RSS and SIMI alike. On the Security Forces the Police and the Army. We must keep our eyes on prop poverty health and education . We must keep our eyes on industry and commerce on Ratan Tata and on the Ambani feud and its effect on the Energy and Resource Ministry. We must keep our eyes on military expenditure and arms and nuclear acquisition and construction. We must keep our eyes on local governance and irregular and unaccountable systems of justice the exploitation of power at the grassroots, on casteism and neo-zamindars (And the list goes on)..

As a nation we are at a crucial juncture of growth, torn between moderate secular path and the tightening bond between politics and religion. We have as Tushar Joag images in the Three Bullets For Gandhi (2007) fired three bullets in the name of an extreme faith. The first one, fired the first one fired by the Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse, killed Mahatma Gandhi because of his opposition to Partition and the formation of separate nations along the lines of ideology . The second has been filed by a state that continues to foster communal difference and seems unable to bring the perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice, some of whom we allow to function as ministers and parlimanetarians! And the third we are firing ourselves by engaging in events of violence and in profiting from them. Tushar usurps the place of the three lines of the Ashokan capital India’s national emblem. He, as lion, is stirred from him frozen inmortal state, agitated by the mockery being made of the words with this symbol stands for ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’ Whose truth? What triumph? What pride? Evil walks this earth. Violence haunts us. A nation fueled by sweat blood and tears .

Are people puppets dancing in the hands of masterful puppeteers? How easily the audience make the characters in Vibha Galhotra’s interactive piece What Are We? (2006) move with a simple cursor. How happy we are to play with these silhouettes. Suppose for a minute you were one of the characters, allowed unlimited pre-programmed number of moves, which are to be performed at a strangers’ will? What if the matrix was revealed to be a reality? But we don’t even need to resort to fiction and sci-fi illusionism. Think of the hordes that are agitated into action by some few simple speeches ? Remember the man who celebrated as they broke through the door of the barbary Merced all those who tore open the stomach of a pregnant woman because she was Muslim. Who what and who motivated them? Of course likening them to puppets absolves them of any moral responsibility of their heinous actions. Unlike pockets we have the fact faculty to judge right from wrong and to pause before we act a pause allows us to consider whether we in fact w.

Thus the disintegrating line can be our metaphor. We Do We Come From? (2006) suggests that our definition is fluid and constantly re-formed. So, while we may be outraged by Kasab’s action at the Victoria Terminus in Mumbai in November 2008 when along with his colleagues he performed a series of terrorist acts in the city, we cannot blame Muslims, or Pakistanis for the actions of handful of men. This is one of the grounds that ‘war on terror’ that North America launched in Afghanistan. And Iraq is unethical and immoral. This is why we did not and should engage in war with Pakistan.

Pakistan our neighbor our nemesis. Another reading of where do we come from is it’s representation of our daughter shifting disputed and shared boundary. We are but 1/2 of a whole and no matter how hard we try we cannot separate from our conjoined twin and the collateral damage- . The valley of almost mythic beauty our community shattered through decades of violent struggle. A thing for Kashmir transcends gto Indians and Pakistanis that kashmiris are doomed. They want me want independence and peace but we want their land the promise of paradise dies on earth. Did also we want the fight the confrontation the flexing of military might. We don’t want to loose our cartographic head, where we choose to situate our hearts. We feel the pain and exhilaration as we journey through Malik Sajad’s photographs but we also feel propietal. But while we want the land, what to do about the Kashmir. Malik Sajad’s graphic novella a Terrorism Of Peace (2008) succinctly portrays the attention that Kashmiris feel in the rest of India, the villainy they are suspected of by virtue of their geo-religious origin .

