The Personal is Political
At the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale, artist Anita Dube positioned a ladder beneath a hole in the ceiling. It led to an attic containing a sphere, a long red rope and various geometric forms. Climbing up the ladder into the installation, the viewer was suspended in time and space, halfway into an “attic” that was both a place of the abandoned and the fairytale.
For Dube, the work was, like all her art, both personal and political. The ladder made the hidden attic of children’s memories accessible to everyone—creating an egalitarian dream space where viewers confronted both the science of Euclidian forms and the mysteries of the imagination. Selected last month to curate the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris
LAST YEAR, HER INSTALLATION, ‘STONE MOUNTAIN’, WAS FREIGHTED WITH ASSOCIATIONS WITH KASHMIR’S STONE PELTERS
Biennale in 2018, Dube will likely steer the prestigious artist-led exhibition in a similar direction.
A former member of the Radical Painters’ (and Sculptors’) Association—where she began as an art historian and critic—Dube’s work has always been politically conscious. Last year, for instance, her installation,
Stone Mountain, featured 365 stones wrapped in velvet and piled onto glass shelves to form the shape of a mountain. It was freighted with associations with Kashmir’s stone pelters and the struggle for azaadi. It had everything to do with the bloodiness of the times, she says.
“I am respecting the stone, and the right to defend yourself. We know the feeling of being trapped. These are my concerns,” says Dube. Despite her early commitment to a Marxist interpretation of the relationship between art and politics, she now says there are no easy answers to questions like whether art should be political.
Born in 1968, Dube grew up in a family of doctors in Lucknow but pursued liberal arts in Delhi and later took up art history as part of her master’s at MS University in Baroda. Eventually, she turned to art due to frustration with the restrictions posed by language.
“Visualising is so much more universal than speaking or writing. Visual language doesn’t have vernacular restrictions and it is free,” she says.
A poster with ‘silence’ scribbled all over it hangs on the wall in her house, in one of Delhi’s first modernist housing projects. Among the artwork scattered around her living room are the first few wooden sculptures that she made after turning from criticism to making her own art. In this space—cosy, rather than ostentatious—she outlines her vision for next year’s Biennale. One thing is certain: “It will be more inclusive of ideas,” she says.
Though she’s known for saying that art is a luxury, as an artist, Dube takes up the cause of beauty, which to her is the affirmation of life against death. In this moment, an artist can choose to be self-absorbed, she says. Artistic positions are many, she says. “I want to live history in my time, to feel alive, to be angry, to be sad. Art is a privileged position because we have the luxury of dreaming. In underdeveloped countries, people spend their lives trying to eat, to think, to make or to not make. We are spoilt. We are part of the privileged but we have a responsibility. I have to give back something through my art,” she says.
What form will that giving take in 2018? The only certainty is that Dube will make her own path.