Wednesday, August 13, 2014

AnecDOTes III: About perforations in the Performance Art of Inder Salim

Report by Zooni Tickoo
"Performance art is like Parasite!", Inder Salim with Anecdotes, 6-to-7 PM, 6th Aug, 2014, Wednesday. An AnecDOTes event. No one is invited. 5-to-7 PM, 13 Aug, 2014, Wednesday. AnecDOTes is a series of events as an extension of the project "Understanding Performance as Art and Beyond: Multiple Gaze" initiated by Samudra Kajal Saikia. At Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi.
Inder Salim at AnecDOTes
After an insightful session with Amitesh Grover and his high-tech media savvy conceptual performance works on day 2, the following day at AnecDOTes saw rather intimately discursive evening with Performance Artist Inder Salim. As Samudra himself pointed out that the motive of AnecDOTes is not just to locate issues pertaining documentation of Performance Art, but also to assess how the physicality of the performing body can become a major grounding factor. Inder is a Kashmiri artist based in delhi and has been practicing art and performance for the last 20 or more years. Like many Kashmiri Pandits, Inder had to shun the turmoil ridden Valley in the ill-fated years of 1988-90 to seek a life outside, in Delhi. Although, he was never trained in Fine Arts, Inder began his career with painting exhibitions in mid 1990s but soon realized that being medium bound will not answer his artistic quests. Thus, Performance became an expression that not only strengthened his metaphors but still remains the way he leaves a radical impact on issues pertaining politics to the personal, and many things in between. Performance Art is then perhaps how he negotiates between being Inder Tikku, a typical Kashmiri hindu name and then choosing to be Inder Salim.

Inder Salim at AnecDOTes
The session begins with Inder showing a clip from his very recent performance that took place at SAHMAT in solidarity with the victims of Gaza genocide. It involved smashing down numerous water-melons on a busy footpath after which the onlookers could find olives inside the fruit wrapped with lines of poetry by Mahmood Darwish.  He elaborates that the sensory understanding of violence must penetrate in art, which gets highlighted specifically in this performance.
Inder Salim's performance with Mahmood Darwish's poetry
Next, he projected clips from Hakeekat e Kashmir, a performance which was in opposition of State sponsored Ehsaas-e-Kashmir that featured Zubin Mehta and his team of classical philharmonic.  He explains that his performance was about how the highly refined, classical music is played and promoted by the state whereas the haqeekat, or the truth is through mere sound. “Sound is rhythm”, he says. In the performance, he dons a folk performer’s (bhaand’s) perforated garment, and he recalls that was criticized for asking the Kashmiri audience to begin thinking about the sound “aa” first instead of “Aazaadi”. This was unsettling to many, Inder maintains, because it is his constant struggle to question even the objectivist understanding of Freedom, thereby, making it tricky to categorize his art and politics. To this, he eventually observes that even while he does abstracts , the viewers are nevertheless able to connect to some strands of his projected thought. 

Taking from similar experiences from political protests, there seems to have been a deep influence of stone pelters from the kashmir unrest making news for more that two decades now. He talks about performance he does against the capital punishment for Afzal Guru. He prints down the SC verdict as large " to satisfy the collective conscious ". The audience was then given a scrap of paper that was crumpled as a small pebble and pelted towards the upheld verdict. He talks how at Mina there is stonning of devil and how the largely Kashmiri audience was able to relate to the act. he basically compares the archetectural space of Mina and the auditorium space and draws it back to his previous I PROTEST performance dating back to 2010. It was not only this religious act that became the reference he drew this intervention on, but he also makes mention of being influenced by Allama Iqbal's 'Shaqwa, and Jawaab-e-Shaqwa', narrating how misfortunate the Muslim community has been in world order and justice.

He returns to his methods, noting down that performance art has to draw from the material already available in the space of performance. There he also talks of a certain confidence that the artist must have. The I PROTEST tree poster, for example, is a clear indiator of how an artist looks for his expression even when not actively joining the stone pelting processions. He emphasises how it is necessary to expand the idea of protest, with respect to his art. Subsequently, he roughly talks of THE BLACK SNOW performance in Kashmir where he asks a barber to give him a hair-cut while the chopped hair fell on mountains painted with thick white acrylic on a white board. The final image formed was that of black snow over mountains.

On similar lines, Inder made mention of several of his political performances that involved directly subverting the metaphors to highlight discomfort with State apparatuses. Some more of these works involved one about unfurling of his own black garment on 26th January on a busy road in Mumbai, and another about the murder case of Ishrat Jahan performed with vegetables at Art Konsult in Delhi. The involvement of the physical body into the political critique is a huge component of his work, and gets highlighted in other performances like "India Blood Is On Your Hands", also first performed in Mumbai.

