When 25-year-old Sahil Naik first visited Khoj Studios in Delhi’s Khirkee, one of the first things he noticed was the vulnerability of this space to a “man-made catastrophe”. Hailing from the temple town of Ponda in Goa, he recalled how he often witnessed safety drills near the busy temple. “I felt the congested, dense area of Khirkee is similarly vulnerable,” says Naik. Through his recently concluded project at Khoj, the postgraduate from MS University, Baroda, investigated urban neighborhoods as sites of trauma. “I looked at the nature of housing structures, their proximity and thereby their vulnerability to numerous threats. For instance, a fire would spread almost immediately in this location,” he said. The medium was a miniature model of Khirkee, in the form of the Tower of Babel, recorded in the Book of Genesis, from where people migrated to different directions.
The project shared space with the artwork of four other young artists from across India who were part of the Peers Emerging Artists Show 2017 at Khoj. Curated by Mario D’Souza, the jury that selected the participants comprised Arunkumar HG, Gigi Scaria, Rakhi Peswani and Rohini Devasher. Aimed at providing mentorship to young artists, most of the projects were based on artists’ observations in neighbourhoods spread across Delhi. If Vrishali Purandare, 27, used clay from Kumhargali to create a hollow clay structure around herself that she broke out from, to comment on land mining, 28-year-old Tanaya Kundu showcased photographs and videos that captured the changing and unpredictable character of Khirkee that has migrant residents from across India. In another, more personal work, Kundu discussed the oppression she has faced due to her gender. “My feminine identity was always treated as a disadvantage and something to be controlled by the patriarchal power,” said Kundu, who held a performance raising these concerns.
A postgraduate in cinematography from Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, Sagar Shiriskar photographed a traditional calligrapher or “katib” as they are called, in Old Delhi’s Urdu Bazaar. “He is a 55-year-old who still writes certificates in calligraphy. What attracted me to Ghalib was that he is the only remaining person doing this work,” said Shiriskar, who also screened a short film on Ghalib.
Youngest in the group, 23-year-old Ashish Dhola, postgraduate from MS University, created a sensor-controlled kinetic mic that would turn in the direction of a viewer on its own. “Whenever one person begins to start a political discussion, whether in a metro, bus, train or even roadside, others join in even if they are strangers. That’s the power of politics,” says Dhola.