Young Subcontinent: Sightlines

“In the process of getting to know the other, you begin to understand the other and begin to work with the other.” Anuj Daga, the curatorial assistant for Young Subcontinent: Sightlines, puts forth in a nutshell, the entire vision behind the project.

Recurring at the Serendipity Arts Festival’s third edition, the idea behind Young Subcontinent is to forget the haphazardly drawn boundaries across the South Asian map for a moment and think from the perspective of commonalities, differences and the commonalities within these differences. Because, despite the differences in the kinds of conflicts we associate our identities with, we share an all too similar history, that of violence- political, cultural, urban and mostly man-made.

Young Subcontinent began with an aim to create a platform to bring all these differences and commonalities together, to be displayed as sections of a whole in an attempt to initiate a dialogue between artists from various parts of the South Asian subcontinent. The third edition of Sightlines takes this vision ahead with the involvement of eight countries (with the addition of Myanmar this year) and twenty-four participating artists.

Curated at the Old Goa Institute of Management (GIM), the project spans across an entire building making use of about sixteen rooms. While in the past two years, the project had been fortunate enough to have had bigger sites and halls to work in, this year as the project grew larger, space became a limiting factor. Yet, GIM a lovely heritage site, offered smaller rooms to work in wherein the team incorporated the space itself as part of the installation.

Mustafa Khanbhai’s Critter City is an installation in projection-mapping that talks about an alternative way of looking at urban ecological systems. The projector is placed at the entrance, while the viewer is positioned outside; the video-installation utilizes the entire space of the room, barring the viewer from entering the room itself. It is at this spot outside, behind the projector, that the layered parts of the projection become a whole and the full intention of the artist is realized. “At a particular angle this (the set up of the projector, the surface and the object) creates the illusion of a single composite visual; from all other angles, the layers separate and reveal themselves.”

While the exhibition is quite exhaustive to go through, it is twice as interesting. The artists from across the subcontinent have brought to the platform a wide array of multimedia works varying from video and sound installations, projections, performances, to the use of various mediums like cement sacks, paper pulp, acrylics, watercolours, etchings and photographs, amongst others. The dialogue is not just between the artists from different cultures and social situations, but also between various mediums- traditional and contemporary, to put forth their subject as creatively and efficiently as possible.

Saranraj V. from Chennai tells the tale of the mournful Oppari singers and their transformation as a guild, out of necessity, so as to adjust with rapidly disappearing customs. He puts forth his tale with the etchings of the Oppari singers on cow-skin drums, the very instrument of the singers’ craft. Intrigued yet fearful of the wailings of these singers since his childhood, Saranraj presents the changing times from the perspective of a tradition-turned-craft. Thus the traditional cow-skin drums become the medium of display for his series Portraits of Oppari Singers.

Kathyayini Dash puts together her ghosts of misused and overused Dalit bodies, constructed out of ‘procedural systems’, using a variety of materials like cloth pieces, wires and ropes amongst others. In this multimedia installation The Assembly of Ghosts, Kathyayini has attempted to reconstruct the journalistic images of Dalit bodies that have kept recurring in the media over the past two or three years. The wounded bodies of the dead also exhibit “wound sheets” made out of papier-mache; “wounds that have congealed to form the body mass as a whole”. The installation has further dimensions: the lights, the projections and the artist’s interaction with these suspended bodies as she sings in anger and sorrow, immerses the visitor in this assembly, reinstalling these images in public memory.

Partha Sengupta, a participating artist from Bengal exhibits his photo-series, Bhumiputra, a saga of confusion with regard to identity and disappointment of a people with their government, because it refuses to recognise their citizenship. He describes his experience of meeting his fellow visiting artists as “eye-opening” and “amazing”. It becomes a different experience when you have a face-to-face dialogue and exchange of ideas.

For the artists involved in the project, Young Subcontinent is a platform to interact with the audience and attempt an engagement with the idea of transcending borders and current political conflicts. Beyond this primary engagement, it also presents an opportunity to make connections with their fellow artists from other countries, in the process, understanding their perspectives and complications. Through a symbiosis of ideas and its comprehension, the young artists from across the subcontinent will perhaps be successful in countering the differences to build a new community together.

Since artists are the visionaries of a society and art a medium of their communication and reflection, it is imperative for these artists of South Asia to understand each other. The artists of Young Subcontinent: Sightlines, have often come together for collaborations and independent work even after the culmination of the project, reinforcing its objective and purpose.