When artists come together

Bengaluru artists have transcended boundaries of space, form and communities to raise people's consciousness

Over the last two months, artists have come onto the streets in opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Performances such as MD Pallavi’s and Bindhumalini Naranswamy’s rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge in Kannada Naavu Nodona (translated by Mamta Sagar) and the Italian resistance song Bella Ciao in Kannada (the lyrics of Bella Ciao were created from a collaboration between Rosy D’Souza and Sugata Srinivasaraju). Theatre practitioner and educator Nisha Abdulla has also actively participated in the protests, singing songs such as Paper Naavu Torsalla (a Kannada translation of Varun Grover’s poem, Hum Kagaz Nahi Dikhayenge). Laxmi Priya, on the other hand, has used playback theatre to evolve a protest language. Last week, Wanandaf, comprising B Fab, Agaahi Raahi, Nex, and Dead Poet, performed at a panel discussion, organised by the Network of Women in Media, India at Institution of Agricultural Technologists, where B Fab rapped in Telugu and Dead Poet in English. Wanandaf shot to fame with their electric performance at the Burqa Bindi protest, held in honour of educators and social reformers Savitribhai Phule and Fatima Sheikh. “We are a hip-hop collective, we started in June 2019 to get the artists united, to give an identity for Bengaluru rappers,” says B Fab. “Rappers come together and rap about political issues,” Nex adds.

When artists come together

Artists have always responded to the times. Pallavi agrees and says: “Art has always pushed boundaries and raised uncomfortable questions.” She does not agree, though, that artists are the only ones playing a central role in the protests. “There are thousands of people who have come out on the streets. Artists comprise few of those thousands. We register our protest by doing what we can do in terms of art, and yes our voices do get amplified, but artists are not leading the movement, we are inspired by it.”

When artists come together

Naavu Nodona was sung by Pallavi and Bindhumalini at the Burqa Bindi protest. “Mamta told me that she has translated the song and asked if I could sing it, and I said yes. It conveys what the protesters on the streets today want to convey. When it was sung in Kannada it touched a chord with the people. After that it has been translated into many languages, and our regional languages are powerful to drive the point home.”

Nisha says: “When I decided to start my theatre group Qabila in 2018, I asked myself why I am in theatre and what I want to do with my group. What the protests have changed is that it has brought many more people into my circle. Earlier I had my own theatre circle, now I am able to engage with and access different kinds of artists and art works.”

Speaking of the importance of protest art, Nisha says: “We have reached a place where we can’t trust social media, we can’t always trust the media. So what can we trust? We can trust our own body and art. I don’t try to convert people who ask, ‘why are you protesting?’ I tell them to come and see what we do.”

How do artists transcend boundaries of community and language? Nisha says they are conscious that language should not divide. “And that is why we use Kannada, Tamil, English and Hindi. All these languages are representative of Bangalore and we should honour the city’s diversity.” She adds: “It is easier to come together on social media, so the question is how can we replicate that solidarity on the ground?.. It is through art. We are singing Hum Dekhenge in a language we know, we are all however singing the same tune, and that is how we can plug into the same solidarity. Poetry allows us to tap into that shared solidarity.”

But what has she to say to the argument that politics shouldn’t be brought into the artistic space? “What is art if it is not political? How can you create art without understanding the body you are in, the context you come from, your social relationships? How can one say then that they will not engage?”

She says protest art has transformed her as an artist. “I am now very comfortable with imperfect art. For example, I am doing a production on differences in the classroom, which I am taking to different spaces. I am taking it to government and private schools . Those spaces might not have all the elements required for a production. But my art can serve a larger purpose. The protest movement has made me acknowledge that if I want to create art that enables people to grapple with differences and not deny it, and provoke people into thinking and questioning, then I have to go to the people and deal with imperfect art.”

Laxmi says: “Art enables collective healing. This is required because we consume breaking news on loop, so there is a need to process what is happening around us. Playback allows for personal stories to be shared. You get to hear your own and others’ point of views.”

For Akash Narendran, a freelance playback theatre artist and musician, protest art is opening up a plethora of perspectives. He is engaged with a playback performance around stories of resistance by Bangalore Playback Ensemble. “As some of us were participating in the protests, we wondered why we weren’t doing playback, because for us it is our first go to in performance arts. We also felt there was a lack of sharing even within the community of protesters, of our perspectives so that was also an impetus.”

Bangalore Playback Ensemble have conducted three shows of An Ode to Resistance. “Even people who come to listen have felt a sense of connection. Sometimes there is a sense of catharsis. Sometimes it is hopeless and sometimes hopeful but in the shared feeling there is a lot of resonance, and that is always powerful.”

However what about those who are hesitant to vocal yet want to register their protest? Playwright and theatre director Kavya Srinivasan has kept them in mind. She organises a monthly event called Putting the Rest in Resistance, which uses different art forms, the recent one was community singing. “When we talk about resistance there is an analogy of war, of putting yourself out there and protesting. But what about war nurses? Resistance burn out is real. What about those who cannot go out and protest? I am wary of the argument: ‘why didn’t you show up?’ Not everyone can, due to mental health, or work, or family responsibilities, or disability. So Putting the Rest in Resistance is for people to just come together and be with people who feel the same rest, to heal.”

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 9:40:08 PM |

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