In the last few years, Delhi’s culturatti has grown accustomed to experimental art practices, and one of the triggers of this movement is Khoj Studios, an organisation in Khirki Extension. So, when last year’s highly anticipated “Word. Sound. Power” arrived from Tate Modern, London’s single-room showcase, to Khoj’s layered Delhi gallery, the buzz was inevitable. The Tate Modern-Khoj collaborative exhibition comprises eight artists from across the globe, bringing a “universal voice” to the tiny south Delhi neighbourhood. “The use of words as text and the appropriation of language by visual artists has been a prominent strand of conceptual practice since the ’60s. Employed to challenge the notion that art should consist of a physical object, text has been used as sculpture, narrative and political statement,” says Tate’s Loren Hansi Momodu, who is curating the show with Asmita Rangari of Khoj.
Visit Khoj Studios on a quiet afternoon and you’ll find yourself in a sea of sounds, voices, songs, texts and recordings among other aural forms. At the exhibition opening on January 15, Delhi-based artist Mithu Sen read from a “book of asemic text” — a wordless, non-semantic form of writing — as part of a project, “I Am A Poet”. The recitation of nonsensical text was a way to project the sense of disconnection felt by Sen, a Bengali from Kolkata, when she moved to Delhi. In a booth-like corner, the artiste has placed a recorder that allows visitors to leave voice messages or sounds as part of an “I Am a Poet” project. It will unfurl into a unique composition, a sample of which is present from the recordings at Tate.
In another room, Danish artist Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen’s Arise and KEST (Keep Evans Safe Today) play on loop. Commissioned for this show, Larsen’s films depict the relevance of a “voice” in the localities of Khoj and Tate. They show young men struggling to get their voices across, through dance, music and hip hop .
Delhi-based video artist Pallavi Paul looks at “ghosts of poets” in her 2013 films Nayi Kheti and Shabdkosh that play on loop. They comprise Paul’s fictionalised replies of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca to American poet Jack Spicer, interspersed with images of Delhi and of vagabond political poet Vidrohi. As if to prove the strength of resistance and experiments of poetry, Vidrohi, in the film, says, “I’m like the ghost of Julius Caesar. I’m not going to die”.
The exhibition relooks at what sound means to us, as Rangari explains, “It is about the event that makes people take recourse to utterance. Thus, it is important to respect how intelligible silence, too, can be. A voice can be both raised and razed.”
A collateral event of the India Art Fair, the show will feature Sen’s performance on February 1 at Khoj, with a screening of the film Handsworth Songs by John Akomfrah, a seminal figure in Black British Cinema, and a video, music and live performance.