Keeping with the theme of community affiliation and alienation separation and nostalgia, Gauri Gil explores the ideas of memory migration and aspects of the Sikh diaspora in hard work. In in Shakshi (2007-8) Gauuri worked with the Sikhs in Kabul and with the Afghani Sikhs in Delhi, photographing them and collecting their memories through their personal albums - photographs functioning as repositories of memories. And she worked with children for the first time asking them to write down their thoughts on Kabul and Afghanistan. These are brought together in the installation which are interspersed photographs her own and those collected from community members in Delhi taken by them on visits to Afghanistan and the text by children. The combination of text black and white and color photographs make the work both travelogue and a memoir. The words work on an emotional register a combination of bittersweet memory an inherited cultural prejudices. Thus a child begins his note with ‘Afghanistan is a Muslim’s country… [and ends with]… Afghanistan is Best country’. Gauri’s approachisphilosophical-photographyusedwithinaculturaldiscourseobservingandquestioningthecomplexityandrelationship offidentityandmemory andmapping narratives along personal visual and textual experiences .

The Searching Spirit

In most curatorial exercises the exhibition is the end of a thought process, the culmination of an idea and the presentation of a thesis. Not here. I like to think of this exhibition as the beginning of a dialogue, poised on the threshold of the next phase in our individual and collective lives.

The spirit of the search, the anticipation of a revelation is for many the thrill of an activity. And the process of searching leads to paths thus far not foreseen. The search can be for any number of things- a conceptual framework, a source, an answer a question perhaps, a path, extraterrestrial life…

Peering through the magnifying glasses in Susanta Mondal’s Scrutiny of Caged Sack (2009) first one sees the detail of the cage and the weave of the jute sack. Then the question arises what is the making this a sack wiggle . After the study of the photographs of the sacks in a metal cage we find ourselves watching a video of the space where the cage once was. The drag marks are all still visible. Where what was in the sack? Where did it go? Dancers are not available it dawns that it is in the process of looking that it is 4 fronted in this photography and video video installation with motorized magnifying glasses. The magnifying glass is a quaint and commonly used metaphor for search and zoom in the language of computer graphics the magnification of detail relentlessly teasing out every visual potential . The functionality of a magnifying glass depends on where one holds it . We are forced then to assume an active role in this process of looking understanding and experiencing. So detail is the site of meaning the methodology is of regard and the success of the endeavor depends primarily on the viewer.

Employing the language of mystery and detection is Raqs Media Collective’s quasi-detective work 5 Pieces Of Evidence (2003) the work reflects on missing persons, urban myths, transitoriness, maps and global networks. The five screens are narratively organized along the lines of ‘whodunit’. Missing person notices, street maps, demographic statistics and images of pipelines, rail tracks, harbors and cityscapes evoke a multi layered set of speculations on the way urban spaces stage everyday “disappearances”. [3] Each screen presents one aspect of the story and together the narrative touches upon urban economic social development communal hysteria international military intrigue migration fueled by the desire to partake in a grossly fictionalized urban and global opportunism constant media frenzy with selective gaze decide what becomes current affairs and the tone with which this to be viewed (an idea maximized by the five screen structure of the work and it’s bringing into play the 2001 ‘kala bandar’, black monkey-man phenomenon, which was the center point Of the Bollywood film from Delhi 6) .

Searching for herself Mithu Sen employs a confessional mode, a heightened narcissism in her oral work run from fewer 2009. Mithu works with irony within the ‘I, Me, Myself preoccupation - I the artist, Me and my work, Myself and the world. Here she’s confessing do a crisis of faith not a religious faith but a professional one rooted in the work ethic that young urbanites hold dearer Dan other affiliations . And it is in this space that me to search just for herself and for meanings. The reason behind the work is Mithu’s belief that the contemporary artists are victims of the demanding and pushy art market and how she sees herself compulsively duplicating visual, narrative and formal elements in works to meet the demands of rapid production. She explains, ‘My project is to address issues of guilt related to the exhausted receptivity by market forces and the art audience, as well as my own existential crisis. There are two parts to my project … The first is an identical pair of artworks with my own established sense of sensuality (I hope to arrive in a new territory by using my own ‘attractive’ works as a jumping off point to address non visual communication). The second part is to confront my visual art practice in a confessional manner. It is about the critiquing one’s own ‘established’ self as well as the practices of other contemporary artists.’ [4]

The spirit of the search for a viable place in the contemporary art world has been at the heart of Mithu’s practice. She has manufactured herself as a neurotic narcissistic artist with the accompanying narratives of fragility and great beauty. Her constant need for assurance is a trick, a device to write herself not only into the narratives of the artworld but of each person who encounters her.

