Musharraf and Atal Bihari in a court of jesters
By: Soumya Mukerji
680 pages, 101 artist interviews, and alternative art techniques that you'd never imagine possible. Soumya Mukerji tells you why The Khoj Book is one fat find that you should waste no time in getting your hands on|
Good art, they say, forces you to unlearn what you thought you had enough knowledge about, which is what The Khoj Book manages effortlessly. To judge the book by its cover -- the black blanket scattered with what appears to be confetti over places marked on a map -- makes one wonder whether the book is a fascinating universe or no more than a black hole.
Artist Saira Wasim from Pakistan is known for her political paintings, a
painting from her Manoeuvring Miniature collection
No kitschy collages typical of art books, nothing loud, no boasting big names despite the presence of superstars including Subodh Gupta and Tejal Shah in the book. One page in, and you're glad you brought it home.
On page two, a lizard's posterior peeps out from an electric switchboard as the creature struggles to hide itself. Thankfully, the rest of the narrative does nothing to conceal the constant doubts plaguing the art world.
No sugar-coated truths
Editor Pooja Sood, one of the co-founders of Khoj, an artists' association that took birth back in 1997, reflects on the several experiences that got the group going for a decade -- the celebration of which are the 101 artist interviews that follow. But it's far from a glowing account. The words have a sense of honesty and humbleness, with the group's failings falling into words as earnestly and as proudly as the page announces its achievements.
Pooja reminisces over the days they struggled to set up a shack studio in Delhi's chaotic Khirkee village, the blurring managerial and creative roles of most of its members, falling prey to power and wriggling their way out of it. The book addresses important concerns that hound the institutionalisation of art, like, "is it possible to merge an art practice with a curatorial practice, or must they remain separate?" "Can they both be seen as creative practices that have 'artistic' outcomes, or do we need to delineate them due to different decision-making and administrative processes required?" The answers can be found in the experiences and learnings in the essays and Q 'n' As that fill latter pages.
The interviews are divided by year; with artists being listed under the year they joined the collaboration. The book sells itself as a bringing together of Indian artists' venture, so it's interesting that there are names from as far as Namibia, UK, US, Singapore and Australia. The questions are simple, the answers profound: no highbrow gobbledygook, no self-conscious snobbery.
Heard of sleep art?
There's Tejal Shah's live sleep art, Anita Dube's flesh carvings, situational shots from warfronts, multi-media hijra workshops and grass graffiti.
The works sway from quick-quirk to painstaking precision; from humour to horror; from gross to grand.
The formats for the interviews, on the other hand, experiment with self-dialogue and artist-to-artist interrogation -- a likely first in Indian art literature.
Whatever the style, it is one that arouses awe. The perfectly chosen pictures that pop out, making you pause and question what their creators think of art world labels like "alternative". Each work challenges your comprehension and stretches your interpretation, pitting contemporary against classic, and putting masterpieces to shame.
There are even tributes to revolutionary yet overlooked art initiatives, like the 1890 Group and Cholamandal Artists' Village -- India's largest self-supporting art colony in Tamil Nadu. Blank Noise is one of the more recent ones, fighting crime against women with an "eve-teasing food chart", among other tools.
With enough to feed the finest of your aesthetic senses, this big boy is a collector's item.
What is Khoj?
Khoj is an experimental art laboratory that brings together artists from different parts of the country, the subcontinent and the globe, as defined by artist Anit Dube in the book.
It is an effort to set up a cooperative, non-hierarchical work situation where dialogue, exchange and transfer of information, energy and skills take place as an "intensely lived experience".
The Khoj Book, co-published by HarperCollins and Khoj, is priced at Rs 5,999 and can be ordered via email (email@example.com) or phone (0120-4044837).