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வேர்விடும் நகங்கள் / The Rooting Nails

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Those nails that break, split, get covered in toil’s dirt, bear scars and eventually shred, regrow as new lives, spreading their roots to emerge as a luscious, mighty tree.

Iyothee Thass’ definition of the Dalit identity in 1907, in ‘Oru Paisa Tamilan’, was in direct conflict to how the Adi Dravidar Dalit identity had been historically framed by the upper caste, colonial, imperial gaze / narrative in India. Dalits have pioneered the anti-caste movement in Tamil Nadu ever since.

Over the years, Dalit writers in Tamil Nadu have found ways to narrate their authentic and dignified stories in distinct dialects through poetry and prose. Our lives have always been entwined with art. We turned to the beats of the Parai to keep time and to hold space for one another, making our presence—a sign of resilience.

Photography as an art form was introduced to Chennai in 1857 by The Photographic Society of Madras( PSM), which was founded by Dr. Alexander Hunter—the driving force behind what eventually became the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai. The college has since held a vast number of Dalit students.

Among them was artist Chandru, who went on to spearhead the college in its later years and led a remarkable Dalit Art Movement in Tamil Nadu.

Drawn to Chandru’s work which transcended the boundaries of representation, I found my artistic voice within this movement which has nurtured creative practices across the fields of literature, cinema, music and more recently, photography.

Two decades ago, there was no sign of photography within the Dalit community —very few had access to it as it was an expensive medium but now the digital age has democratized access to the medium considerably. First generation photographers from the community are evolving as self-made artists in recent times. Dalit photographers are now using photography to unfold their politics and question the status quo. Artists across various generations are presenting themselves through their lens.

This exhibition follows the legacy of artist Chandru, and features work by emerging artists from the Dalit community in Tamil Nadu. Kritika Sriram examines her relationship with her mother through resonances in Bama’s Karuku. Arun Vijay Madhavan takes us through a day in the life of a mortuary worker. Palani’s work carry the images of the working class people’s footwear. Saran Raj’s sculptural piece depicts the entanglements of honor killings in the state. Osheen imagines new worlds of decolonized dreamscapes, futuristic oasis with mutants and monsters and narratives of queer and feminine power.

Participating Artists

  • Arun Vijay Madhavan
  • Chandru Gurusamy
  • Kritika Sriram
  • Osheen Siva
  • Palani Kumar
  • Saran Raj

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