And it all begins! It is quite an overwhelming experience to begin with. Khirkee has a tendency to over-power a visitor the moment they enter. This cultural melting pot fascinates and abhors, it is eccentric and banal, and it is unnerving and soothing at the same time. It is not just a melting pot of cultures but also of emotions. However, amongst all these ruptures, confusions, eccentricities of the space, there seems to be one common link that binds this place called Khirkee together. Looking at the peers this year it feels very similar. The six of us coming from different places, having different backgrounds, having a radically different take on issues surrounding us, have one thing in common. That of voicing opinions within the realm of the public spaces. This interest is born out of the need for exploration for alternative art spaces, which to some extent even, questions the practice of art making. We are optimists of the highest order who feel that art can and will to certain extents change the way we interact with one another, within a community and within a set of communities.
The politically and socially charged works of Johnson Kshetrimayum reflecting the situation in Manipur are in sync with Anuradha Upadhyay’s works which investigate the changing notions of the ‘feminine’ within and outside of the discourse of feminist ideology within its socio-political milieu. Smita Rajmane on the other hand negotiates the spaces of identity through the ideas of distance, disturbance and the feeling of being over powered. This directly coincides with the works of Arijit Bhattacharyya whose functional objects redefine the ‘practice’ of art. Manojit Samanta’s works are a reflection, re-interpretation and consolidation of the impact of modernity (in terms of the western idealization) on the society. He constantly jostles with the hybridization taking place within the contemporary camp culture of Kolkata.
Johnson Kshetrimayum’s practice is informed by his first hand experiences of the socio-political conditions of the common people of Manipur. He grew up hearing the heroic stories of insurgents and police and even dreamt of following their footsteps; but as time passed, he soon realized the noise and took to art. The sound of gunshots, bullets hitting the walls, dropping on roof and the insurgent passing was a common sight for him growing up. His propinquity to these situations and hurdles transfer into his art practice. His visual language borrows from graphic novel genres and from that of the pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. His graphic narration of the stories lend a sense of ‘Fictional Reality’. This is a deliberate choice, which shows the triviality with which these legal and illegal matters are dealt with by the government.
Anuradha Upadhyay’s work deals with of the duality of the human psyche. Having completed her B.V.A and M.V.A from the M.S. University in painting and graphic respectively; she works in multiple Medias and the ‘Body’ is an integral medium to her. It is through its exploration that her work begins to open up to various social, economic and political facets of the human psyche and its prevalent duality. It is here in these intermingling notions that one sees an exploration of the changing notions of ‘feminine’. She says, “Women and “others” have always been held under the umbrella of a cultural valuing system and patriarchy which I cannot ignore. The self-experiences of helplessness, pain and violence, allows me to become aware of gender differences in this country and the monotony of day to day life; layered in so many illusions by relation, perceptions, marriages, virtue, religion and the society.”
While Anuradha explores the duality of the human psyche and its multiple facets, Smita Rajmane’s work forces the viewer to recognize the hidden within them and negotiate with it. Having completed her Master’s from Shiv Nadar University, she forces the viewer to confront and explore their fragmented personalities. The work makes them explore the truth, as she likes to say “almost as clearly as stillness of water.” Her works are highly confrontational and let out a subtle scream on issues of gender, sexuality, violence, gaze, voyeurism and ecological ‘consumer ship’. She juggles with different mediums to create interactive installation pieces, which re-create the atmosphere of her personal experiences.
Manojit Samanta a pass out of the government college of art Kolkata brings in his technical proficiency of oil and his command over illustration in his works. He shrewdly takes iconic images and references from Art History as well as popular culture in the same pictorial surface. He juxtaposes the two in the most sarcastic and satirical manner by masking them in the contemporary cluttered and clustered urban dwelling spaces. His works explore ideas of psychology, sexuality, social and political issues and various related topics that are popularly debated as well as the talk of the day in public transportation at Kolkata. The daily routine train trips to office and back has exposed him to heavy junk, pressure and extremely crowded situations, which in turn has exerted tremendous influence on his composition.
Arijit Bhattacharyya’s practice was born out of a sense of disdain for painting as a practice. His work moves beyond certain hard-handed notions about art and enter into a space of urban design and development. His works are highly functional and are made for the use of communities living in tough conditions. He is a pass out of the Surat School of Fine Arts. Coming from a small city near Kolkata, he was amazed and a little distressed looking at the almost mechanical construction activities happening in the suburbs of Surat. He saw how more and more labor and technological inputs came into the context of developing and space making for urban utilization. This prompted him to approach ‘object making’ practice from a design and development point of view. One of the most interesting aspect about his work is the way in which he carries out community interactions before introducing his designs and objects to them. (At one instance, he threw a liquor party before introducing one of his objects!)
When such energetic, headstrong and opinionated people are put together in one house for a month, things are bound to get a little shaken up. Late night discussions and debates, the continuous and mutual desire to understand and evolve each other’s practices are sure signs of a result, which might be unique. Especially when everyone has similar desires but a very different approach towards it. Exploring Khirkee has surely hit the sweet spot in most of us. The studios are already witnessing the rough drafts. The media room too has become a busy spot and the lines between day and night have started blurring. What shall now take shape? Only time will tell.
Text by Satyajit Dave, critic-in-residence, Khoj PEERS 2016