The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 | ‘The Body Politic’, and a tribute to Gauri Lankesh

In her work, which references archival material and popular culture, photo, video, and light performance artist Pushpamala explores the ubiquitous symbol of Mother India

Published - January 27, 2024 08:46 pm IST

‘The Body Politic’ Pushpamala N, at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday.

‘The Body Politic’ Pushpamala N, at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday. | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

In ‘The Body Politic’, Pushpamala N., a sculptor-turned-photo, video, and light performance artist, displayed her satirical work at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, which addresses the idea of the nation, particularly the woman’s place in the nation.

The term body politic is a pun, she said, referring to both society as a political body as well as her own physical body, which she uses in her work. “The woman is often objectified in art. Performing and being the subject is to be both object and subject and it makes me central to the argument and narrative,” she explained.

In her work, which references archival material and popular culture, Ms. Pushpamala explores the ubiquitous symbol of Mother India. This image, which first originated in the 19th century during the nationalist movement, has gone through several iterations since.

Read our live updates of The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, Day 2

The photographs show Ms. Pushpamala posing in popular photo settings as Mother India. She mostly wears red or white. In one image, she strikes a pose with a paper mache lion in an elaborate, brightly coloured set. In another, martyrs offer their heads to her. In yet another, she knits red wool, much like how the liberty cap symbolised freedom during the French revolution, while a Kannada poet, Mamta Sagar, leads her in to bless people. “I bring these various images into the public gaze so that they become subjects of debate,” she said.

The various iterations of Mother India include the painting ‘Kichaka Sairandhri’ by Ravi Verma, which is seen as a metaphor for colonialism; Kali, a Calcutta art studio calendar image, and ‘Bharat Mata’, a watercolour by Abanindranath Tagore. In a painstaking performance, she dresses up as Atul Dodiya’s ‘Woman with Chakki’, where Mother India serves as the metaphor for rural women and the purity of labour.

Ms. Pushpamala paid tribute to her friend, journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was assassinated in 2017, through her work ‘Gauri Lankesh’s Urgent Saaru’. The intention, she said, was to show people the humane side of Lankesh, who is widely known only for her activism. “She was great fun, had a sense of humour, loved partying, and had a lot of friends. I wanted to normalise her and do an act of remembrance,” she said. As Lankesh enjoyed cooking, Ms. Pushpamala dressed up as Mother India and proceeded to enact a cooking performance. The saaru was distributed to the audience as an act of remembrance.

The final video in the presentation showed Ms. Pushpamala as Mother India holding a plastic brain. In it, she slowly removes each part, washes it, cleans it, and places it back carefully. The title of the series of videos? “Good habits,” she said.

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