Contemporary artists look at manifestos in ways quirky, complex and layered.
Reduce price rise. More safety for women. Build more old age homes. For so many of us, these promises made during elections and released in printed form is what has come to define a manifesto. But history is replete with manifestos of various kinds which were made at the brink of war, at the onset of radical social, political and art movements or at the behest of individuals seeking a collective voice. Perhaps for all those, “We are Ours: A Collection of Manifestos for The Instant” could stretch the definition to take it beyond election manifestos. This is an exhibition curated by Himani Singh Soin, where 27 contemporary Indian artists present 27 contemporary manifestos at Khoj Studios.
Artists like Aakash Nihalani, Abhishek Hazra, Aditya Pande, Aradhana Seth, Bharti Kher, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Hema Upadhyay, Hetain Patel, Jitish Kallat, Kiran Subbaiah, Mithu Sen, Neha Choksi, Nikhil Chopra, Pors & Rao, Prajakta Potnis, Praneet Soi, Prayas Abhinav, Ranbir Kaleka, Rajorshi Ghosh, Raqs Media Collective, Sahej Rahal, Shilpa Gupta, Shreyas Karle, Surabhi Saraf, Vishal Dar, Yamini Nayar and Zuleikha Chaudhari, whose artistic practices differ vastly from each other come together to work on an A4 size sheet of paper, in function or in idea. Using objects and text but within the parameters of A4, the artists engage with the idea of manifesto — a symbol of collective voice — referencing art history.
A peek at three out of the 27:
A red book which has been hollowed out from the centre, looking like a frame.
“Like a philosopher who said that you need to be confronted with a moment of urgency / be in an accident to make a choice. A manifesto is a result of that urgency when a certain group of people comes together and lists common goals and objectives and principles for themselves. A manifesto is also very time-based. For instance something like the famous Dada urinal which was seen as something so critical got incorporated into the system later. And today it is in a museum. So, here is an old book, a seemingly ordinary book where the content is intentionally ambiguous. It may or may not be a book of manifestos, or perhaps it is, since the show title speaks of manifestos? The text has been carved out of it, possibly an act of violence or careful concealment of the content itself.”
On an election manifesto
They are so similar and haven’t changed over the years. Lacking in any distinct identity, they fail to stimulate the mind.
Perpetual Palimpsest, 3 wax tablets, 2 copper and lead plates, 1 lead book
I am dealing with the idea of erasing and re-writing. On a palimpsest, text was inscribed and then scraped or washed off to be used again. The wax would be melted again. One erasure after another. I don’t make any declaration in this manifesto.
I borrow texts in French, Hindi, Urdu and English from various sources of literature like Dostoevsky and others and incorporate it in the manifesto. My manifesto deals with memories which have continually been erased to rewrite new ones.
On an election manifesto
Are they even relevant today? They are similar, without any new ideas. And they actually can’t because they are bound by limitations of economics, emotions etc…But we are still waiting for a brilliant idea that will bring in a revolution.
‘Itinerary’ — text on paper and performance
A manifesto is almost a route map about where we are headed. I look at the contours of people who come together, raising questions like if a manifesto allows us to take stock of where we are. The text comprises words from mythology, history, pop culture, politics. They are disjointed like a collage. They lose their literal meaning when put together but come to portray the bigger picture. These words would be projected onto the screen as well.
(The exhibition is on at Khoj Studios, Khirkee Extension till December 17, 2013 from where it will travel to Clark House Initiative in Mumbai till January 11, 2014.)