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Looking for Navin

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI
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ART Thai artist Navin Rawanchaikul says he has travelled a long distance to be comfortable with hisIndian roots

From somebody who didn’t want to be called Indian, to a point where he has become comfortable with his Indian roots. That’s how Thai artist Navin Rawanchaikul’s journey has been. It’s the issue of identity that is at the centre of Navin’s life. His mother was born in Gujranwala in undivided Punjab. His parents moved to Thailand during Partition. Navin got married to a Japanese lady and is based in Japan with his wife and daughter.

“I grew up in Thailand in a mix of Indian and Thai cultures, but I wasn’t interested in India. India was like a dark side when you live outside and are not a local. I grew up questioning why I look so different from the local Thai people. It became an issue for me while practicing art because I was always asking ‘who am I?’ while growing up,” says Navin, who was invited as a speaker at India Art Fair’s speaker’s forum to speak on ‘Beyond the Museum- Art Contexts in Asia’ along with Jeebesh Bagchi, Member, RAQS Media Collective and Rasmus Nielsen of Copenhagen, who moderated the talk.

Art, he says, actually became a starting point of looking at my family history. “My parents never talked about Partition with me. But while practicing art, when I checked my family history, I found out that my mom isn’t even an Indian because Gujranwala is in Pakistan…I consider myself having Indian roots, but outside of India,” he says, adding that he is critical of boundaries. “I don’t want to be anyone. I can be just Navin and Navin can be anywhere in the world.”

And Navin’s ongoing project ‘Navin Party’, a prime one that he has been working on for some years now, is all about Navins of the world. Negating the idea of national boundaries, he connects with Navins all over the world through Internet. Today there are thousands of Navins in his database. Nabin of Korea, Nabeen of Pakistan, Mcnevin in England… are all his friends today. “In North and South Korea each I found Nabin and I did one interesting intervention. From South Korea I launched propaganda balloons for Nabin in North Korea carrying messages for him.”

In US he found that one Navin, a Jazz musician who died during the hurricane Katrina, didn’t have a funeral which Navin organised. “There was music and my paintings went out in the street for his funeral.” He feels globalisation made artists insular but before that every artist was a multi-faceted person. “ I have a production company. I make films, bring out comics and, work with local communities in Thailand. My art is connected in the social context… an artist, for me, wears many hats. Like temples were in Thailand in the earlier times. They used to the centres of education, law, administration… everything.”

Another project within Navin Party is “Navins of Bollywood”, which is a 10-minute short musical film, which is about an artist’s search for connection and community in an increasingly fragmented world. The film was a funny Bollywood musical starring Navin Rawanchaikul as himself. Once for a show in Beijing, he announced a fake “9th Congress of the Navin Party,” creating woodblock prints modelled on Chinese propaganda posters issued during the Cultural Revolution. He distributed copies of a small, red-covered book called “Quotations from Comrade Navin” which featured Mao-inspired proclamations. And the artist ended up being arrested and was let off only after they felt convinced by the curator’s explanation.

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

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