By Anubha Jain

Today, it doesn’t take an art connoisseur to explain the astounding breadth of work being done within the fine arts. Having gone way beyond paintings, drawings and sculptures, the arts have made room for mediums like videos and sounds, and even multimedia installations. I recently started digging deeper into contemporary art, and have had the pleasure of coming across more and more works in a medium that I believe is lesser known – Performance Art. Self-explanatory, the medium differs from theatre in the sense that it doesn’t necessarily follow a narrative, and more often than not, doesn’t need a stage. At times, even the artist’s presence isn’t mandatory for his thoughts to be transmitted through this medium; a medium that only exists in the time that it is being performed.

Experiments with performance as a medium of art began in the early twentieth century. It was in the 1960’s that this form began to be recognized independently. The coining of the term ‘performance art’ happened about a decade later. This live form of art became a way for artists to be present directly in front of the public; the energy created in that moment, with that audience, can never be replicated. Over the past 3 decades, performance art has evolved to incorporate digital innovations and media interventions combining imagination and technology. As such there are no set rules for performance art, it is momentary and challenges the traditional forms of visual arts.

In India, performance art is a fairly recent phenomena. One of the most interesting projects that has come my way was an event hosted by the Khoj International Artists’ Association at Olive in Mehrauli. Set on a particularly dreary winter evening, this event had an extensive line up of artists – from the renowned Subodh Gupta and Pushpamala to more eclectic artists like Miss Dotty and Madame Potty, and Inder Salim. What was intriguing was to see these artists, familiar or not, being present in real time, interacting with the audience, and communicating their work right before us. The conversations that brewed while the performance was in motion, the audience’s response, the lighting, and the setting – that piece will probably never again look as it did that night. Being there was an experience in itself; it’s yours to infer from, to interact with, and there’s only so much of it that can be caught on camera.

{Subodh Gupta’s piece, at a Khoj event held at Olive in Mehrauli}

In many ways, this is what makes performance art elusive and intangible; it’s hard to describe these pieces because as a viewer, you want to lock it in a memory. But in the moment that it is produced, nothing seems more tangible and real than what is on display. Back in 2008, before I was even aware of the existence of this art form, I witnessed a performance piece in the middle of New Friends Colony market; a group of men, clad in neon, suddenly gathered and broke into an acrobatic dance. It was far from a flashmob; they seemed to be in search of something. I recall feeling a sense of having been transported into their world, far away from my ordinary reality of being in a marketplace. Take a look at a video of that performance here:

{Performance art piece in New Friends Colony}

Giving us access to more such performance pieces is the upcoming edition of India Art Fair. A piece I’ve book marked is one that’ll be presented by a very interesting character, Princess Pea {represented by Gallery Exhibit 320.} An upcoming name in the world of Indian Contemporary Art, she is setting up shop at the fair, where she will be interacting with the audience. Princess Pea is the alter ego; the woman in question has grown up, like the rest of us, in a world where beauty is synonymous with perfect proportions, fair skin and shiny, glossy packaging. She, however, has no interest in conforming and through her artistic self, she has developed an alternate universe where a woman with a giant, plastic head and a skinny body is the center of attention. Personally, her other work is very visually stimulating and I’m rather excited about interacting with her in person.

Another piece I’m looking forward to artist Anindita Dutta’s performance, which will be spread over 4 days. Represented by Latitude 28, her performance entails her drawing with wet clay on a 40 foot long spiral structure. I am looking forward to watching this artist at work; I believe it will detail the process behind building an installation, and provide insight most of us wouldn’t ordinarily be privy to. Day one and two will mostly be her creating this installation but on day three, she will invite viewers to interact with her piece. Participants may respond to the piece by erasing or adding elements in writing, drawing or any other way they wish.

It’s exciting to have stalwarts of contemporary Indian art engage with the audience through performance pieces. As transient as this art may be, the best Indian contemporary artists are creating a work that literally guides the energy in a space, while they feed off that very energy. For me, it’s reason enough to want to be a part of such an experience. And hey, if you’re lucky, you just might make it to the video!


About the Author | Anubha completed her B.A. {Hons.} English Literature from Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University in 2010, after which she went to the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London to pursue her Post Graduation in History of Art. She has worked with a contemporary art gallery, Khoj International Artists’ Association and India Art Fair. Currently she is heading, a not-for-profit, first of its kind online portal that aims to better education and exposure to art in South Asia.

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