By Sukant Deepak
New Delhi, May 15 (IANS) The year was 2002 and it was a typical lethargic Sunday. Even as Delhi’s ruthless summer dared one and all, the Yamuna, impregnated with froth, flowed quietly. Kashmiri artist Inder Salim went to the river with a surgical knife, some cotton, anti-septic and a host of still and video cameras. As he amputated the little finger of his left hand, throwing it in the dead river, the intense pain gave way to a certain completeness. Titling this performance as ‘Dialogue With Power Plant, Shrill Across a Dead River’, Salim stunned one and all.
Now, 18 years later, one of the country’s foremost performance artist is locked in a small apartment in the capital, and again has that desire to feel entirety. In what seems like SOS calls, the artist, taking old sarees and rags, turning them into flags and using text-as- material on fabric, with the wind against the backdrop of blue sky is talking about not just his own alienation in wake of the lockdown, but also issues like uncertainty, alienation, possessions, migrants walking home and what the future holds… “But that is not all, I am also finishing my book of poems ‘Jaren Effect: Poems from Kashmir and Elsewhere’,” he tells IANS.
Planning to hold a major exhibition that will also include the innumerable flags that he has made in this period and hoisted from his rooftop, once the lockdown is over, Salim is pleased that they (the flags) have not only managed to communicate to other artists but also taking the social media by storm. “Yes, a senior theatre director is also sharing them with her students during her online classes, and they are going viral. I think the peculiar part of the situation in face of the pandemic is that the artists are almost being forced to look into their insignificant details in their spaces they occupy. A little piece of abandoned old brush and a dry colour tube have suddenly become precious.”
Insisting that this is the time to think how transcendental is hand-in-glove with the empirical at a very molecular level, he adds that we will witness many solidified narratives to describe the political and real take a heavy beating in the new world that emerges after the lockdown. “The stone is now exposed to a melting trickle, which is likely reshaping it for a new look. Our eyes may be there to feel it in the future or not, but things have remarkably changed at every level. Remember, the images of migrant workers walking home will haunt us for a very long time. How come there is no social movement to help the millions walking with their families on roads without any cover? Where have all the NGOs gone?”
Talking about how more and more artists are showing their latest creations on social media during these times, Salim argues, “This is a time when we understand the idea of a peculiar ‘touch’ in art, which can happen both virtually and literally with equal intensity”.
For someone who bid farewell to his easel and paints quite some time back, performance art will always remain edgier. “The best part is that it is like a suspension bridge between varied art forms and diverse ideas of life. It has this unique ability to provoke the artists and the audience in equal measure and is not confined by any set rules. But remember, it is not theatre. Here, every error is as inclusive to the act as each planned part.”
It is now late evening, and he has taken out his recording equipment to capture the sound of birds on his balcony. Interjected with Kabir playing in the background, he says, “You won’t believe it, but I can now hear the the koel singing in the middle of night. And some people still assume that the world will remain the same…”