Dastarkhwan Monologues, a sound installation by Delhi-based Shashwat Srivastava — housed within the interiors of a tiny white room at Delhi’s Art Konsult gallery — serves as an apt entry to the exhibition “Contrabanned: Provocations of Our Time”. As viewers settle around a table, conversations in the background, handpicked from Srivastava’s interactions with his friends and acquaintances after the recent crackdown on meat trade in Uttar Pradesh, shed light on its after-effects in Lucknow.
One of the speakers is heard joking about how a day will come when guides will take foreign tourists through the restaurants in the city that were once known for kebabs. “Even small shops where poor people used to go for buffalo meat, which is much cheaper and was a staple diet for rickshawpullers, have shut,” says the 37-year-old artist.
Looking at the issue from a cultural point of view, Srivastava says, “Having grown up in Lucknow, I believe it is the best example of communal harmony. Eid is celebrated in a grand way, much like Diwali here, which cannot be seen in Delhi. Lucknow is famous for two things — the mannerism of its people, and the food. But a lot of tension has been created because of the ban on meat trade.”
Conceptualised by Engendered, Transnational Arts and Human Rights and curated by Myna Mukherjee, the exhibition explores the power of visual provocation in the public environment through paintings, photographs, mixed media, sound and video installations. The works have been created by over 20 artists, such as Veer Munshi, Chintan Upadhyay and Anindita Bhattacharya. Mukherjee says, “This exhibition invites a dialogue at the locus of both real and imagined licentiousness in the times of expurgated histories and repeated attempts to censor, sanitise and sequester culture.”
Harping on the theme is Valay Gada’s eye-catching work titled A Taste of Victory of Love Over Hate, which has a huge copper and brass tongue painted in glittery gold, that lies pierced with nails and scissors, thereby raising a dialogue around the issue of freedom of speech. “A lot of censorship has been happening with regard to the press, what can be spoken of governments, and many voices have been silenced. The censorship of MF Husain’s work happened to the extent that he had to leave the country,” says Delhi-based Gada, 37.
Birdbox, an audio and video installation by artist Baaraan Ijlal, as seen through a bioscope, offers a glance of the world as seen through the lens of young girls from cities such as Delhi, Lucknow and Bhopal, whose conversations have been recorded.
Among the hushed giggles, a girl talks about how she and her friends, between the age of 16 and 20, wish to have a boyfriend with whom they can share secrets. Pointing out how she wishes to experience the city at night, another girl from Bhopal is heard saying: “I wonder why should I get up in the morning, leave early and come back by 6pm. The fun that is there at night cannot be experienced during the day. We also want to go out into the empty streets and come back at whatever time we want.”
Milking It, a mixed-media sculpture of a cow created by Gargi Chandola and Yaman Navlakha, reflects on how the animal has been at the mercy of an opportunistic industry selling everyday products to consumers for commercial benefits and how it is used as an agenda for political expedience.