One of the impacts the Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB) had was it brought different aspects of contemporary art closer to the common man in Kerala. Conceptual public art through performance has a long and old history, even in Kerala, but it had receded to the background with the emergence of other visual forms. It was also limited, in Kerala, to caste and religion, thus reducing its audience base. Contemporary performance art is populist; it is completely public in space and expression and hence in response too.
Sajan Mani, an artist currently staying in Kumarakom and working in the KMB editorial has been on continual public intervention performances from July 20 for a project called Missing. Hailing from a remote village in North Kerala Sajan has explored the fields of cartooning, photography and art in cyberspace.
“Public art intervention has not been taken seriously as a form of expression here,” says Sajan who has been consciously visiting public spaces in Fort Kochi, Mattancherry and Ernakulam sticking posters and documenting reactions.
He has used a paper bag made from a collage of recent news that is hurting society at large. The Bihar mid-day meal disaster when school children lost their lives, strife-torn societies, consumerism and the like are subjects that he has drawn from. The original bag was purchased from an art café, informs Sajan adding that it is yokes together commodity and consumerism.
Sajan’s experimentation with this form has been satisfying, he says. From expressions of surprise to unsavoury comments he has heard it all but continues to spread his art and gather responses undeterred. The wriest, he says was from an old man, who wondered what had gone wrong with the new generation. “Art is reactionary work. The space that engages me communicates to me politically, economically, geographically and ecologically. I would like to translate what my space transliterates to me. My mission is to translate the feelings, concerns and sometimes the carnivalesque around me. My art is the intellectual dialogues between me and my space,” explains Sajan about his method. He has used text effectively juxtaposing bits culled from different news posts.
The other unique feature about this form of art is that it can be performed simultaneously at many places, as in this case in Chicago in collaboration with another artist and by Sajan’s friends in villages in Wayanad. The poster talks of the loss of the human identity to consumerism. He writes, “This is a reminder, a lookout notice. A groan from a consumerist-communist society…..we have lost ourselves. Somewhere, somehow.”
Sajan says he is not looking for direct answers but placing a question in a public place.
During the Biennale, Sajan worked closely with other international artists such as Clifford Charles, Amanullah Mojadidi, Ariel Hassan, Taf Hassam and Paris Viswanathan. He collaborated with Berlin-based Dorothee Albrecht, in the project The Tea Pavilion--Dictionary in Public. Issues facing the public interest him. He is troubled by the increase in the number of houseboats on the Vembanad and is working on an art eco-project to save ‘his lake’. The artist can be reached at email@example.com