MITHU SEN, NAVJOT ALTAF, PUSHPAMALA N, ROHINI DEVASHER, SHEBA CHHACHHI, SHILPA GUPTA, SONIA KHURANA, TEJAL SHAH AND ZULEIKHA CHAUDHARI
At the residency, the artist referred to the haunting 1973 rape of Aruna Shaunbag in her work; referring to Shaunbaug’s erstwhile comatose state as a ‘twilight zone’. Sen’s finely embroidered work became Shaunbaug’s public testament, engaging the viewer in a dialogue about the self, identity, race, origin and gender.
"Mithu, taking the cue to see fashion as a 'verb', undressed the studio walls and play a game of seduction with them. Known for her provocative drawings, she moved into a distinct, complete abstraction; peeled away layers of her studio wall. Revealing the history of the room itself, from past works on the wall, she spoke of feeling the elation of removing layers of previous occupiers' egos and identities, towards a naked vulnerability. This study of the process of dressing down, instead of 'dressing up' was a novel way of looking a the room as a body, and her work as disrobing." - Mayank Singh Kaul, Critic's Note for the Ideas of Fashion residency (2011)
Reading from a book of asemic text, the exhibition marked Sen’s turn towards collaborative performances that bring artist and audience in unison with one another through the gesture of the gift -- by inviting visitors to record their own readings from the text, she threw into focus the void between utterance and meaning. An acclaimed poet in her native language of Bengali, Sen has experienced a sense of disconnection with language since relocating to the largely anglophone city of Delhi. In this work she invited audiences to share in a language that mutually excludes and therefore includes us all.
Describing Altaf’s project in the 1999 edition of the Khoj Workshop Catalogue, Anita Dube states, “For Navjot Altaf, memories of her childhood in Meerut returned. She combined these with her engagement with the Bastar tribals. The official politics that surrounded the amazing Mahua tree became her focus. Under the only one in the compound, she installed a swing constructed out of railway sleepers…”
“... She told us that forest officers in M.P. have stopped the planting of Mahua trees because its flowers are being used by adivasis (tribals) to distill alcohol, forgetting that its bark is used to make a medicine for arthritis, its seeds crushed for oil, that throughout the year it provided shade. In protest she planned a planting of 100 Mahua saplings in five primary schools with the help of school children. With the compound children she made brightly coloured paper boars that were floated in a water channel near the house on open day.”
Articulating the impetus of the project, Altaf states in her artist’s statement, “At the time when invited to be part of ‘ Public Art Project –2006 ‘ from KHOJ, Delhi government’s dream / plan / action to transform the city into an international city with international standards of public and privately owned spaces was going on in full swing and was often discussed in the media – a number of bastis were being dislocated to vacate the prime locations.”
Working with inhabitants from different socio-cultural backgrounds, Altaf especially interacted with auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers through a dialogical approach, encouraging communication between herself and the participants about their lives in Delhi, the government’s politics and policies of development and the implications of the same upon the quality of city’s life and the environment.
As a part of the intervention, “we met Auto Rickshaw Union [with 25,000 stickers] near I.I.T. premises for their response and support to approach rickshaw drivers in the city. With the support and participation of three auto rickshaw drivers, art students, artists, community persons, and a volunteer from KHOJ -on three consecutive days we approached the drivers while they waited to fill gas at CNG petrol pumps at various places and at auto rickshaw stands in Delhi. Since we believed that listening is the beginning of communication we individually or in groups listened to their responses / reactions to the stickers as many of them took time to read the text before they conveyed their consent or refusal to let us install the stickers on the back of their auto rickshaws.”
“Being with the participants / audiences ‘outside’ KHOJ premises made me realize the integrity of their participation / contribution and interest. For me, how the entire process brought a number of people into conversation at various stages / levels itself is a work of art. To understand this work and the situation in a larger context is to recognize that process and all associated activities.”
Critic, Maya Kóvskaya, describes the project in her note accompanying the residency: “Working in collaboration with environmentalist Ajay Mahajan, and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, Navjot Altaf set out to create an interventionist artowork that not only symbolized or represented a change, but in fact embodied and instantiated that change."
"Altaf's objective was to liberate the rows of trees, lining Delhi's Barakhamba Road, from their strangling cages of concrete and asphalt. De-choking these trees was at once a genuine environmental action that transformed the quality of life...a potentially precedent-setting example for how the municipal government could better implement greenification regulations and maintain the commons at a higher standard."
"The loss and destruction of fertile land and soil, forests and biodiversity have had severe impact on the day to day existence and identity of indigenous communities living there for centuries and decision making... This has led to massive forced and undesired displacements of local inhabitants, resulting in marginalisation of indigenous way of life, their oral tradition of knowledge, cultural environment in which both human, other species and nature could prosper and cultural dynamics are not destroyed.”
