‘I am not an activist'

New York-based multimedia artist Kiran Chandra's works reflect her concerns and views. Her recent debut solo show titled “This Place, That Place, Displacement” brought pertinent issues to the fore. In a conversation with Meenakshi Kumar.

Updated - February 11, 2012 05:00 pm IST

Published - February 11, 2012 04:59 pm IST

ARTISTIC: Kiran Chandra's "State of Bengal".

ARTISTIC: Kiran Chandra's "State of Bengal".

L and use, displacement, farmer suicide, power struggle are some of the issues that your artwork revolves around. What makes you bring these issues to the canvas?

I have always been interested in power structures and systems. It's something that affects us all. Here we talk of a booming Indian economy but at the same time there are farmer suicides, struggle over land and other problems. We cannot be dissociated from reality. As an artist I feel that I have to express my thoughts. That's my way of responding to the situation around me. In an earlier exhibition I have taken up the theme of Singur and the issue of urban land use in West Bengal.

What was the inspiration behind your latest work, “This Place, That Place, Displacement”?

In 2010 I travelled to Chhattisgarh. I was curious about Maoist uprising and wanted to know more about it. So I went there, met with people who could tell me more. I went to the interiors and collected a lot of information. I saw many daily wage labourers who were working on fields. I was told that they had sold their land to the government but the money they received was insufficient to keep their homes running. So they ended up working for other people. It was really a sad situation. When I returned, I felt it was my responsibility to do something about this. How do you take out your sense of indignation, helplessness? So I started working out ways to express my feelings.

You have used different mediums to convey your message.

Yes. I have used the audio files as graphs printed on cloth which shrouds the entire gallery. At the same time the rise and fall of graphs in green will remind of the paddy fields which no longer belong to the farmers. Then there is a video of man being tied a white turban, a matter of pride for an Indian man, but soon that cloth becomes his shroud, his death. Then I have recreated a small field with crop growing. Besides there is a charcoal drawing and sculpture to further convey my message of disconnect between urban and rural India.

Would you call yourself an artist activist?

I am just an artist. I am not an activist. If I was, I would express myself differently. It's just that my work has a political resonance. I try to raise questions and hope that many others will also think and question after seeing my works. And maybe then, some meaningful change will take place.

You also exhibited for the first time at the India Art Summit this year. What is “State of Bengal”, your exhibition at the Summit, about?

It is about what change means and how, even though governments have changed, systems have remained the same. The British used the “divide and rule” policy and the same is being used today by our politicians. Once again, I have used various mediums. The grand Victoria Memorial, I believe, is a marble tomb to the dead aspirations —built for Queen Victoria who never came. In the same way, Bengal's glory is fading away in the din of loud noises. The red-earth Bankura horses have been dyed in Wedgwood Blue to depict how the idyllic and rural don't go together in Bengal anymore. The doilies, very English, have Divide and Rule woven into the fabric. Bengal was divided and ruled first in 1905 and even today continues to be fragmented — between those who have and who don't; those who run it and those who try to survive.

What role does art have in engaging discourse?

It helps in shifting images, influencing thoughts but all this depends on people. How far are they willing to be influenced? Art has a role but it depends on who's using it and who's not. It's funny because art holds a fictitious space like literature.

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