"...when artists make things happen for themselves it’s a hugely powerful experience." - Bharti Kher, The Khoj Book (2010)
At the turn of the millennium, Khoj led an experiment in Indian contemporary art practice through its model of experimental, process-led international workshops. At its helm have stood three of its founding members – Anita Dube, Bharti Kher and Manisha Parekh – three women artists who have challenged established thinking about art in India; charting new territory, they have gone on to become some of India’s most recognised contemporary artists both with South Asia and beyond.
"[As a founding member, I believe that] Khoj is an emblem of our vision of working together in difficult situations, somehow pushing against the rubric of creating sensitising encounters under the establishment's grain, opening up insularities and closures to address the binary polarisations that have hardened into unchangable positions both inside and outside." - Anita Dube, 'Artists for Khoj' Catalogue (2014)
Khoj International Workshop Modinagar (1998-1999)
The Modinagar workshops broke fresh ground for Dube’s emerging artistic practice. At the first workshop in 1997, the former art critic tapped into a burgeoning impulse to create visual art.
Given free reign during the workshop, Dube unravelled electric-pink cloth, carefully weaving it first, then casting it off the branches of Modinagar’s dark mango trees; each gestural heave marking the beginning of her practice as an artist.
"Anita Dube’s wrapping of a tree with the red thread used for religious occasions, became a sweep of colour in a strategically formed work subverting the veneration of the tree so popular in rural India. She added, playfully, an O and U to the natural contours of a Y in the tree and connected with the work she made inside the house. Watching ‘you’ everywhere were hypnotic eyes caught in the oval templates of all the doors in the house." - Khoj Workshop 1998 Catalogue (1999)
As Khoj’s foremost scribe, Anita Dube formulated its one and only manifesto; writing in the first Khoj catalogue in 1997, she states: “Our aim was to function as an experimental art laboratory that would bring artists together from different parts of the country, from the subcontinent and from around the globe, setting up a co-operative, non-hierarchical work situation where dialogue, exchange and transfer of information, energy and skills could take place as intensely lived experience.”
In KEYWORDS (2005), her first project at Khoj following the workshops at Modinagar, Dube cut through slabs of meat as part of a performance, weaving words from flesh as she invited audience members to dissect the meanings and histories of these terms along with her. As the artist herself stated in a note accompanying the performance, ‘The question I am asking is how you can give body to things by experimenting with materials and embodying words’.
Dube ensconces conceptual language within the ‘sculptural fragment as a bearer of personal and social memory, history, mythology and phenomenological experience’. Her work refers to her roots as an art critic; evident in her employment of terms endemic to the language of art history, radically opening up the binary positions that exist between object and subject. Dube’s work has been marked by her early engagement with the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association, a self-styled political grouping of artists in the late 1980s. She has since attempted to work with both an ‘erotics’ and a ‘politics’ that investigates the resistance of individuals and women against the overarching idea of power.
Khoj Marathon with Hans Ulrich Obrist (2011)
In 2011, Dube was one of the artists invited to be 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.
Peers Student Residency
Over the years, Anita Dube has been an incredible mentor and bastion of support for Khoj. During the annual Peers student residency programme, Dube continues to challenge and provoke young artists, inviting them to subvert and challenge the establishment. She continues to be the voice of the experiment at Khoj by encouraging process as practice, ensuring that the vision of Khoj as a collaborative laboratory for the arts continues to live on with the same vigour that it began with at Modinagar.
Psychoanalysis and the Arts in India (2011)
Anita Dube was a participant at Khoj’s symposium, ‘Psychoanalysis and the Arts in India’ in 2011. The objective of the symposium was to foster discussions and cross-fertilisation across the analytic and artistic fields, enabling analysts to present contemporary thinking in psychoanalysis on one hand and artists to present artistic theories and practices in India on the other.
Disputed Territories' (2004), donated for the Artists for Khoj Auction (2014) by Anita DubeKHOJ International Artists' Association
'Disputed Territory' (2004), for the Artists for Khoj Auction (2014)
Dube has generously contributed her work to Khoj's portfolios and auctions. The sale of her work has provided much needed funding to Khoj, ensuring the organisation's aim to build a legacy within the arts for future generations.