Humans and Other Creatures

Humans are fallible creatures, self-obsessed and due to that, quite callous. But we are also capable of such imagination, beauty and greatness. We love ourselves, our species, so much so that we have constructed any higher power in the image of ourselves. And we want, not to be alike (look at how we promote and propagate differences based on colour, creed and caste), but for others to follow us, to agree with us, to uphold us. Who doesn’t want to be a leader among men!

The herd instinct is what makes twenty identical men do identical things in Birth of Blindness (2007). G.R. Iranna constructs how people tend to follow the crowd without examining the merits of a particular person, notion, or activity. He does this in several simple ways. ‘Matha Tekna’ (touching ones forehead to the floor in Punjabi) is the practice of paying obeisance to one’s deity and is practiced in Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism, to mention a few. This gesture of extreme genuflection was also practiced during several monarchies in Asia and Africa when a subject was in the presence of a ruler. By placing this men in this posture Iranna shows how orders are blindly followed if given by a figure of authority. This is the first birth of blindness.

The numbers comprising the installation represent the foolishness of the logic of ideological action if many believe so it is so. This type of argument is known by several phrases appeal of the masses appeal to belief appeal to the majority appeal to the people appeal by the consensus authority of the many and so on. Numbers do not constitute right or wrong and communal reinforcement as we have seen over and over again leads to disastrous actions and events here we have the second birth of blindness the blindfold (blind leading the blind), the nakedness (Emperor’s new clothes) and the wooden trolley used by the handicapped are the third and final indication of the birth of blindness.

Men fall over each other and jostle to peer around the corner of a mud wall Ranbir Kaleka’s in Contested Desires I (2009) and stare into the distance in Contested Desires II(2009).In Indiawearefamiliarwiththecrowdthatmaterializesandfunctionsaspassivespectators to anyspectacle. Ineither of thetwo canvasesare we shown what the men are looking at. What we are shown is the thrill of discovery the excitement of stumbling upon a chance visual encounter the desire for the quest and the camaraderie that it generates. The canvases include almost like a dream or metaphor a spotted deer and a dead bird are these the men are looking at/ for? Do these creatures represent aspects of human nature? Are they what have been laid waste in the path of humans? Should these be what the men search?

I respond to the sense of fantasy and mystery in the contest of desires one and two and how they are set in an uncertain urban or rural context. There is something playful in the man. Ah sort of boyishness in the way they crowd together peering around in the corner. It makes me want to talk about what are the forms of masculinity and the more dominant discourse of patriarchy and it’s association with power and domination And violence. These are quite tender words and the subjects and become tender also allowing us to think of men in our lives what tender and lo- not animals or monsters or rulers or domestic imbeciles or professional power mongers or bloodthirsty etc . Finally we are not pitting one gender against the other but allowing aspects to emerge simultaneously which had been sidelined from prominent polarized discourses.

Ranbir uses animals as allegories to forefront the humanism of men. Jagannath Panda anthropomorphizes machines to much the same end. Failure of the Flesh (2009) and The Lost Site (2009) are paintings of cars mutilated in accidents, their metallic innards exposed, their shiny bodies mangled, their smooth covers ripped and their demeanor pathetic and despairing. They are beautiful destructive images that transcend the comic moment to become perhaps a metaphor that as we zip towards the end goal we must beware of the pitfalls or fatal accidents that may occur.

On a less unfortunate note Valay Shende sculpts men and animals from his environment. He uses shiny metals to give them a cyborg turn. The famous ‘dabbawala’ (literally box person referes to a person who delivers lunch bozes) of Mumbai [5] is employed in a unique service industry whose primary business is to deliver food tiffins to office workers from their residencies or caterers and return the empty boxes. They work through rain and sunshine and thus the ticking watch dial, which Valay solders together to construct his dabbawala, is their skin and their fuel. Dabbawalas aren’t exploited and disenfranchised. Quite the opposite. They are organized, use the information technology- internet and mobile telephones- to further their clientele and are now touting themselves as ‘management gurus’. The mesmerizing shiny sculptures get some of their sheen from their real life muses.

