By Murari Jha with Devarshi Gohil + Anubhuti Trust
Curated by Shaunak Mahbubani
at Mumbai Art Room Sept 6 - Nov 15 2018 Supported by the Inlaks India Foundation
This is not a white cube / हीं केवळ कला प्रदर्शनी नाहीं. You are not in a closed room / तू बंद कमऱ्यात नाहींयेस. This is a playground / हीं मुक्तपणे खेळण्यां ची जागा आहे. Approach with empathy / तुझ्यातली सहानुभूती जागी असू दे. Engage with care / गुंतवणूक काळजीपूर्वक कर. No means no / बरं का.. नाहीं म्हणजे नाहीं.
Virginia Woolf asserts, "I am not one and simple, but complex and many", while Toni Morrison reminds us, "You've got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world, not about finding a villain."
As we try to understand ourselves and others as complex, multiplicitous beings, with the inherent freedom to change and reorient as we see fit, how do practice the labour of recognizing the fluid needs and desires of those before us? This question has no easy answer, but the pursuit of its excavation has the potential to reconstitute the very nature of our interactions. This exhibition, triggered by the ripples of the #MeToo movement, is a space to experiment with few of the threads of this vast question.
The space set up for this exploration is not a white-cube, not a closed room, it is a playground. In his book Homo Ludens, Dutch cultural theorist Johan Huizinga posits play as an important part of the development of culture. I am convinced of this from first-hand experiences of projects in public spaces like markets and metro stations that were able to tackle questions pertinent to our civic and social cultures through the use of playful approaches. The unique location of the Mumbai Art Room, situated on the street without many of the barriers that cordon off private art spaces, allows for another opportunity to deploy the potential of play in experimentation and questioning.
Within this playground, we encounter several of Murari Jha's creatures. Inspired by both Dada readymades and Surrealist erotic objects, these sculptural forms cheekily combine allusions to the body's erogenous zones with everyday materialities of the South-Asian region. Playing with position, scale, weight, material, movement and other interventions, Jha imbibes into each of his friendly creatures a set of preferences of interaction, often hidden and imperceptible until a labour of understanding is undertaken. Some are keen to be touched, moved around, enjoying empathetic contact, but bruised by harsh handling, others are more shy and settle into corners, or harden themselves allowing visibility but deflecting fondlers. Within themselves, they present a plurality of modes of communicating consent.
The exhibition brings into play multiple conversations between Murari Jha and myself about the notion of performativity. We are interested in how the exhibition space becomes a catalyst for performance, and how the elements of the space: artworks, viewers, text, the space itself, perform with each other. Can simple acts of reaching out, bending down, avoiding, and double glancing, make viewers more invested in the questions of a space?
Consent itself is a large and complex topic, needing insightful and nuanced considerations. To help us navigate these ideas, and help translate our work to larger audiences, we reached out to Mumbai-based NGOs Anubhuti Trust and Rubabroo Foundation. Both have been working with youth communities in Mumbai, Anubhuti working with a model of holistic empowerment for older teens, and Rubabroo working specifically towards awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse. Anubhuti has teamed up with illustrator Devarshi Gohil to create a poster-zine about communication and consent, primarily for children and teens, but also insightful for adults who may be pleasantly surprised to read for example, that 'safe sex' is not only about contraceptives but also about open and respectful communication. Anubhuti Trust will also conduct workshops for teens, utilizing the exhibition space to trigger conversations about body image and consent. Rubaroo Foundation has come on board as our public outreach partner, organizing visits for children they conduct workshops for at multiple homes and shelters across the city. We hope these children's ongoing conversations about sexual health, abuse, and consent, can be enriched through a visit to the space.
A creature or idea is monstrous only when seen from a certain perspective, or when read through a certain history. The ten-headed king is viewed as the villain by one side but has been posited as the voice of ten indigenous tribes by the other. Similarly, the question that crowns this text is seen as large and unsurpassable only within the colonial-capitalist world that we are caught within today. Within this region, within the chaos, within indigenous and adivasi spaces, we have for centuries been doing the labour that resists the need for instant categorization and easy reaction. While it may see like a new process, our neural, emotional and muscule memories are waiting to be activated and move into action. To be able to see the importance of, and to re-engage with the process of performing this labour is one of the most pivotal steps towards creating the non-violent spaces we seek.