Saturday, August 23, 2014

In conversation with KIPAF: Recollections and Reflections

Report by Zooni Tickoo
Creating Platforms : Experiments in Cooperation, Showcasing KIPAF [Kolkata International Performance Art Festival] from the platform of Performers Independent. Joint presentation by Rahul Bhattacharya and Anirban Dutta. 5-to-7 PM, 14 Aug, 2014, Thursday. An AnecDOTes event. 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.
Rahul Bhattacharya and Anirban Dutta at AnecDOTes 
The AnecDOTes session with Performers Independent or Pi had Rahul Bhattachrya and Anirban talking about their journey for the last two years and more. They were invited to talk about “Creating Platforms: Experiments in Cooperation”.  Performers Independent describes themselves as “independent artists' collective, experimenting and exploring the traditional, modernist and contemporary spaces in the cultural paradigm”. By their own definitions, they intend to create a space, a corner for performers who want to make art and performances with bare minimum availabilities. With this aim, Kolkata International Performance Art Festival (KIPAF) got instated as an accessible platform for artists from all genres, from local to international. In this session with AnecDOTes, Rahul and Anirban began to talk about KIPAF after donning dark tinted sunglasses inside the gallery space, in effect setting them apart as performing entities demanding attention. But this position kept itself fluid, as throughout the session they kept wearing them on and off, perhaps wanting to bring about a sense of alienation within the audience. Nevertheless, both the presenters took turns to talk and explain, completing each other whenever needed. However, gladly there were a couple of other KIPAF participants from amongst the listeners present who significantly contributed to the discussion. 
at AnecDOTes 
They began by elaborating that the intentions behind a project like KIPAF also revolved around allowing artists to indulge in their very quirky yet immediate artistic voices, to execute their preliminary plans or to shape them further. Anirban stated that with regards to Performance Art, one can simply use words like “blah blah blah” and that can in fact be the answer to it. But this did not serve much in realizing a festival or even as an event. Therefore, continues Rahul, that he noticed in Kolkata itself, there were numerous activities going on in the performance arena. It was here that Pi felt that an attempt to give “structure” to these activities was needed. Also then, Kolkata becomes an ideal location, as Rahul genuinely felt that circles of Performance Art had largely become concentrated in gallery spaces of Delhi and Mumbai. KIPAF then also meant for them to think on the lines of “de-curating” and thus they chose not to follow a structure of biennale but do more experimental executions every year with local cooperation.

at AnecDOTes 
Anirban explains further that there is no corporate funding involved in KIPAF.  They collect money from localities, or self fund the events. It may look like anarchic, he remarks, but it is not. Both maintain that they are doing things in art but with alternative means. For example, Rahul adds, the organizer may ask the participating audience to walk the whole evening to the destination space, in anticipation of a performance event, but in fact that walk itself would be the performance work. He believes that these interventions “contest the idea of contemporary”. PI as an organization maybe does not totally defend the idea of “utopia” but it explores to create other means and ways in art. This is further given shape in their Web link with vernacular writing reports in Bengali. The purpose, Rahul explains, was to “decentralize” the idea of performance art. Also they wanted to explore how documentation of the art works can follow these new trajectories, through, “sound memories” or through vernacular blogs, etc.
Anirban adds that the design and the dynamics of KIPAF is open. So, many theatrical groups come along to participate, but they rightfully gain their space in KIPAF through practice and then feedback.

At this juncture in the session, Rahul led the discussion open for former participants to include their views. He especially asked performance artist Inder Salim to express what his experience was after he participated in KIPAF 2014. Before he began , Inder thanked KIPAF or inviting him, and he recognized that two of his important works took shape only at KIPAF. But Inder on his part had several interjections to make to Rahul and Anirban. He felt as an artist some of his observation soured the overall experience for him. He pointed out that mainly during the festival there were some “obstructions” created by organizers themselves. His frank and foremost complaint was regarding some “un-professional” attitudes towards other participants and the events scheduled as he pointed out such experience. The fact that artists from far and away had come to be involved at this festival, completely on their own, was not well respected. Furthermore he noted another fellow artist’s statement regarding “Performance Art is Dead” and added that it was “absurd” to declare such statements when in fact the artist community in Indian subcontinent have not exhausted even it’s beginning.

Inder went on to add that when the aim is to give Performance Art activity a shape or a structure, thus it becomes inevitable that some definitions and guidelines be laid out in the beginning itself. Also,  he felt it becomes pertinent that Performance Art must shake or disturb the existing order by having genuine questions and serious approach. At the moment, he expressed doubts on this front regarding KIPAF but accepted that being in nascent stages the festival has immense scope for growth. 

Samudra too interjected the discussion by stating that the autonomous energy to begin with is good but there must be some goals, explicit or not, that the festival should strive to achieve.   Also he felt that the idea of the vernacular that has been stated does not seem to be fully in execution since most of the participant artists are from the mainstream.  To this, Rahul responded in agreement. He shared with the audience that brainstorming on similar lines has already taken place. Therefore, in KIPAF 15 there may be a curated section where some well-known art practitioners shall be invited. This, he confessed is a strategic necessity as the local media needs be involved in publicizing the events so as to disseminate the acts and motives of KIPAF to larger audiences and readers. Then there is an open-call for young practitioners from all around to send their proposals so as to integrate fresh works and perspectives.

The monetary angle of the festival raised several questions from Inder who lamented that KIPAF must rise above the influences of leftist trends typical in Kolkata. He clearly pointed out that “Left as a straight-jacketed strategy” does not work. Otherwise, he added, it would be a great loss to witness KIPAF follow the fate of organizations which aligns themselves towards more political rather than artistic. He suggested some examples of Sarai and SAHMAT, that in the present situation and times, one has to subvert the idea of funding agencies by using their funds while still being able to continue with similar performance motives. Both Rahul and Anirban claimed in agreement that they were in fact looking forward to local patronage and the doors for monetary assistance are of course open.

 Samudra, at this point wanted to know about the problems of performance art that PI had encountered in the previous two years. There was also an interest in knowing how KIPAF would handle explicitly subversive acts like stripping or nude performances. Rahul replied that usually they don’t work by procuring top-down permissions from local police, that is why they get local community involved. Towards the end of the discussion, some music could still be heard within the audiences as Pervez Imam, artist/film-maker wondered about the contradictions inherent in the design of the festival. He noticed that the organizers somehow aim towards guerilla performance events, and yet require funds and structure to accommodate the art and artists. Then perhaps a lot of re-thinking about several practicalities need to be done, at conception level itself. Most of the discussion then focused on KIPAF’s structural debates regarding ideology, goals and experiences. However, the works of artist participants over the past two years were not touched upon greatly. Reflecting over all the suggestions above, the session culminated with promise of an upcoming KIPAF 2015 along with improved work over propositions raised in the discussion.


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 :


  1. The situation is essentially very simple. a bunch of very strongly anti institution guys working to create an institution .We know we are cool, we know KIPAF has a lot of potential to be great...but more than anything we want kipaf to be truly discursive and open.
    Performers independent itself is a seeding organisation, and when we are putting up KIPAF, we are just exploring a model right now.
    We want to grow keeping certain basics intact. In the upcoming festival for me it very important to have better work discussion and better documentation collection/archiving. of course we would like to take care of our participating artist friends better....pamper them with lots of fish....
    KIPAF is (at one level) nothing but an invitation to everyone to come and share some days with us in kolkata, share our slow peace and do lots of performances...
    Sometimes a lot less....sometimes a lot more

  2. Some one has a complain for everything, but he himself is not open to criticism!