Our new Landscape: The City

Human beings are extremely arrogant creatures. It is visible in the way we dominate the world, exploit its material excesses and kill our co-habitant creatures (except buffaloes who are so familiar in India they’ve almost been given an honorary urban address and yet look so incongruous sitting in a shiny tableau constructed by Valay Shende). Our exploitative actions are selfish, thinking of ourselves, giving nothing back, leaving noting untouched. Ravi Agarwal’s Untitled (2009) photograph seems innocent enough, a stick drawing, possibly by a child of a house, an airplane and a car, drawn on a dusty path leading into a green park or forest. The sunlight dapples the path as it negotiates between the leaves turning them a rich emerald green. But what if the drawing is a blue-print of future building (ironically, construction is often referred to as development, the two words often used indiscriminately interchangeably). Land is precious commodity and much sought after. Unused land seems like a waste to many. I live in of the most polluted cities in the world and these green spaces are the lungs of my urban environment. The photograph calls forth a heart wrenching cry to not drown the earth under concrete. It calls upon us to negotiate between our own desire for a subliminal beauty present in nature and our will to maximize economic return from this world.

When we think civilization, we usually picture a city. Small wonder since we’ve gawked at buildings from the time we started building them. As architecture soared upward and outward it was unlike anything the planet had previously seen. The word civilization itself derives from the latin civis, meaning ‘town dweller’.

For Baudelaire, modern urban experience is unique in the history of subjectivity, because the very experience that engenders a profound sense of loneliness also promises to alleviate that condition. In A Place to Stay (2006) Prayas Abhinav explores what would happen if a person visited Mumbai without a place to stay. If he chose to not check into a hotel, or couldn’t check into a hostel, where would and could he sleep night after night. As Prayas takes us on his quest to find a place to sleep in Mumbai for five nights in a row, we are given an unnerving glimpse into how frightening a city is at night but also how friendship comes from unlikely corners. It is a cartographic exercise, a perverse tourism, an act of foolhardy courage and the desire to really get at the heart of the migrants experience, to the dark recesses of our consciousness where fear and hysteria lie waiting, thwarted by surprising friends and shelters. He sleeps in a cave like the primitive man, in the park like a bird, in an incomplete building like daily wage laborers, and in an autorickshaw with pictures of celebrities and deities. The documentary takes us on a tour of a habitable city that isn’t shiny, comfortable, enclosed and temperature controlled. But it is still the city and home to many.

Should we now begin to consider over-equipped cities as a new landscape, along with the aesthetic connotations attached to this term? The city is an environment consisting of the work of man, and this work carries the mark of visual considerations. In fact, nothing could be more false than to assert, as one often does, that today’s city testifies to a total indifference with regard to form and ambiance. On the contrary, from building fronts to billboards, almost everything is designed and seeks to attract and seduce the eye. The chaotic character of the large, contemporary cityscape originates more from an over-abundance of aesthetic intentions than their radical absence. Is the city then the protected space of aesthetic contemplation, a space that we may define as home to human nature? And I’m posing this as the opposite of the rather more common trope that situates inspiration in nature.

We only need to look at Tushar Joag’s digitaly manipulated photograph The Races (2009) to appreciate the aesthetic pleasure of themachinesthatareconstructingourcitiesanddotourvision. InNewDelhithesecranesare a common sightright now as thecity prepares tohost the 2010Commonwealth Games next year. The beautiful photograph marks the mad dash to the finish lie of construction tools and thus urban development.

