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OED Alternative art space
August 02-30



  • Engaging The Audience At Rx Opening
  • From The Rx Performance
  • Pranab Performing During The Rx Opening
  • Rx -display View
  • Sanjeev Speaking To The Audience
  • The Performnce Is On
  • View From The Audience- From The Rx Opening
  • Wall= From Rx By Sanjeev Khandekar
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Prescriptions for New Viewing

When Sanjeev Khandekar does anything in art, people watch it with some curiosity for his works always raise some heat and dust in the contemporary art scene. Recently, he took his new solo show to Pune for a not-so-urban audience. Soon the show will be travelling to other rural areas in the country. JohnyML catches up with the artist to know more about his new interest in new audience.

Johny ML: Sanjeev, 'Rx' as usual evokes a lot of curiosity. What is it all about? Say a few things about the title also.

Sanjeev Khandekar: ‘Rx’ is the universally accepted symbol for medical prescriptions. In India, and especially in small towns, like my hometown Sangli, the doctor’s prescription is treated as the word of God. People have unflinching belief in doctors. Belief is a strange creature, once you start believing, you become vulnerable and can be easily exploited by those you deify. Doctor is a new metaphor for the divine.

I employed the title ‘Rx’ to provoke humour, which has now become integral to my work. MBAs, politicians and their kin also belong to our pantheon of new Gods. Privatisation is one of the most popular prescriptions; urbanisation is the other. Isn’t it? Everyone wants to become corporate these days. Market is the key word.

Shopping is therapy and brands are a panacea. People love identifying with brands and feel secure in their presence. Although they surrender their individuality to brands, they believe that their endorsement of them is an expression of the self. “Rx” tackles this yuppie belief system.

JML: Why did you plan to do this show in Pune first and then to many other small cities in Maharashtra?

SK: I have always been committed to certain socio-cultural movements and institutions. The Maharashtra Cultural Centre, Pune, has been inviting me to show my works at their Sudarshan Art Gallery for some time now. As time went by other friends from various places also expressed interest. I wanted to go to the smaller towns and cities because I thought it necessary for my political works to engender wider dialogue. 

JML: Are you trying to be an art missionary?

SK: No, I have always liked standing alongside people, especially the common man. I think of him as my companion, friend, philosopher and guide.

JML: Your shows usually receive a lot of bouquets and brickbats. How did the people in Pune receive your show?

SK: I have received several bouquets and very few brickbats. That said criticism does not make me unhappy. The Pune experience has been very encouraging. Pune gave me what every artist wants – my works were discussed, a multitude of people visited; I interacted with local artists, eminent Marathi writers, poets, critics, and young students. I have always found that my works are well received by the younger crowds. All said and done, I did meet my viewer in Pune.

The Marathi and the English publications, both covered the exhibition at length. In fact, one Marathi daily even dedicated a cartoon to it. It has been really memorable.

JML: You are already a well known literary figure and an activist in the rural parts of Maharashtra. Does your fame make it easier for you to communicate with the not-so-urban public?

SK: A mother tongue is a mother tongue is a mother tongue. All of us are comfortable with our primary language and feel at home with it. That said knowing people and their language does not always help. It is more important that they grasp my concerns and where I am coming from.

JML: What you were planning to communicate with the public?

SK: Nothing new. Over the last few years, I have been voicing the same ideas. My concerns are the predicaments of my existence in the new or late capitalist market driven society, where an individual is considered a cost-profit centre. Just being human is not enough anymore. One has to be profitable. What does this mean and what happens if one endures losses? I read corporatisation as a fascist process. It makes me feel insecure. I am experiencing a new identity crisis triggered by the knowledge that my identity is coded and known to the corporate powers that be. I sense loss and loneliness when I am connected with everyone through my cell phone and the Internet. When I discuss these concerns, the dialogue provides me with comfort and confidence.

JML: As you know, senior artist Sudhir Patwardhan is also planning to take a show curated by him to eight stations in Maharashtra? Does your show pre-empt his attempt?

SK: Truth be told, this is news to me. But don’t you think it is high time we reach out to a new viewer? If Sudhir is taking his works to smaller towns and cities I congratulate him and would like to help him in whatever way I can. As I have already stated earlier on in this interview, this exhibition has been in the pipeline for a while now. Post-monsoons when ‘Rx’ hits the road again, I intend to add new layers to it by including site-specific installations, poetry readings, photographs, videos and performances… It will be a lot of fun.

JML: Should I read something Marathi art for Marathi People in this move?
SK: You are joking, right? Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t art for everybody.

JML: Could you please talk more about your experience of presenting ‘Rx’ in places like Pune?

