The art of survival

Jul 07, 2013, 23:51 IST | Devika Desai

Vasudha Thozhur's exhibition is a cumulative, sensitive portrayal of a decade-long project that examines the role that art can play for the individual as well as the masses against the backdrop of the Gujarat riots in 2002

Despite a decade-long gap, the memory of the Gujarat violence of 2002 remains fresh in the minds of many. Everyone knows the story -- what happened, how it happened, why it happened and the aftermath.

Terminus Erraeus by Vasudha Thozhur

But how many of us understand the plight of those directly affected by the riots? Starting on July 11 till 31, Sakshi Gallery will host Beyond Pain: An Afterlife: an exhibition of posters, prints, journals, paintings and videos actualised in a decade-long project headed by artist Vasudha Thozhur after the riots of 2002.

This painting of the Shah-e-Alam relief camp shows the symbolic presence of relief trucks used during the riots to help victims

“Like everyone else, I was absolutely shocked by the events of 2002, the violence, the bloodshed, the overall human trauma. It made me question art -- what could art do to help these victims, serve a meaningful purpose?” says Vasudha.

Vasudha Thozhur
Vasudha Thozhur

Hence, in response to the monstrosity of the Gujarat riots and her need to give her art a mission to fulfill, she collaborated with Himmat, an activist organisation based in Ahmedabad to begin a project that aimed at building a visual archive. The project’s main essence was derived from six women survivors of the communal contention, with whom they worked with through a series of workshops. “Some of the displays are mine, including the writings and large artworks. The rest belong to the girls,” reveals Vasudha.

 This exhibition will feature the Gujarat riots through a survivor’s voice. “A colleague of mine from Himmat had found the six girls, aged 12 to19 years at the time in relief camps made for families who had fled Gujarat,” recalls Vasudha. “After we received the research grant from the India Foundation for the Arts in 2004, we began holding workshops for the girls. Each workshop concentrated on a different module, an acquisition of different skills.”

They were taught artistic expression through a variety of art forms like painting, drawing, videotaping, and traditional embroidery. Now, ten years later, their skills are not only showcased in different galleries across India, but have also provided them an income source. Many of their works have been sold, giving them the financial support to look after their families, including their children. “The project is still continuing”, adds Vasudha.

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