The basic concept and framework is to bring youngsters from our subcontinent together and make them meet each other, have conversations, start discussions and maybe even collaborative projects. What brings people closely together is the very beautiful and dramatic history of the region.
The Young Subcontinent, a project that seeks to engage artists from India and its neighbouring countries, exhibited its second cycle at the recent Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa. But unlike the art that we are used to, art that elicits responses like ‘amazing’, ‘wow’ and ‘beautiful’, the works included in the most striking project of the festival inspired shock, pain and even horror. Project curator Riyas Komu tells Ivinder Gill how the artworks express dissent and why it’s so important. Edited excerpts:
The Young Subcontinent has been some years in the making. Tell us about it.
We started planning for this project three years ago, and exhibited part one last year. The basic concept and framework is to bring youngsters from our subcontinent together and make them meet each other, have conversations, start discussions and maybe even collaborative projects. What brings people closely together is the very beautiful and dramatic history of the region. We have a very strong, shared history, borders, mythology, water… we share everything with these people, and more than that, we also share conflict. We share the issues of freedom of speech, fundamentalism, terrorism. So it is a very interesting time to allow these youngsters to speak up and express their concerns.
One thing that comes forth very prominently in most of the exhibits is pain. Was it on purpose or coincidental?
That is the situation actually. You’re dealing with a region like that. What a Sri Lankan is going through, what a Nepali is going through, the Bhutanese, Indians, Afghanis, Bangladeshis—all that will get reflected in art. The circumstances produce these works. The anger, the frustration, angst…it’s all there, and art is a medium to express that. The pain is not intended, it’s there. It’s a fault of the system. The artists are also protesting through these works; how long will you live suppressed like this? The youth are concerned about their future, language, all kinds of possibilities, patronage, limited exposure to the art world. The participants are very vulnerable, they are also very fearful about how to take their careers forward.
The works on display are very raw, and in-your-face. This isn’t the highly curated, ‘sanitised’ art that we are used to. So would you call it ‘people’s art’ and not ‘artist’s art’?
The rawness that you feel, that is what it’s all about. As we progress aesthetically, most of the artists go into the process of refinement, stylisation, recognition, process of minimising their practices. These are early stages for these artists, so you will see them raw.
In the exhibit from Bangladesh, the artist is chanting for hours at a stretch, which is quite haunting. We don’t see things like that in cities like Delhi or Mumbai. Why is that?
That’s what I am saying. The stories are there, let them tell you that. What makes a festival very interesting is if you allow dissent to happen and connect that to the local community that lives around it. Because this generation wants dissent to happen. That’s what you’re seeing in these works and I am sure this work resonates back in their nations as well. We are trying to heal certain things through art. What I always believe is, if you save art, art will save you. So that becomes the answer for many, many conflicts. It allows you to think forward, move forward. You consistently need to have conversations, you need to allow expressions to happen. The artistic freedom, the autonomy of an artist, is the most powerful weapon.
And you agree that this normally doesn’t happen, because we’re not used to seeing dissent through art?
That’s what we have to fight against, we all have to fight that. So this is the form of a fight, a resistance, a form of protest.