In ‘Disputed Territory’ (2004), donated to Khoj as a part of the ‘Artists for Khoj’ fundraising drive held in collaboration with Christie’s in 2014, Dube created a mesmerising yet flowing pattern of spiralling eyes; explaining the work in ‘ICON/India Contemporary, at the Venice Biennale’, a 2005 interview with Peter Nagy, she states: “I found that when you have a cluster of them [eyes] they carry the energy and charge of crowds of people. The sense of being in crowded places even messy dirty places, an attraction to the violent energy present in these situations, which is either revolutionary or fascist, is the reason I continue to explore this material.”
In addition, Dube has supported Khoj by providing work for the Autoportraits portfolio, most notably contributing her work, ‘Hotel’ and ‘Class Struggle’ for the first and second editions of the ‘A Gift for Khoj’ photography and sculpture portfolios, respectively. In these iconic images, Dube employs a variety of found objects, exploring through them, a divergent range of subjects that address a profound concern for loss and regeneration -- both autobiographical and societal.
Bharti Kher, reflecting on the need for an autonomous space like Khoj stated in 2015 : “... Art is about ideas and that’s what I think Khoj stands by. This is one of few spaces in India where anyone in the larger space of the art world can call home. I’m very proud to be part of its history. We don’t achieve everything we wish and there are mistakes but the fact that our artist friends support us means that something resonates with them... ”
Khoj International Workshop Modinagar (1998)
Kher first participated at the Khoj international workshop at Modinagar in 1998 as an artist-in-residence, hanging nocturnal installation cones in a caged sanctuary; they lay suspended in the stillness like carcasses at an abattoir. The objects glowed with an eerie disquiet as they transformed the nighttime landscape of Sikribagh with a discrete yet haunting silence.
Khoj International Residency (2002)
In 2002, Bharti Kher was a part of the first residency held at Khoj's new premises in Khirkee Village. It was here that Kher produced 'The grass is always greener and searching for roots', forming the first set of images for her 'Hybrid' series.
Today, as the Chairwoman of Khoj, Bharti Kher is indelibly tied to the programming and functioning of Khoj. Not only a fixture at residency open days, talks and exhibitions Kher continues to be a crucial role in envisioning the future for Khoj.
A mentor at the landmark Peers Residency in 2003, Kher continues to inculcate Khoj’s belief in the value of art as a collaborative process, inviting the Peers to her studio for visits, critiquing and pushing young artists to develop and pursue their practices uniquely, but not independently of their would-be peers and future collaborators.
We Are Ours: A Collection of Manifestos for the Instant (2013)
In 2013, Bharti Kher participated in ‘We are Ours: A Collection of Manifestos for The Instant’, an exhibition that housed 27 manifestos created by contemporary Indian artists whose practices are founded on a conceptual and philosophical engagement with the ways we live within forms. Utilizing the common form of the mirror, Kher responded to curator, Himali Singh Soin’s call for work that was a simultaneous symbol of the dawn of industrialisation and its demise in the face of a digital revolution.
Confronting the viewer with the presence and destruction of a shattered modernity in the moment of experience, Kher’s set of seven broken mirrors installed at the exhibition reflected and reiterated the reproducible status of the object in the age of mechanical reproduction.
'Untitled', donated to the Khoj Autoportraits Portfolio (2011)
In her work, Kher continues to harness the power of the transformative, creating ‘radically heterogeneous work which encompasses painting, sculpture and installation.’ Her hybrid syllogisms synergise myth and modernity, housed within female figures that confront the viewer with a sexual monstrosity; garbed in the fact of consumerism and consumption, Kher’s characteristic chimeras at once animated and trapped by the bodies they inhabit.
Khoj Marathon with Hans Ulrich Obrist (2011)
Overarching themes within Kher’s work include the notion of the self as a multiple and culture’s openness to misinterpretation. Kher exploits the drama inherent in objects, tapping into mythologies and diverse associations a thing can bring. As she states in an an interview with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist held during the Khoj Marathon in 2011 artist, the bindi, especially, is a transformative device, bridging the gap between the figurative and the abstract within her own practice.
Artists for Khoj Auction (2014)
In 2014, Bharti Kher contributed ‘Hyberbolic Sprial’ (2011) for the ‘Artists for Khoj’ auction. In this piece, Kher appropriates the Indian icon of the bindi, using a readymade to form a pattern. Her use of the bindi, a small circular symbol typically worn by Indian women on their foreheads reflects an interest in class, feminism and the relationship between traditional and contemporary culture. Kher’s meticulously placed bindis come alive in a pulsating spiral; this elaborate abstract work with its swirling constellation of vibrant red and grey bindis creates a unique image, offering the viewer a moment of almost spiritual contemplation and meditative stillness.