“[...] The video addresses the impact of imposed segregation from their live-world in north-central part of Chhattisgarh and dealing with the conflicts between the communities and the police force and the ultra-left forces in South Bastar District... And what is being lost in the process." - Navjot Altaf, from the 'Nameless Here Forevermore' Brochure (2015)
With work that acts as both analysis and relief for the human condition, Altaf was a fitting participant for the 'Crisis and Un/Making Sense -- Art As Schizoanalysis" symposium (2015) held with the support of the Goethe Institut, Max Mueller Bhavan. Part of the programming for 'Nameless Here Forevermore', the event addressed situations of collective trauma and social rupture, examining how expression and sense-making processes result in social transformation.
Part of the second Khoj workshop at Modinagar in 1998, Pushpamala N began her relationship with Khoj in a golden frock; Anita Dube, describing Pushpamala’s work, narrates, "continuing in the same vein, Pushpamala presented a series of photographs of the archetypal Indian housewife and juxtaposed them with her fantasy role of 'a lady in a golden frock' -- stylish, dangerous and desirable. The work commented on the socio-political straitjackets and the ambiguities of female myth and fantasy in popular culture. There was a sense of 'B' movies in the photos and for the wise and uninitiated she arranged a visit to the local cinema. Dressing for the shoots became a daily ritual.”
"Employing the products and refuse of the barber's shop, i.e., scissors and old blades, we hope to create a large installation that will stand against [Mohan the barber's shop's] wall surface... Barbers scissors are particularly nasty looking, bringing to mind images of violence and of a certain cruelty. These will be used to fashion a form that will be deliberately sensual, creating a sharp contrast to the hard-edged forms." - Notes on the Shop Makeovers project, part of Khirkee-ki-Khoj (2005)
During the residency, Devasher worked with Prof. Mohan Ram and Dr. Rajesh Tandon at the Department of Botany at Delhi University. An exploration in plant morphology following J.W. Goethe's search for "that which was common to all plants without distinction", conversations with them led to, as Devasher states, "compare plant structural similarities at a macro and microscopic level. With their collaboration, I was able to use complex images of plant surface features as viewed under a scanned electron microscope, including hair like trichomes, highly ornamental pollen structure; and stomato with mouth like apertures."
“These images were then restructured with photographs of diverse plant species to create hybrid organics that float in a twilight world halfway between imagined and observed reality, strange denizens of a science fiction botanical garden."
“[My first residency] was also an art and science residency in 2007. That was 4 weeks and the most recent one in 2011 was just about 2 weeks. It may equally be the result of a maturing practice and the serendipity of finding remarkable synergy and commonalities between the residents, but ‘The Undivided Mind’ was a very significant residency for me. Not only were the conversations and interactions very productive, but the work that emerged was completely unexpected and has opened up new areas of exploration.” - Rohini Devasher (2015)
Describing ‘Itbari Khan ke Haath’, an installation produced by Chhachhi at Modinagar, the artist herself states, “One of my early experiments with the projected image was at the Khoj workshop in Modinagar in 1999, with ‘Itbari Khan ke Haath’. The work was fuelled by the severe disjunction between inside the estate of the Modi family where we lived and worked, and outside, an ex-industrial town seething with the resentment of laid-off workers, closed factories and massive unemployment.”
“The installation collapsed this separation into a single space, articulating my discomfort with the dislocated, sometimes solipsistic nature of art practice. Emblematic of the failure of the Nehruvian model of industrialization, and the swift relocation of capital, the work is a requiem for the dignity of the artisanal, a testament to the disenfranchisement of those unequipped to reinvent themselves in the new economic regime.”
As a part of the residency, Chhachhi also created the interactive installation, ‘Bhogi/Rogi II (Consumption/Disease)’. Housed at Select Citywalk Mall, Chhachhi’s red wave became a site of transformation -- offering the viewer an experience of himself/herself as constituted and transformed by what he/she consumes, be it food, goods or words. The installation explored the continuum between consumption-production-homogenization, with particular reference to transgenic foods, through a series of real time transformations of the body of the viewing self.
In 2011, Chhachhi was one of the artists invited to be a part of the Khoj Marathon, a series of public interviews held by Hans Ulrich Obrist in collaboration with Khoj. The Marathon, part of a series of events conceived by Obrist at Stuttgart in 2005, was a milestone that initiated one of the most exciting conversations around art in contemporary times. The Khoj Marathon was the first of its kind to be held in the subcontinent.
Shilpa Gupta is an interdisciplinary artist who is interested in human perception, she employs interactive video, websites, objects, photographs, sound and public performances in her work to probe the ideas of borderlines, labels, censorship and security. Gupta blurs the boundary between art and the culture of everyday life, prompting questions about how we think and who we are.
