India’s renowned left wing artistes, performers and singers came together to put up a show and extend support for the people of Gaza for the event- ‘Artist Action for Gaza’ in Delhi. Samudra Kajal Saika reports as the evening gave way to moving performances and visual imageries.
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Artists coming out with social and political concerns is not a rare evidence in the Indian art scenario. Right from the emergence of modernism in Indian art practices, we see art echoing its political affiliations. During the 1940s and 50s, visual artists like Zainul Abedin, Chittaprosad Bhattacharya, Somnath Hore, Quamrul Hassan and Gobardhan Ash marked a new trend of political art against the conventional practices of the time. In the editorial of ART & DEAL magazine, in September 2011, Rahul Bhattacharya had said, “…one cannot negate that increasingly the notion of art and public is going through a sea change in India. It’s not surprising that it is in the medium of performance and within the understanding of art as a socially performative practice that such a change is being felt and expressed.” Performance art and public art are two distinctive streams of contemporary practices where the exercise by their innate nature tends to appear political. Recently a performance by Inder Salim again proved the potentiality of public performance for making a vivid expression.
On 31 July, 2014, an event for artists’ action was arranged at Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, SAHMAT, New Delhi to protest against the events happening in Gaza that took nearly 1,400 Palestinian lives.
In the times of trouble caused by the heinous acts of Israel, when the Indian Government is not taking stands, the creative communities in India have come forward. “There is a statement issued,” photographer and activist artist Ram Rahman said, “which is quite hard hitting on the Government to come back to a policy to support for the Palestinian people which was an old tradition in India, since before independence, before Israel was even formed”. “John Kerry is in Delhi today. Indian people have always stood with the Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli aggression. They must ensure that the new Indian government carries on this tradition of support for, and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle,” said Rahman. “We stand together to protest against the horrors being committed. If the state does not do something, the artists can and will,” said MK Raina, founder member of SAHMAT.
Several distinguished dignitaries joined the cultural protest against the Israeli military operation in Gaza and in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Veteran actor, Padma Bhushan recipient Sharmila Tagore, Sanjana Kapoor, iconic singer Rahul Ram, to name a few, participated in the event. Sharmila Tagore declared her full support to the statement announced by the event and read out two poems of Samih al- Qasim and Mahmoud Darwish. Granddaughter of Prithviraj Kapoor, theatre personality Sanjana Kapoor also recited Vijay Prashad’s poetry in the forum. Rahul Ram of Indian Ocean began with a famous protest song ‘Gar ho sake to ab koi shama jalaiye, is daur-e-siyasar ka andhera mitaiye,‘ from their latest album ‘Tandanu’ and then another spirited number ‘Kanpura’ by Varun Grover from the film Katiyabaaz.
Subodh Gupta, Mala Hashmi, Ram Rahman, Tushar Joag, Vivan Sundaram, Nalini Malani, Inder Salim, Saif Mahmood and many contemporary artist and cultural activists joined hands in the solidarity. Poet Nirmala Garg, Dr Brijesh of Jana Natya Manchalso read out poetry. Academic Sohail Hashmi recited few ghazals on the ongoing war against the Palestinians. Marxist scholar and political commentator Aijaz Ahmad and singer Madan Gopal Singh also stood for the cause. Lyricist Javed Akhtar, ‘Invisible City’ writer Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil, Urdu Ghazal poet Noman Shauq, historian Irfan Habib, educationist Anil Sadgopal, historian Zoya Hasan, renowned painter Saba Hasan, theatre actor and director M K Raina were among the other supporters..
Inder Salim is a performance artist based in Delhi who is engaged in political art since long. In The Art Cities of the Future : 21st Century Avant Gardes, eminent art historian and curator Geeta Kapur writes, “With over fifteen years of his performance-presence in Delhi, Inder Salim has produced two distinct profiles: one singularly eccentric, the other convivial and open to forms of collectivity. As an individual performer in public sites, he offers simple gestures with political overtones. When he performs in solidarity against institutions of power, his demonstrations bears the hope that dissident positions, inscribed in history, will reword societal norms”.
In a performance that borrowed reference from poet Mahmoud Darwish, Inder Salim, wearing a tattered school uniform, smashed watermelons and took out olives from each. In the crowded foreground of the event location Inder threw watermelons to hit the hard surface of the ground to smash and scatter. The smashed watermelons were busted out, the red colored ‘flesh’ of the inner side were spread all over the ground. It was visually striking as the action was referring the act of dropping bombs and the residue of the scattered watermelon parts were looking like wounded human flesh. Then the artist and the gathered spectators pick up some olives out of the smashed watermelons. The olives were pricked into the watermelons. Olives are national symbol of Palestine, representatives of the main crop of Gaza, they were wrapped in small plastic bags with small pieces of paper carrying some portions from “Silence for Gaza”, a poem by Darwish. Inder offered the olives to the public to taste. He announced he wanted to make the audience taste the olive from Palestine.
“I made the audience taste Palestine, which is olive fruit along with a fragment of Mahmoud Darwish, the poet”, Inder Salim says. The olives from the smashed watermelons could be a ray of hope beneath the catastrophe happening towards humankind caused by Israel. “The idea of distributing olives was to inform people how Israel is cutting these olive trees to encroach into Gaza,” people witnessing the action interpreted.
Keffiyehs (scarfs worn by Palestinian men and a symbol of Palestinian nationalism during the Arab Revolt of the 1930s) and photos from Gaza – of dead children, mourning mothers and destroyed buildings were in the backdrop. The Cultural Protest program was a joint action by Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), Jana Natya Manch (JANAM), Parcham, Janwadi Lekhak Sangh, Progressive Writers Association, Act One, InCACBI, Jansanskriti and Palestine Solidarity Committee.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 200 Palestinian children have died in the three-week-old operation. “As a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, I felt I must speak up for the children of the world, especially after a UN school was bombed yesterday… How many children must die before someone takes action to stop this war?” Sharmila Tagore asked.
Ram Rahman said, “The evening event today was organised by five or six left winged Artists’ Groups, writers’ Groups, coming together. Many of us have been watching the terrible events happening in Gaza and as the creative community, I think people are more upset and wound up. So we decided to do a creative protest through various art practices. Our idea is to channel these voices and get them out into the world.”
“Many groups have come together today,” Ram Rahman continued, “Representatives of each of those groups have performed, or spoken or read poetry. So basically it’s a fairly wide group of creative community making this expression. I think it is very important for the artistry and intellectual community coming together. This new Government has had a change in the policy so we want to raise our voices also to our own Government that they must come back to the voice of the Indian People.”