Manisha Parekh graduated with a degree in painting from the Royal College of Art in London, after which she participated in a series of international workshops, returning to Delhi in 1997 to help set up the Khoj international workshops at Modinagar : “Khoj 1997 was a fantastic experience. Some very exciting works came out of that workshop. It was the first time we all came together for such a project, and the artists were able to use the resources of Modinagar, the former estate of the Modi family in Delhi. One of the most rewarding aspects of the workshop for me was that we went in with nothing and tried to make something. This is what I continue to explore in my practice even today.”
Khoj International Workshop Modinagar (1998)
Parekh was as an artist-in-residence at the international workshop in 1998, utilising the opportunities afforded by the workshop to elaborate upon her pre-existing practice, puncturing the surface of the everyday with painterly wounds, only to embellish them with light, furnishing the industrial with a touch of the firmament.
“Manisha Parekh alternatively used natural daylight to create a jewel like work. She transformed an animal watering tub into a deep blue receptacle by placing small mirrors inside it. Reflections on the insides of the wall magically came at particular times of the day and then- as magically disappeared.” - Anita Dube, Khoj Workshop 1998 Catalogue (1999)
Ideas of Fashion Residency (2011)
Parekh participated in ‘Ideas of Fashion’, the art and fashion residency held at Khoj in February 2011, imbuing the residency with the eye of an experienced artist.
At a residency that brought together the transformative power of art and fashion, Parekh continued to hone in on her interest in embellishing the everyday, using the opportunity to elaborate upon her existing practice. By referring to the world of textiles and fabric as a means of establishing a link with fashion, possibilities between the realm of fashion and art emerged as the product of a cross-disciplinary conversation at Khoj.
Articulating her thoughts on the same in her artist’s statement presented at the residency open day, she states, ‘it became possible to think of… a larger meaning… as a social statement reflecting time… It became a time to ask a few about myself, explore another language, interact with fellow artists and reflect on one’s own practice.’ Thus, the habitat of Khoj, once again, became the site of a metamorphosis within Parekh’s own practice.
Born and raised in Baroda, Gujarat, Parekh’s own practice follows from her influences at the Baroda School. Parekh’s exquisitely crafted work traverses the boundaries of media; utilising painting, collage and drawing, she creates work that is at once geometric and organic in its form. As a member of the Khoj Board, Manisha Parekh continues to be a source of support and guidance.
Peers Student Residency
A major part of the outreach and development initiatives within Khoj, Parekh continually opens her studio up to young artists, speaking at length about her work, collaborating and participating, not unlike her fellow Khoj board members, Anita Dube and Bharti Kher.
'Bloom' (2011), for the 'Gift for Khoj' sculpture portfolio
A bastion of support since Khoj’s inception in 1997, Parekh generously donated her works, ‘Bloom’ (2011) and ‘Through the Key-Hole’ (2011) for the ‘Gift for Khoj’ sculpture and drawing portfolios respectively.
"... we went in with nothing and tried to make something." - Manisha Parekh, The Khoj Book (2010)
As Khoj continues to grow, so will its founding members. In the face of change, the room afforded by Khoj, and the legacy established by its foremost female architects - Anita Dube, Bharti Kher and Manisha Parekh will continue to shape the forms, ideas and practices of artists and practitioners across generations in India and beyond.
Khoj Workshop 1998 Catalogue (1999)
Khoj Workshop 1999 Catalogue (2000)
Anita Dube, 'Artist's Note', Keywords and Baans (2005)
The Khoj Book (1997-2007): Contemporary Art Practice in India (2010)
'Khoj Marathon with Hans Ulrich Obrist' Catalogue (2011)
Manisha Parekh, 'Artist's Note', Ideas of Fashion Residency (2011)
'A Gift for Khoj: Edition I - Photography Portfolio' (2011)
'A Gift for Khoj: Edition II - Sculpture Portfolio' (2011)
Himali Singh Soin, 'Curator's Note', We Are Ours: Manifestos for the Instant (2013)
'Artists for Khoj' Catalogue (2014)
For more information, visit http://khojworkshop.org/