It was only after showing several such works that Inder began to delve deeper about the topic of the session : Performance Art is like a Parasite. He projects an image which he called 'The seat of Heart and Brain', which shows the brain under the bottom and the heart on the back. He narrates how the cusions were used by another artist, Hanna in Last Minute Excercise, ( at the Insert Exhibit) and how they have been re used in the image by Inder. In similar context, he talks of his latest The proposal of FOUNTAIN for the Kochi Muzhiris Binealle. How the common looking proposal, black text on white background itself becomes the object of art, occilating  between rejection and acceptance by the larger art community and patrons. He explains then that the term parasite corborates his work so as to peal layers of understanding in the art community. His maintains that his work hinges on introducing discomfort along with subjective quirkiness, thus, defying the pure or the acceptable.

Jeebesh Bagchi and Maya K√≥vskaya at AnecDOTes
With the end of the presentation by Inder, it was Jeebesh Bagchi of Raqs Media Collective who pointed out some of the most interesting and relevant questions in terms of Inder’s growth as an artist. First of all he pointed out that instead of the term “parasite”, a better term perhaps to use would be ‘epiphyte’, technically understood as a plant which grows by feeding itself from the atmosphere or the debris around it in the environment, and not from the host tree/organism. He prodded Inder to look at Performance art with similar understanding, not as destructive or parasitic at all times. He maintained that Inder’s art has been able to create a lot of it’s own as a repertoire and which cannot be limited to looking at it as an art parasite. Inder, on his part welcomed and recognized this suggestion.

Another issue regarding the larger presence of Kashmir politics was raised. Jeebesh called it “Kashmirification” of Inder’s performance. He observed that over the last 15 years or so,
there has emerged a lot of politically charged dissent in his performance language, stemming from his sensibilities rooted in Kashmir turmoil. He added that his art is now becoming easily decipherable and predictable to some extent, whereas in his earlier performances, there was some elements of evasive-ness that seemed hard to “chew” on. Jeebesh wondered aloud why Inder does no longer utilize “weird” turns that unsettle the comfort of the on-lookers. As an artist then, Jeebesh explains, becoming effortlessly predictable can lead to being bracketed in labels and categories such as “protest performance”, “political art” and can actually halt the growth. He also expresses a fear that it would be a great loss if Performance Art met the same fate as that of Street Theatre. This did not seem to find much resonance with another audience member, Maya Kovskaya, an art critic, who took the debate to a larger level to understand why the artist community is obsessed with producing more weird and “unreadable” work instead of generating functional dissent. She noted that there not only obsession but also certain extent of “valorization” of the un-readable, which she finds problematic and limiting. She also wanted Inder to talk a little more on what drives his work.

These interjections brought him to confess that the choice of works to be shown for the session has been a little faulty as it mostly consists recent political performances only, and that could have been avoided easily. Nevertheless, Inder willingly agreed to these questions being significant observations and a valuable constructive input. But he added in his reply that the idea and the politics of Kashmir at the hands of oppressive state mechanism has largely been absent in the interventions by the larger art community. The voices he incorporates in his performances are relevant, to say the least. Here he again re-emphasized his opinion that the current need of the hour in art making has to be cross-penetration of political voices and artistic metaphors. Another audience member added that perhaps one need not be afraid of the death of Performance art even if it means meeting similar fate as of Street Theatre, as it needs to decay and re-generate from time to time. To this both Jeebesh and Inder answered in partial agreement. They both agreed that Performance Art needs to rise beyond such insecurities while still upholding the ingredient of innovative and impactful critique along with resisting categorization. Jeebesh further added that the readability of a performance work must not become frivolous if that is not the intent, and should try be wide rather than narrowing down to being branded as “trouble maker” only.

Moving on, and finally, Bhooma Padmanabhan noticed that Performance Art, the way Inder understands is mostly in varied unconventional spaces and with a relatively younger audience. Then, is there a difference in Presentations of performance and the performance actually and where does documentation become an important aspect, if at all. Inder seemed rather contemplative of these questions and said that all of these ideas are still being processed. But he believes in the way he practices performance, a video, or an image is not mere documentation of the actual performance. They tend to acquire their separate lives and entities as works. Yet he maintains that every time a performance is repeated, it garners a different set of meanings with different audiences, space, and materiality. 


Neha (Zooni) Tickoo did Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and also in Kathak from Khairaghar University, Chattisghar. She also completed Diploma from Kathak Kendra – National Institute of Kathak Dance, autonomous body of Sangeet Natak Academy, Delhi, under the esteemed guidance of: GURU SHRI KRISHAN MOHAN MAHARAJ, of Lucknow Gharana. Presently she is pursuing Masters of Arts in Performance Studies from the Department of Culture and Creative Expression (SCCE) , Ambedkar University, Delhi.

She has a varied range of working experience from journalism to participating in international workshops to working as the editor-in chief in magazines. She presented Kathak and Experimental performances around Delhi and outside. Email :

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