Performing to Provoke

Performing to Provoke

Holding a mirror on his shoulder,a Mexican performance artiste looks to reflect India’s economic divide.

This week,if you see a foreigner,seemingly headless and dressed in a perfectly-tailored suit,as he walks the streets while carrying a massive mirror,don’t be alarmed. In fact,Mexican artiste Roberto de la Torre would love it if you take part in his performance piece. In a powerful statement about the contrasting economic conditions of the country,de la Torre’s mirror will reflect the apparent disdain of the moneyed for the poor.

In de la Torre’s performance,one will see slums reflected in the mirror while highrises will be visible above him. With the mirror’s reflective surface held outwards,it will make the artiste appear headless. “I believe that humanity has lost its head and does not know where it is going. I saw a picture from the ’40s or ’50s of a man carrying a mirror; the fact that he looks headless was very powerful,” says the 46-year-old artiste.

Although de la Torre will be working on his new performance piece this week,the artiste is in the city for an altogether different reason. He is part of a group show,titled “Transcendental Evocations”,at Lakeeren gallery. The show features five Mexican artists with works that explore various issues,some of which are common between India and Mexico. As part of this,de la Torre’s work,titled 69 Windows,is a video of a performance piece from earlier — a comment on the seismic activity in Mexico.

However,de la Torre is using his time in India to work on the latest project where he has chosen to explore poverty —


another common factor between his country and ours — which he believes is more pronounced

in India.

When he experimented with the idea in Delhi earlier this month,he had “those moments that are the few joys of being a performance artiste”,especially because performance art does not sell. In an instance,when he was walking through a neighbourhood,children started throwing stones at him. Maybe it was the pain that the mirror exerted on his shoulder,but the Buddhist artiste felt like he was experiencing what Christ might have when he carried the cross. “I am not Catholic,but I grew up in a Catholic country so there is some context. It was a lot to do with the moment,it was so powerful that I started crying,” says de la Torre who has shown his work in 17 different countries.

The artiste hopes his artwork similarly touches the emotional chords in his audience,or somehow provokes them. In Chile,de la Torre did a piece that made people question the role of the controversial dictator Augusto Pinochet and in Mexico he did one which was about the narco-trade,but spoke positively about it and how it has helped his country. He says,“I don’t want to be controversial. All I want to do is get people to open up to a dialogue. In Chile,people in the same house get into fiery discussions on Pinochet,some hate him,others adore him. Which is why no one talks about him. It’s the same with the drug trade

in Mexico.”

Poverty,on some level,functions the same way in India where talking about Dharavi is not the best dinner table conversation. The artiste made it to Asia’s largest slum during the recce,but found a better spot in Bharat Nagar. “High rises behind,slums in the reflection and the Mithi river snaking its way around,it’s the best spot we have found,”

he says.

Unfortunately,India will not get to see the final work —

pictures and videos of the performance — any time soon,as

de la Torre leaves for Mexico on Sunday. “I love putting things in different contexts. Someone was telling me that the suit I am wearing is worth as much as a person in a slum would earn in a year. That’s horrible,but it is a context. I want to provoke society to think,” he says.