Framed within the image of a Kashida-embroidered shawl is a photograph of the Kashmiri students who fled Dehradun after the recent Pulwama attack. The image shows nervous youth huddled together in a makeshift shelter in Chandigarh, where they sought refuge after they came under attack by mobs. Amplifying the power of the image, the text below reads, “Who would I hate to prove my patriotism, when night engulfs us all.”
The artwork is part of a poster campaign in the run-up to a series of protest performances that will take place in almost 10 cities this weekend. Led by Delhi-based independent artists collective, Artists Unite, in association with similar local groups from various cities, will present performances aimed at speaking out against rising incidents of violence in the country.
“People are being attacked for what they eat, what they say or their markers of identity,” says Gurugram-based independent filmmaker Rahul Roy, a member of Artists Unite. “Since artists work in the field of culture, a large number of us decided to come together to raise our voice against it in the way we know best — through art,” he adds.
The protest performances will take place on March 2 across several cities including Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Dharvad, among others. The form of the protest, however, will vary from city to city.
Delhi will see a mega-event over two days on March 2-3 where close to 200 prominent artists will take stage at the Red Fort lawns. The organisers have set up five different stages at the venue for a variety of programmes scheduled. “One of the evening stages will, among others, present singers Shubha Mudgal and Rabbi Shergill; performers Aditi Mangaldas and Astad Deboo; Sheetal Sathe, formerly of Kabir Kala Manch; Delhi Sultanate and stand-up comedian Sanjay Rajoura. A day stage from 11am-4pm is for theatre groups, dastangoi and poetry. There are open mic events, art spaces and a documentary film tent too,” Roy adds.
The series of events have found participation and support from some of the biggest names across the cities, including Arundhati Roy, Sanjna Kapoor, Sameer Kulavoor, Sanjay Kak among others. Many have also been aiding the poster campaign as part of which the collective releases one poster every night, which is anonymously created by one of the artists.
Formed two years ago, Artists Unite comprises many names behind the #NotInMyName campaign, which took off in order to protest against incidents of lynching. One of the reasons the artists decided to form their own collective, explains Roy, is because they felt they could go beyond the rhetoric of speeches and work in the field of culture, such as poetry, art, theatre and so on. “But the most crucial aspect was to be able do things that are self-organised,” says Roy. “It’s easier for two artists to come together and perform as opposed to bringing out a morcha each time,” says Roy. The idea behind these events, timed together in multiple cities at such a scale, says Roy, is to reach out to as many people as possible. “The times we are living in currently… we don’t have the luxury of thinking about impact. It is an emergency situation. Right now, the biggest assault is on culture and so, the response and resistance has to come from within culture too,” he says.