Contemporary artist Tushar Joag, who considered art as a tool for social concerns, passed away at his residence in Noida after a heart attack. He was 52. He is survived by his wife, artist Sharmila Samant, and two children.
The artist was famous for his 2010 bike journey of over 50 days from Mumbai to Shanghai, when he passed the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Madhya Pradesh and, then, the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei province in China, and highlighted the plight of those who were displaced due to these mega projects in “Riding Rocinante from Bombay to Shanghai”, which featured in the inaugural exhibition of Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi in 2011.
In his performance piece Right to Dissent in 2011, Joag locked himself in a room at the Clark House in Colaba, Mumbai, for six days, as he wrote in notebooks the words, “I will not lose faith in the Indian democracy and judiciary”, mocking the country’s outdated laws. This was his response to the arrest of public health activist Binayak Sen, who was arrested on charges of sedition and later released. Artist Mithu Sen, who has worked with Joag in many group shows, says, “He had his own ideology and strong vision. He was a great human being and that part of him led him to do that kind of art.”
Joag, an alumnus of the Sir JJ School of Art and Baroda’s MS University, had solo shows, such as “Reconciliation and Truth” at Chemould Prescott Road, and “Willing Suspension” at Gallery Chemould in Mumbai, apart from group shows like “India Art Now: Contemporary Indian Art Between Continuity and Transformation” in Italy, “Here, There, Now: New and Recent Work by Artists from India” in Bangkok, and “Hungry God: Indian Contemporaries” in Beijing.
His installation at the Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair in Shanghai, The Enlightening Army of the Empire, created around the time of the US-led invasion of Iraq, was also presented by Gallery Chemould in 2008. It featured 16 humanoid figures, made using the steel spare parts and lights of bikes, cycles and cars, alongside lights used by dentists in their clinics. Rendering a sense of dystopia, this army of soldiers appeared marching and searching for weapons of mass destruction. Shireen Gandhy, owner of Chemould, who has represented Joag since 2005, says, “To me, Tushar as an artist has been the conscience keeper of the art world. The kind of artist who truly lived activism to the point where we felt his sense of moral.”
Five years ago, Joag shifted from Mumbai to Delhi to help set up the Masters in Arts programme at Shiv Nadar University, where he went on to become the associate professor and head of the Department of Art and Performing Art at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. His colleague, Delhi-based conceptual
and performance artist Atul Bhalla, who was also part of the founding faculty of the programme, says, “He was an engaged artist who was making artworks for the community which very few people do. He moved to Delhi because he wanted to give back to the society. He helped lots of students personally by getting them funds to be a part of the university and went out looking out for sponsorships so that people could sponsor students. He insisted we have students from all classes irrespective of where they come from.”