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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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Shiv calls himself an art practitioner and not an artist. To him, the distinction is that artists produce work for galleries and cultivate a particular manner, whereas art practitioners keep evolving. He recounts that he used to do 500-plus drawings daily to prepare for art school entrance exams, which demanded a very traditional array of technical ability and thinking. But he ultimately chose to go to MSU Baroda because that was the one exam that he felt was interested in cultivating how he thought instead.

When we visited filmmaker Amar Kanwar’s studio, he told us that “everyone is interested in transition”. But often, this focus is about prioritising constant change as proof of a kind of evergreen marketability or production. I think navigating this gaping maw of insatiable consumption requires a bone-deep understanding of oneself almost from an external viewpoint. To think about art as something you do rather than something you are is your mandate to the world around you. This reflects in the precision with which he approaches his work, planning and paying attention. The archival work Shiv started to put together during the residency has the most comprehensive scope and public-facing look out of all the pieces being worked on. Still, it’s also arguably one of the most intensely personal.

It’s been something to watch it all come to life, the delicately painted watercolour images and the flickering lights illuminating the screens of the second-hand tabs and phones he fixes them onto. He recollects news clips, memes, and conversations with his family into his paintings pasted on second-hand screens to depict luminous but flickering portals and ensure that his work, his memories, won’t be forgotten – or will be remembered. They are a physical manifestation of his memory, a drive of what he’s thinking about and the images going through his head at this point in his life.

The subject matter he’s addressing has less to do with Delhi and more with the freedom that Delhi can offer him than Baroda’s political atmosphere. But freedom is a double-edged sword. Shiv’s work is thoroughly occupied with whether it will be translatable to his family back home in Bihar. He wants his work to be understandable to them, which is different from the desire to be understood by one’s family because he has made that internal severance between himself and his work. It’s more than the draws of nostalgia that power his artistic thinking; instead, it is the discipline to retain a common language, to layer his newer experiences and approaches with old ones. Even as he tries to unlearn the rigidity with which he prepared for his entrance exam, his work remains an ode to practice.