The Per­sonal is Po­lit­i­cal

India Today - - LEISURE - —Chinki Sinha

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.

BAN­DEEP SINGH

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