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Don’t wash your hands off it

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI
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ART Enamoured of the dynamism of washrooms, artist-poet Ankur Betageri is busy beautifying some of them at New Delhi’s Rabindra Bhawan

In societies that are climbing the ladder of consumerism and capitalism, people like Ankur Betageri are visible from afar. They are the distinct voices of critique that also goad you to look within — though for some, he could be easily slotted as a cynic.

As for formal introduction, Ankur Betageri is a poet-artist and activist, who works with the Sahitya Kala Akademi as an Assistant Editor.

Anti-capitalist and anti-establishment, he rebels with the powerful mediums of art and poetry. Hulchul, a public arts initiative he floated earlier this year, is a platform for engaging with the society and its several issues.

For somebody like him, the whole city is a canvas and literally so, but as of now, he is focussing on the environs of his office, in particular the washrooms of Rabindra Bhawan, where Sahitya Kala Akademi is housed, in the Mandi House area of New Delhi. An assortment of high art and street art, the imagery galore in the 10 washrooms of the building comprise figures and motifs taken out of popular works of the famous street artist-cum-filmmaker Banksy. These rub shoulders with the images of Sigmund Freud, Julian Assange, Satyajit Ray, French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Baudelaire on the walls of what Ankur describes as “communal spaces”.

“If you ignore these spaces, it is a reflection of your real culture. Washrooms are very dynamic spaces. Anybody who would visit this building, this is one space, he/she is quite likely to go. Staffers also can’t avoid it,” says Ankur. He’s has also put his images in the canteen and parking lot of Rabindra Bhawan.

Ankur feels his action also lends a sense of empowerment and liberation to those who work there. “Most of the peons and sweepers here share a good rapport with me. They tell me their work is not respected.” The attendant who comes to wash his cups was surprised to see that ‘his’ space is being cared for, says Ankur, adding, “Also when you add an unfamiliar thing to a space you are familiar with, it gives you a sense of liberation.”

Unravelling the layers of his work, Ankur says like every human being has an unconscious, buildings too have conscious and unconscious spaces. “These spaces are the unconscious of a building, they are uncontrollable. So, for me toilets are apparatus.”

Talking of the challenges the project posed on account of its location — a state-owned building and a highly bureaucratised setting — the poet and artist reveals that officially he has met with a stunned silence. “There has been no official communication, but indirectly I have got feelers. I have been told that it will lead to union-baazi …people belonging to different unions will also write things there. Especially when I was going inside the women’s washroom to paste these, I was told by my colleagues ‘you will get a memo now’. After all, creating spaces for expression is a political thing to do. Then the imagery of animals — giraffes, cats, dolphins, dogs — has a different connotation. Animal behaviour is unpredictable so a lot can be read into it.”

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

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