ver the last month, we've heard the word 'manifesto' being bandied around quite a bit. Across media channels, different political parties have presented their 'charters', which include everything from making Delhi a safer place for women, to better roads, to arresting corruption in bureaucratic circles.
At the Khoj studio, however, the manifesto has taken on a whole new meaning, not just as a document of proposals, but also as a work of art. A new exhibition, titled We Are Ours: A Collection of Manifestos for the Instant, pulls up this centuries-old artifact and transforms it into a capsule of the zeitgeist of 'our moment'.
Featuring works by 27 renowned contemporary Indian artists, including Aakash Nihalani, Abhishek Hazra, Aditya Pande, Aradhana Seth, Hema Upadhyay, Jitish Kallat, Kiran Subbaiah, Neha Choksi, Pors & Rao, Prajakta Potnis, and Praneet Soi, among others, this is a collection of statements and art work done across multiple media.
Curator Himali Singh Soin says that she'd initially thought of hosting this exhibition at the Jantar Mantar, today seen as the primary choice of space to stage a public protest. "I wanted to use Maharaja Jai Singh's idea of recording time through shadows to meditate on manifestos — earthly beliefs orbiting in cosmic circulations. Manifestos are of this time, of the here and now, but they aren't carved in stone. They are ultimately pamphlets that often get trampled upon, even as they seek to record important new ways of being and seeing. Yet, just like the shadows on the sun dial, by the time we've recorded it, the moment has already passed."
Because they are transient in nature, manifestos demand and endorse a degree of self-reflexivity. In that sense, these 27 works were commissioned as aesthetic manifestos to create a constellation of ideas that lie between the artist and the history of art, its institutions and its socio-cultural origins, between the personal and the existential, she says.
For instance, Rajorshi Ghosh's The Narcissist Manifesto includes a mirror, but in the middle is a black hole that sucks in your reflection, inspiring the viewer to question what it is that we look for in looking glass surfaces. Bharti Kher also plays with mirrors in her installation What Can I Tell You That You Don't Know Already? A set of cracked glasses hang on the wall, enabling you to reflect on the nature of reflection as you pass across them.
Nikhil Chopra's Be Present is a set of two works, one a Monet-esque painting of a landscape, the other a photograph imagining the painter as he sat drawing this scene. These, then, become a proposition for reviewing how we make art – is it no longer about representation of things as they are? Raqs Media Collective's I Bid the Future has a set of speakers placed on top of a ladder, on which the recording of a bizarre auction is playing – where values and emotions, and the future, are up for sale. Mithu Sen plays with the idea of presence and absence in her work, which has a seemingly clear slate of glass sitting on a pedestal, but the reflection of which shows the words 'Doesn't Exist'.
Surabhi Saraf makes an exceptionally intriguing statement with her installation that simply includes an iPad and a set of headphones. Siri, Apple's voice-butler, politely tells you: "In principle, I am against manifestos, as I am against principle." She goes on to say that she hates common sense and encourages the young futurists of today to be led, because "everything is inestimably easy". The two-minute sound channel is riveting for its commentary on the apocalyptic possibilities of technology.
There's a manifesto for everything, from present new ways of seeing, making and consuming art, to reclaiming our ecological space, to observing the body in spaces like theatre, to even one that makes suggestions on toilet etiquette. What unites all these works, done across paper, wax, glass or any other material, is the size A4. "The A4 paper sheet is symptomatic of our industrial culture, as it is of the idea of reproduction. It also seemed to me to be a good way to string these diverse works into a coherent narrative," says Singh.
Venue: Khoj Studios
Date: 17th December
Timing:11 am – 7 pm