SK: The day the show was inaugurated I overheard a viewer saying, ‘Oh, it’s not ‘Rx’, it is RDX!” I realised immediately that it would click. You would only have to glance through the visitor’s comment book to know decipher the level of excitement. Weaned mostly on the traditional, a smidgen of modern, including a lot of abstraction, most visitors to the exhibition had never encountered an exhibition such as ‘Rx’ before. Students were charged and were keen on grappling with the political thoughts that anchored the show. In fact, there were sales as well, with some works getting picked up immediately. We also ran out of books and catalogues. But I was most overwhelmed by the viewer’s desire to discuss the show with me.

Several years ago, we had taken authors and books to the hinterlands of Maharashtra, and had witnessed a similarly stimulating response. I think the import of communication can never be ignored and it is felt most where little happens culturally. Pune is an urban city with all the trappings of a burgeoning metro – IT, brands, malls, multiplexes etc. Moreover, it is also a culturally vibrant city with emphasis on film and theatre. Several important writers, poets, political thinkers and theorists hail from Pune.

JML: Do you think that Indian regional languages have the capacity to deal with the postmodern issues treated in contemporary art?

SK: Certainly. Our regional languages have rich literary traditions that are dense with profound expressions. Marathi language for one has a tremendous lineage of authors, playwrights and poets who may have received post-modernity a little late but now when I read Marathi poetry I observe a very fine post-postmodern expression emerging. Coming back to the English language, we are all well aware that the spoken and written English of today is not English in the strictest sense.

Having been accepted as a global language of sorts, English has been taken over by the corporate, highly disciplined, sectorised, segmentised, language of the ruling class, with all its decorative and fragile beauties. Its trajectory replicates that of Genghis Khan - attack, destroy, demolish and penetrate. With his Y chromosome, in every living human individual who has the Y today, corporate English is invading every smaller dialect. The new corporate English has invaded the original and precious of the regional tongue. Every tongue has been marked with its Yas a result both will loose and gain, indeed.

These battles with the new English are producing some excellent works. Language is another form of culture, and its highjacking at the hands of the corporate is a matter of anxiety. The mating of two languages and the gradual process of inflection cannot be compared to the systematic rapes and assaults carried out by the steely corporate tongue. The postmodern in the vernacular idiom is in part also a reaction to hegemony of the corporates.

JML: Does your show attempt to transcend the language and space barrier (I mean English and Urban barriers)?

SK: Although good work has its own vocabulary, it is easily translatable and travels swiftly. The performance piece, which I received as a response to ‘Rx’ is a good example of such a translation.

JML: I am told that you did some performance pieces along with the show? What was it all about?

SK: It is rare that one artist responds to, reflects upon and attempts to resolve the quandaries, often veiled, in another artist’s work. Pranab Mukherjee, a well-known theatre activist, was in Pune for a series of workshops on human rights. After viewing the show he informed me that he was moved by it and wanted to express his thoughts and reactions by way of a performance. Treating the installation as the all-important context, Pranab staged his performance in the all black gallery.

It was entirely spontaneous and unstructured and we were left with very little time to invite people. But the word got around and several intrigued and half-intrigued viewers turned up.

Pranab’s satirical performance was a lament on present day consumerist societies. His team of performers did not include a single trained theatre artiste and comprised of random individuals known to him. Namrata Daumoo from Mauritius, Mustafa from Somalia, Abhishek from India and Maryam Amjadi from Iran, partook of the performance and lent their nationalities to a global and political space. Pranab’s performance was enormously skilled and there was pin drop silence for the 45-minute-long performance. Those present felt that the performance provided a new window into ‘Rx’.

JML: Maharashtra's rural populace is not unaware of the performative aspect of culture as it has a long tradition of theatre and films. However, how do they receive the performances prescribed within field of contemporary art?

SK: When compared to the other Indian states, the theatrical tradition in Maharashtra is probably one of the strongest. We have an illustrious tradition of experimental theatre and what happened in Pune was not new. Pranab’s performative response was more theatre and less performance art, as prescribed within the field of contemporary art. The difference between the two is not too wide and the two complement each other. 

In painting and sculpture the object constitutes the work, in performance art it’s the time, the space, the performer’s body and finally the relationship between the performer and the audience that constitutes the work. Experimental theatre has approached it in almost same manner where performance artists unconventionally often challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways about theatre and performing, break conventions of traditional performing arts, and break down conventional ideas about "what art is," similar to the postmodern art movement. Body art, action poetry, happenings and even therapy theatre are not new comers in Maharashtra. Even certain rural areas have theatre activity and audiences. 

JML: What are you going to do with Rx in the coming months?

SK: I am planning shows and related discussions in various towns and small cities, including Sangli, Kolhapur, Latur, Aurangabad, Nagpur and Nasik. I have received invitations from Baroda in Gujarat and Jaipur in Rajasthan as well. The endeavour is to take ‘Rx’ to more and more smaller towns. Over the next few months, I will be planning and executing these shows. I am also working towards a solo and some group shows. It’s going to be hectic.