On stage, dressed modestly in plain black clothes, professor Kaushal Kumar began his performance art. As a curious audience observed, he took out at least a dozen red threads or kalava from a bag and placed them on a table. The act was a part of the ‘Interrogations and Ideologies: A Quest for Equality’ exhibition hosted by The American Center that brought together a group of artists who used different installations as a powerful expression of social equality and justice. It was curated by professor Y.S. Alone.
As professor Kumar picked up the first and began wrapping it around his body, the audience wondered what was in store next. ‘Can anyone help me?’ he asked the audience and a few went up the stage, picking up the thread bundles and wrapping them around his body. In about 15 minutes, professor Kumar was an embodiment of the tree that stands clenched in red religious threads, tied in hopes and prayers. Wrapped tightly from head to toe in about a dozen bundles of kalavas, he hopped around the stage and struggled but managed to climb down and exit as the startled audience wondered what to expect next.
But he had made his point. And the conclusion of the performance art was one’s own to draw. “The expression of our identities differs from person to person and from community to community. In the case of the majority, it becomes a power symbol,” he says, explaining his act.
It is rather true – the whole purpose of the performance was to show the society how our dominant beliefs and ideologies sometimes hold us down hard and restrict us like the bark of the ‘holy’ tree that has been tied around with layers of threads.
As a part of the exhibition, artists showcased ‘Ambedkarian aesthetics,’ a world untethered from prejudices, inhibitions, and the metanarratives of hegemonic modernity through their paintings. Artist Jaya Daronde’s art from the series titled ‘Relationship’ represented the oppressed women’s relationship in the hierarchical social structure of the Indian social System – with a socially affluent male, Shukla Sawant’s ‘First Flight’ was all about representing the issues of women’s labour rights from taking care of the baby to the freedom to fly high, the narrative of the everyday life of the Indian women caught in the domesticity.
United States’ deputy chief of mission Patricia Lacina, who attended the exhibition said that every nation struggles with notions of equality and that artists have a special role to play here. “In this context, the US and India have a long-standing history of cultural collaboration where art professionals from both nations have thrived and collaborated to promote social justice. These art expressions not only ignite minds but also reiterate the commitment of the US and India in envisioning an equitable world,” she said.
Professor Alone says that he has been in touch with the artists who present an Ambedkarian approach through his previous exhibitions and wanted to bring them all together under one exhibition and that is why he calls it ‘Ambedkarian Aesthetics’. “All these artists come from diverse backgrounds but have a common thread of democratic equality,” he says.