Every metropolis has a way of receiving migrants. Some might be welcome and others alienated, but Anuradha Upadhyay feels that most continue to be viewed as outsiders. Perpetuated by this thought, the artist has attempted to paint the awkward “gaze” on mask-like paper-made faces. “When you are in a crowd, there is a feeling of being under constant scrutiny. At times, it is a result of ‘otherness’, which could be based on gender, looks, your background. What also interested me was how African communities are looked at. There are so also workers in Delhi from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and how they are perceived,” says the MFA from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda.
These observations are an outcome of her one-month long stay in Delhi’s Khirkee extension, where she has been engaging with the community along with four recent art graduates who are part of PEERS 2016, the 13th edition of the annual residency programme hosted by Khoj Studios. The prominent theme is alienation and urban safety. If Kolkata’s Manojit Samanta builds a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of cardboard cut-outs to depict the chaotic life in Khirkee, Smita Rajmane, an MFA from Shiv Nadar University, has mapped the area around Khirkee Mosque to project class realities — with majority of the landowners inhabiting the area around the mosque.
Johnson Kshetrimayum’s wall work is more personal. The 26-year-old Manipur resident has shared his agony of being discriminated against as a student. “My friends and I were called everything, from ‘chinky’ to ‘chowmein’ and many times were slapped and beaten up in Baroda,” says the MS university alumnus, as he carefully completes a sketch on the wall that has him running to avoid being beaten up. “The public always supports the opposite group, just because of how I look. Some don’t even know that Northeast is a part of India,” he says.
The environment might be hostile, but there are solutions too. So the youngest artist from the group, Arijit Bhattacharyya, has a design solution for people living in temporary shelters. His leatherite bag can be transformed into a superhero rubber suit which will protect against fire. “There is a lot of economic development in Khirkee, but there are huge safety concerns in case a fire breaks out. The suit acts as a protective gear. I want my art to be functional,” he says.