There are certain things that constitute the city and where the vital organs of the city may lie. City planners have loved monuments since the birth of the city for they are commemorative and celebratory and are meant to write a persons’ existence into the grand history of the world. Tushar Joag and Surekha both deconstruct the idea and role of the monument. In her video, An Installation (2009) Surekha documents an installation of a monumental sculpture of Rabindranath Tagore. To install it the workers have placed a noose around the figures neck and it dangles eerily from a crane during the process. Keeping in mind that monuments are meant to represent the glory and history of a nation or community, this ‘hanging’ (of the) monument’ takes on a narrative centered on the death/murder/lynching of that which monument is meant to celebrate. In the context of present day India, this may refer to the demise of any number of political-social-religious-economic ideologies. While Surekha’s monument is murdered Tushar Joag’s Gateway of India in Mumbai takes flight into Yet Unbridled (2009). As the name suggests, Gateway of India, a triumphal arch completed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of the British monarchs, was the first thing visitors would see when they’d arrive in India by sea. It is under its arch that the last British battalion left in 1948. Wikipedia informs us that the monument is a symbol of Hinduism and Islam. If that is the case, keeping in mind much of Tushar’s work is done within the dual contexts of communal strife and Mumbai, the city where he resides and works. Yet Unbridled is an image about the flight of idealism, a monument unsure of its role undertakes the heroic and tragic gesture to leave. The while elephant analogy adds weight to this reading since the possession of such an animal was a sigh that the monarch was ruling with justice and the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity. Thus its departure is a pointed remark on the lack of that which it represents in a country and community.

In Locust Time, Sheba Chhachhi collapses time, site, history and science. The work is located on a satellite image of the floodplains of the Yamuna river, between Delhi and Agra. Through the rapid urbanization of this once fertile belt, Sheba allows glimpses of life on the riverbank when the river was an integral part of peoples lives. The parched lands hint at the coming drought, which in the cyclical nature of the work, reminds us of the desert lands where today the historic seven cities of Delhi stand. Because the work has an aerial view, we look through the contamination of air to pollution of the water, both of which are the result of industry and will only worse in the future.

There are several references from art history and mythology in the work, especially drawn from the life of Krishna, an inhabitant of this region and a popular subject in miniature painting. The cows, for, Krishna was cow-herder in this once lush landscape; the female bhakt (follower) of Krishna who sang her devotion to the deity through love songs; the Nagkanyas (snake princesses/ maidens), keepers of water and poison refer to the confrontation between Krishna and the serpent Kaliya who was poisoning the Yamuna, and was defeated by a young Krishna who played, danced, defeated and shamed the great snake. Floating over this visual history are observant futuristic cyborg-locust-women, survivors of slow poisoning and transformed into mutant foragers, their skeletons showing through their blue skin, which is also believed to be the colour of Krishna’s skin.

This complex, slow moving narrative is deployed through an object that an object that itself exists between time, age and technology. The lightbox is a remake of the ‘Action Plasma toy’ which worked both as a kitsch toy and decorative object. The slowly rotating screen is reminiscent of magic lanterns and other pre-cinematic devices. But it is deceptive as it could often be mistaken for a ‘new media’ wok and thus situated in the digital art age, the most contemporary artistic innovation. The work creates a special quality of time and attention.


Archana Hande is the revered ‘Archana Devi’ in CHoudhuri House/Grey Town (2007), self-constructed of course. A family tree is painted on the wall alongside documents establishing Archana Devi’s rights of ownership on the house, whose yellow room we have entered. Re-worked photographs of many of those featured in the family tree hang on the walls, further establishing Archana Devi as a member of the Choudhuri clan, a proud lineage of the artist will have us believe. The desperation of the claim makes it of course rather dubious and suspect.

The work is part of a larger series ‘Relics of Grey’ which investigates the cultural, social and political attitudes of people in the four colonial port cities and commercial hubs of Bombay/Mumbai where Hande resides, Calcutta/Kolkata, Madras/Chennai, and Bangalore/Bengaluru to which she has attachments. Through this work Hande questions notions of displacement, belonging, adoption and individual adaptability/ communal rigidity. She does this through the parody of immovable property and inheritance conflicts. In the struggle for survival, as basic claims to food, shelter and livelihood continue to remain severely challenged, Hande asks, “How do we maintain a culturally enriched life of dignity and empathy?” [6]

As Hande sats, “Here I was trying to put myself into others shows by claiming property illegally and legal, confronting the question of rehabilitation, displacement, and claim.” [7]

It is impossible to use the term ‘Being’ without acknowledging the man who has questioned the very given-ness of the term and so it is fitting to end this essay with this eulogy of sorts.

For Heidegger Being is not an entity, thus Being is not a being. It is not, as is commonly understood, the paring down of individuals to identify their essence but rather the inherent unity that underlies the multiplicity of individuals in the world, including the world. So we are not beings in the world but rather beings with the world.

