Every artist is an activist: Anil Dayanand

Anil Dayanand with students of College of Fine Arts

Anil Dayanand with students of College of Fine Arts   | Photo Credit: Sanath Sugathan

The artist on using his body as a medium for artistic expressions

Anil Dayanand’s body of work revolves around his body. This artist does not depend on brush, canvas or paint to express himself. His tryst with performance art began during his stay in one of the chaotic and labyrinthine streets of Laxmi Nagar in Delhi.

One of the pioneers of performance art in India, he says, “I was infatuated by the people, animals, buildings, the lives and sheer chaos of those streets in Laxmi Nagar. And the myriad emotions that stirred in me while negotiating those labyrinthine gullies inspired me to express them artistically.”

The idea was not clear, but he started off by sourcing almost 500 kg of newspaper negatives and positives from Observer. Since he was sure that no art gallery in Delhi would entertain an installation idea, he decided to turn his home into a gallery. Dayanand used the negatives and positives plus glass and mirror pieces he sourced from a nearby market to create a passage-like structure that snaked through his home. The final piece would create an image of people lying in a coffin, and it was recorded on a video camera and shown live on a TV outside. He called it ‘Byway’.

It was after finishing this that Dayanand had the idea to do a performance art piece. He invited a few friends to the showcase. As they navigated through the passageway, they were startled to see a nude Dayanand holding a bunch of flowers. He then asked them to look at the TV, which showed them a visual that created the illusion that he was lying in a coffin.

A new form of art

“I had heard and read about performance art and thought that this was the perfect opportunity to try it out. This was my way of representing life as I saw in Laxmi Nagar. But I had to explain the concept to my friends as performance art was completely new to them.”

Dayanand continued experimenting and pushing the envelope with performance art. During the 20-plus years of life as a multi-platform artiste, Dayanand has received accolades and encountered scary moments too. He takes pleasure in the reactions of people when they witness his performance.

While his piece named ‘Ningalenne Communistakki’ (You Made Me a Communist) performed during the 20th CPI(M) Party Congress in Kozhikode won him accolades, the act during Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement in Delhi turned dirty, literally and figuratively. “I was intrigued with the people gathered at Anna’s agitation. ‘How many of these people are really not corrupt?’ I thought. This gave me an idea that later turned into a metaphor for today’s times.”

Dayanand dressed down to his underwear and carried a bucket with clay. The notice on the bucket said “Those who are not corrupt can throw muck at me’. Initially people were reluctant. Later a guy came up, declared that he was incorruptible and poured a cup on his head. This suddenly emboldened many others and a mob was quickly formed who doused me with the muck. “It revealed the mob culture that is common in India now,” he says.

He was in the city to speak to students pursuing various streams of art at the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram. His words were succinct, and it felt like his gestures spoke more. The students sat in rapt attention, but their expression also made it evident that they needed more time to comprehend the concept of performance art.

But he was unperturbed. “Performance art is still in its nascent stage in India. Through this session, I am trying to wake these young minds to a potent medium – their own bodies.”

Dayanand was back in his alma mater as part of the college’s Visiting Artist programme. The artist who studied BFA in Sculpture from the ace institute during 1986-1990, left for Delhi to pursue his post-graduation at the Delhi School of Arts. The nation’s capital was his home for over 24 years, before he moved to Kochi, where he lives with his wife, Jo Simons.

Learning period

During his early years in Delhi, Dayanand worked as editorial illustrator in various newspapers. He counts those days as his period of schooling in understanding the social and political underpinnings of the country.

Jo Simons with a student of College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram

Jo Simons with a student of College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: Sanath Sugathan

“I was lucky to have been mentored by the likes of the late TVR Shenoy. The experience in the newspaper industry certainly influenced my life as an artist,” Dayanand says. His performance art piece ‘Love Hold’, which was showcased in the capital city in 2013 questioned the sexual mores of Kerala’s society.

As a performance artist, Dayanand is always in the search for new ways to critique the socio-political scenarios in the country. “I am exposing myself literally and figuratively to hold a mirror to the society. Every artist is an activist. I am a sculptor, but performance art is the form that gives voice to my activism,” he concludes before returning to the students.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 11:44:57 AM |

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