In 2014, Gupta once again showed her support for Khoj through her contribution of work to the 'Artists for Khoj by Christie's' fundraising initiative. ‘WheredoIendandyoubegin’, written in a cursive and continuous typeface, foregrounds the formal qualities of words and script. Using a font and materials associated with commercial store-front signage, the artist moves beyond simple notions of high and low in art.
"Proposing a series of conversations, or “‘womb’ narratives,with individual women who have undergone hysterectomies, as well as with social scientists, psychologists and medical practitioners who are deeply engaged on the ground level with hysterectomies and its physio-psycho-social effect”, Khurana’s work at the residency highlighted some of the hard facts regarding gynecological morbidity, physical, emotional and economic consequences of hysterectomy.
Hemant Sreekumar, in his critic’s note for the residency, states, “Right above the interior hammock was a projection which bounced off a 45-degree mirror with the projector on the floor. The footage was beamed directly, constructing associations with multiple female identities within the context of a common task as it had shot footage of women sleeping, mumbling, and singing with their head on the pillow. This footage was edited into a loop and projected on Shah’s body.... and the entire procedure was then shot from a stationary camera on a tripod. Beautifully constructed and composed in the unlit studio space ... the only light was ambient, filtering in off the street casting a larger than life shadow of Tejal across the projection.”
“The artwork in this project lies in the place of action, where it activates a discussion with and amongst the local population in public spaces.
I started by stamping currency notes of my fellow artists. While no one objected to participate, very quickly several intense discussions erupted amongst us in the first few days --
Does the currency note still retain its monetary value?
What if shopkeepers don’t accept the note?
Will the bank accept these notes?”
During the construction of her first light installation, Chaudhari made an attempt not to use theatre light equipment, juxtaposing actual light sources, i.e., tube lights, with projected light sources, i.e., images of tube lights photographed in shops at Loknayak Bhavan, Khan Market. Referring to her roots in theatre, her project was based on an extract from Heinrich Muller’s ‘The Father’.
“A place of/with tension.
A place in perpetual flux motion change
It has/there is no before or after
There is no question of duration
It contains no traces (of events that have happened)
It contains no objects and it contains no people objects” - Zuleikha Chaudhari, Artist’s Statement at Khoj Dharamshala (2012)
As residency critic, Prayas Abhinav notes in his ‘Critic’s Note’ to the exhibition, "In Zuleikha's performance archival material as well as a script that looked at how this material is constantly challenged by memory and how it is remembered. But she had also used some material from her work with actors and auditioning them... brought in the whole question of identity -- who was speaking the lines, the actor or the person who was speaking?"
"In these actor audition texts, there were segments which were unscripted. But the responses for the other actors were more or less logically framed. So as the narrative hopped between actors who were saying things that their role demanded them to say and people speaking out their version of the truth, the piece constantly kept the audience confounded."
Khoj Workshop Catalogue 1998 (1999)
Khoj Workshop Catalogue 1999 (2000)
Khoj Workshop Catalogue 2001 (2002)
Aar Paar project website: http://aarpaar2.tripod.com/02.htm (2002)
Mithu Sen, 'Artist's Statement', Khoj International Residency (2003)
Zuleikha Chaudhari, 'Artist's Statement', Khoj International Residency (2003)
Hemant Sreekumar, 'Critic's Note', Performance Residency (2004)
'Project Notes' from the Khirkee-ki-Khoj Community Art Project (2005)
Navjot Altaf, 'Artist's Statement', Public Art Residency (2006)
Rohini Devasher, 'Artist's Statement', Art & Science Residency (2007)
Maya Kovaskya, 'Critic’s Note', In Context: Public.Art.Ecology Residency (2010)
Mayank Mansingh Kaul, 'Critic's Note', Ideas of Fashion Residency (2011)
KHOJLive Catalogue (2012)
'Khoj Workshops: 2006 - 2012'(2013)
WORD.SOUND.POWER Catalogue (2014)
Navjot Altaf, 'Artists Statement' from the Nameless Here Forevermore Exhibition Catalogue (2015)
Prayas Abhinav, 'Critc’s Note', Of Games II Residency (2015)
Kumkum Sangari, 'ARC SILT DIVE: The Works of Sheba Chhachhi' (2016)
Nancy Adajania, 'The Thirteenth Place: Positionality as Critique in the Art of Navjot Altaf' (2016)
Sonia Khurana, 'Artist's Statement', The Undivided Mind: Art & Science Residency (2016)
Exhibition Catalogue, 'Frozen World of the Familiar Stranger' (2016)
For more information, visit http://khojworkshop.org/