Together in resistance
As the resistance to hatred mounts, I take a step back from the bubble of the art world and look within for strength, love and hope
I'm struggling to unpack this new normal that has come to mark my every day in Delhi. I'm only here for another week before I leave for Bangladesh to do fieldwork for my book for Oxford University Press based on my visits to South Asian artist studios.
Between nursing a pollution-related sickness, dealing with an adamantly toxic art world, managing deadlines and attending protests, I try to wrestle with this feeling of finding myself estranged from all the disparate realities I am compelled to inhabit. Recognising that the art world is an elitist bubble which I'm no longer able to identify with, I made a conscious decision to abstain from attending any event being hosted that has the word cocktail in it, or 'opening'. Not because I'm maintaining sobriety, but because I'm unable to fathom having a fancy drink while cognisant of how thousands of people in different parts of the country are sitting out in the cold to protest the imposition of an obviously discriminatory law.
Also, I cannot bear the thought of being forced to pose for a selfie with other art world revellers, or even being part of the frame. This doesn't feel like the time to celebrate. I'm not sure what there is to celebrate. How can an industry feign exuberance when the economy as a whole is crumbling, when unemployment rates are rising, and when the political tide is unabashedly fascist? None of the 'art' I have seen thus far at the India Art Fair provides refuge from hate-fuelled politics. Now is the time to generate solidarities, to further a culture of empathy as a counter to mindless fundamentalism.
I was ready to leave the India Art Fair when I bumped into an artist who informed me about the incident of the gun-wielding man at Jamia. When I got home, I kept replaying the video. I couldn't make sense of the police inaction. It was as if they had frozen in time and then were suddenly put in motion.
It completely eludes me by what logic their passivity can be seen as acceptable. Here was someone capable of committing murder. I have this deep-seated fear that nothing will happen to him, that he will be sent back into the 'free' world while the government relentlessly pursues Sharjeel Imam. If this is not a clear sign of religious discrimination, then what is? And what can be the appropriate response to something like this?
We cannot counter hate with more hate. We have to insist on creating networks of care and spaces for togetherness. How can we evolve our capacity to empathise so that we do not 'other' as a knee-jerk reaction to feeling othered? How can we learn to accept our differences and co-exist?
Audre Lorde says, "In our work and in our living, we must recognise that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction... It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognise, accept, and celebrate those differences." She also says that "Revolution is not a one-time event."
I recently acquired a beautiful pink-paged booklet called "What the Lorde said", which has typewritten compilations of some of her most radical thoughts, published by Sister Library. Just across from the page that reads what I last quoted, appears this citation: "Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing."
I couldn't agree more. Even while I accept how exhausting it is to battle where we are standing, and for the span of time we are standing, protesting must become part of our being. Resistance is most efficient when it is performed as part of behaviour, when we internalise its modes and we understand how to incorporate it into our daily life. This is when our ideology becomes a lived practice.
Lorde says, "Art is not living. It is the use of living." It's a statement I'm still unpacking, and because it comes to me in this booklet without any context, without any sense of provenance, without any remark about where it has been sourced from, I try to arrive at my own interpretations of what it could mean. I don't have any answers yet, I'm still living with it.
I want so badly to be writing to you from a vantage point in the future when all that's unfolding now will feel like a bad dream. It's difficult to hope, but it is, right now, the most radical act. Love must conquer the politics of hatred. We must stand together, for each other, as a collective, secure in the knowledge that our salvation is intricately linked. We are bound to each other by the very constitutional logic we are fighting to uphold.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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