Performance art may be slogan of future

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : India is now using performance art as a revivalist and critiquing device, a tool of social intervention. It was introduced in the country’s art space by artists like Bhupen Khakhar, Vivan Sundaram and Nasreen Mohamedi in the 1970s.

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Considered the next level of the arts movement in countries where art is used as a tool of social change, it engages people in aesthetic dialogue on issues with a combination of performance, body language, music, narrative, discussions and conventional visual art.

“Performance art forms a good bridge between literate and non-literate people because the performer uses his body, offering viewers direct access to art. It opens up cultural conversations because it is direct. You learn about a particular artist’s attitude. It is a rich vehicle to put ideas across,” Roselee Goldberg, a US-based performance arts pioneer, critic and art historian, told IANS.

Goldberg, who hosts Performa, a performance art biennial in New York, was in India to look for potential performance art practitioners for the 2013 edition of the festival in which she plans to collaborate with Indian artists.

“I was fascinated by Subodh Gupta’s new performance art act, ‘Spirit Eaters’. He brought us into a conversation that was also a narrative,” Goldberg said.

Gupta’s new choreography, “Spirit Eaters” which premiered at the India Art Fair, is an enactment of an ancient tradition of the funeral feast. It recreates the ritual of “feeding a community of Brahmin priests and paying them” after a bereavement in the family in the remote villages of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal.

“It is a common practice in the Hindu religion. The ‘babas’ – a kind of Brahmins – chant mantras and eat in honour of the departed soul. The rite of feeding them and paying them helps appease the spirit of the dead. The show is my new video piece,” Gupta told IANS.

The artist comments on dying traditions and caste hierarchy in the heartland states through his interactive performance art.

The new performance art act of Bangalore-based artist Pushpamala N, “Motherland”, involves viewers in a debate on gender discrimination in ancient Kannada poetry. The act features Mamta Sagar as “Kannada woman poet” Thirumalamba with art, music and narrative.

Pushpamala looks at post-colonialism with the eye of a historian and a feminist.

“The parameters of art are changing to convey realities and historical truths. In my new choreography, I explore women power in Kannada literature. I use the poet as a symbol of Mother India and speak about the captivity of her intellect in a male-dominated society,” Pushpamala said.

Performance artist and composer Suchet Malhotra says he works with groundscapes – usually photographs – texts and nature’s sounds to probe relationships between the urban and nature “to raise awareness about the shrinking green cover and the dying sounds and creatures of nature”.

Noisindia by Abecassis & The Natives, an alternative performance art group, experiments with the diversity of noise in India. They have created art acts around the ship-breaking noises at the Alang shipyard in Gujarat and distorted sounds.

Theatre personality and chairperson of the National School of Drama (NSD) Amal Allana says performance art is a direct offshoot of theatre where the “artist becomes a performer”.

“Theatre is a combination of all arts but performance art is just a part of it. Art has a limited sense of identity in its conventional forms. It cannot flourish in artistic isolation,” Allana told IANS.

Goldberg explains that “the difference between theatre and performance arts is that a definite narrative embarrasses a performance artist”. “An artist does not want things explained… it is built around a concept. There is no resolution of the narrative in the end,” Goldberg said.

The venue places an important part in a performance art show.

Pooja Sood, the director of Khoj International Artists’ Association, which pioneered performance art in India, said: “She has been exploring new edgy spaces like clubs and night spots for performance art shows to connect to new segments of audience and complement the nature of the art.”

“If performance art is the art of the 21st century, then what we should do is to give it a link to historicity so that it becomes avant garde. The bulk of performance art in the country is autobiographical,” performance artist Sonia Khurana said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])