If we exist the we already have an inkling of Being. Being is the description of the experience of existence, because if our being is constituted in this world amidts things and with others then this opens up a field of possibilities, including the experience of our vulnerability and morality. The transcendental reality of our existence is grounded by and through self-awareness, Being then is our awareness of us.

As for Heidegger, who related Being to time, what we are at present is not as important aswhatwearebecoming,whichissubjecttothetemporalprocessofourpersonalhistories. Being + Time=Becoming.

Heideggerprovides a model forunderstanding ahuman being as emotive and responsive, wrested away from a reliance on the concepts of the mind or soul. A Being is not singular but a singularity [8] reconstituted with each encounter, it is Being-in-the-World, Being-, Being-in As Such…

The question we asked ourselves at the beginning of this project was who are we? How do we locate ourselves in the world today?

Our quest it seems isn’t one of the assertion of identity (unless it is for the multiplicities that constitute singular identities), which is a common trope in post-colonial discourse. If anything it is the opposite, an attempt to diffuse the categories that form identities. There is the assertion of the individual (which begins from our genetic conception each sperm is unique, and is carried forth into the rest of our lives- every voice must be heard) but one who sees him or herself as part of a collective (or is the ‘collective’ a fantasy?). Here we have attempts to think around the ‘ideal’ of nation and community.

There is an over-riding focus on the moment. And what an awareness of the moment and of our existence in it enables us to become in the future… in Sandip Pisalkar’s InventionDeeksha Nath (b.1976) is a New Delhi based independent critic and curator. She has curated Immersions, Anant Art Gallery, Delhi (2009); co-curated Best of Discovery, Contemporary Art Fair, Shanghai (2008); Still Moving Image, inaugural exhibition of Devi Art Foundation (2008) and House of Mirrors, Grosvenor Vadehra, London (2007). She is Desk Editor, Art AsiaPacific, and has published widely in exhibition catalogues, national and international magazines and journals. ‘Art and Visual Culture (1878-2008)’ published by MARG contains a contribution by her. Deeksha’s previous assignments have been with Tate Modern, London, the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi and the Government of India, among others. She is erstwhile editor of the web journal Deekha is a Charles Wallace scholar and has trained at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Vadodara; City University, London and Goldsmiths College, London.


[1] In an interview with Tehelka magazine last year (31 May 2008) Finance Minister P. Chidambaram articulated the view that India’s development is closely linked with rapid urbanization. He said, “My vision of a poverty free India where a vast majority, something like 85 per cent, will eventually live in cities.” As the current demographic stands this would mean reducing the current 70% rural dwellers to 15% and increasing the urban population from 30% to 85%, a 55% increase! Mr. Chidambaram justifies this by arguing that, “In an urban environment it is easier and more efficient to provide water, electricity,, education, roads… secuarity rather than in 600,000 villages.”

See also 2009 World Development Report ‘Reshaping Economic Geography’ published by the World Bank.

[2] For further elaboration see Silverman, K.World Spectators. Stanford University Press, 2000.


[4] Explained in an email exchange. 6th October, 2009.

[5] http://


[7] ibid

[8] For further elaboration see Giorgio Agamben’s The Coming Community. University of Minnesota, 1993, in which he writes, “Because if instead of continuing to search for a proper identity in the already improper and senseless form of individuality, human were to succeed in belonging to this impropriety as such , in making of the proper being thus not an identity and an individual property but a singularity without identity , a common and absolutely exposed singularity- if humans could, that is, not be-thus in this or that particular biography, but be only the thus, their singular exterior Richie and their face, then would for the first time entered into a community without presuppositions and without subjects, into a communication with the incommunicable.

[9] Sandip Pisalkar has literally translated the question, How do we locate ourselves in the world today? By questioning the assumption of secure and safe flights. His first glass box, Invention contains matchsticks, whose tips are carved into bombs, visible only through the magnifying glass and here the artist told me ‘bombs’ are as readily available as mathsticks nowadays.’ The second box contains debris that we have created and the third is Destruction, a box splashed with the artists’ blood. His attempt to represent the cycle of human activity.

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