Performance Art Project Asia: Light and Shadow

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Part One: Where there is light, there is shadow


by Aakshat Sinha


The Performance Art Project Asia was held on 9-11 October 2020, with an additional day (14 October) to accommodate artists who were unable to join on the planned dates. The festival was streamed through closed Zoom sessions, spread over four 30-minute sessions daily. In this first part of the three-part review of the online festival, I’ll look at the relationship of light and shadow, where they coexist and support each other.


Since early this year, we’ve witnessed different stages of lockdown owing to the pandemic. Even with the easing of social distancing norms to support a nose-diving economy, opportunities to organize such festivals in person have reduced considerably; at the same time, the lockdown has given way for new opportunities as well. Notwithstanding the limitations of accessibility and network issues, the virtual medium enables global participation – both by the performers and for the appreciating viewer.


My earliest exposure to performance art was in May-June 2019 when I organized the IAM –Identity Art Marathon festival at Arpana Fine Arts Gallery in New Delhi. It opened with Inder Salim’s workshop on Understanding Performance Art, and later at the same festival HexxyDuxxyBox performed their first act, with Satadru Sovan in the lead along with two performers and Abhimanyu Singh on the guitar. Since then I’ve been regularly associated with performance art and artists. HexxyDuxxyBox performed another couple of times during an art residency that I organized at the NIV Art Centre, New Delhi, and at the opening of the exhibition at the same venue. My own understanding of performance art has grown exponentially as I’ve experienced more such performances, which occupy not only the physical space but also equally the mind. Collaborations with Inprocess (with B Ajay Kumar and others) have helped me find my own personal relationship with this form of art. To be invited to attend and review Performance Art Project: Asia, organized by Rah Art Residency, Iran, in collaboration with HexxyDuxxyBox, India, has been a privilege.


Rah Art Residency is a non-profit art organization, committed to supporting artists, curators, researchers and writers on an international level as well as engaging the local community in the Tehran area with residency, exchange and year-round public programs.


HexxyDuxxyBox is a collective; a catalyst assembly for head-to-head interactions, collaborations and creative gossip, with the spirit of a gathering or community in a metro city.


The curators of the festival Satadru Sovan (HexxyDuxxyBox) from India and Mahmoud Maktabi (Rah Art Residency) from Iran were inspired by one of Satadru’s poems:


Every shadow having own specification with million tonality

Where there is light, there is shadow A world blossoms, approaches full moon and wanes, With the flow of moments, like moving to and fro in the open sea. Each a beauty on its own, does not explore a world of light without shadows! Attempt if you wish but you will not stumble upon it. When you love the light in a mortal/individual, you also love the shadow in it. Like a full moon its beauty will demonstrate in the darkness of the night, And beautiful soft shadows thus formed by its golden light. The shadows are vacant souls that roam this land of drift. Forgiveness, a motivation and acknowledgement is all they demand, They stay hidden in the dark cocoon of your beautiful mind. Only to make their unforgettable appearance and corrupt it over time.

The first day saw the opening notes delivered by the curators and performances by Prashant Jha (India), Sanskar Verma (India), Navjot Singh Sandhu (India), Vivekananda (India), SM Reyad (Bangladesh), Mukesh Singh (India), Nitesh Kushwaha (India) and Dinesh Solanki (India). Each of the performers interpreted the suggestion of Light and Shadow in their own way.


Prashant Jha is a graduate from the Institute of Fine Arts, Modinagar, a small industrial town in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). His practice juxtaposes the human body with nature while questioning gender and sexuality. His performance at the festival was titled Life in Danger of Nature (The Harmful Shadow). Prashant’s concept focused on light as a symbol of life and hope; where there is light there is shadow. The pandemic has highlighted disconnect with nature. Life itself has become a scarecrow but today that is not the scariest thing. The field outside is.


Prashant had set his performance in an open field where the crop had recently been harvested. The bales of collected hay lay stacked; the sky met the ground on the horizon behind the tree line. This meeting accentuated the meeting point of the light and the shadows. The elements within the view available to the audience included aural highlights. Unfortunately, network issues didn’t allow the act to run through till the end.


Performance Life in Danger of Nature (The Harmful Shadow) by Prashant Jha


Sanskar Verma is a multi-disciplinary artist from Mirzapur, UP, pursuing a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the Department of Textile Design at Kalabhavan, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan. He was awarded the CSC Scholarship by the Chinese Government and the Kalasakshi Memorial Trust Award in 2019.


Covered with burnt cloth, Sanskar presented a semi-nude performance in a park with shrubs and greenery. The use of the burnt cloth signifies the harm we do to ourselves when we harm nature. The performance had an interesting take on representing shadows through reflections in a mirror. The mirror reflects the world around and at times our own selves. "It is the shadow of nature around us,” says Sanskar.


Performance 'Shadow of Nature' by Sanskar Verma


Performance Shadow of Nature by Sanskar Verma

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Vivekananda is an interdisciplinary artist from Mangalore and currently based in Goa. Using different visual and performative mediums he translates his queerness, and documents his yearning, dissent and curiosity. His art is a composite of stories, desires and memories. He has worked with communities through art projects like “Gender of the Moon” and “Emotions of Bachpan”, and curated multiple exhibitions and events with Ashoka Art Gallery. His performance titled The Dance is a recreation of a ritual – an attempt to showcase that dance happens within the mind of an artist as the artist keeps drifting between the canopies of light and dark. One is incomplete without the other.


The dance started off with him mixing colours on a board and coating them on his arms, body and face, much as a painter would cover the surface of a canvas to create a painting. He seemed to be in a state of trance, oblivious of the virtual onlookers. The use of blank paper and burning it to create ash is symbolic of the end of one state of matter. His fixed gaze onto the paper as it burned down highlights his meditative state of complete awareness of just his own being and the burning object held in his hand. The ashes mixed to the colour palette below which he further coated on to his body suggests an increment to life with each dying existence. The cycle of life continues. This was a strong and expressive performance that reaffirmed the cyclic nature of death/darkness merging with and transforming to renewed life/light.


Performance The Dance by Vivekananda


Performance The Dance by Vivekananda

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SM Reyad is a visual artist based in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The environment and people around him are the core essence of his art. His practice includes performance, installation, and videos as well as drawing, painting, and photography. In the words of the artist,

“Here comes the epoch of going into exile, the nightmare of my soul abandoning my body, only to being caged in the middle of nowhere. Who am I being uprooted from where my mind lives in? I wish to reclaim my exiled soul from the depth of the soil, in the cuddle of the fountain, deep into nature, into the dark of the forest to not only embrace the light of liberty, but to declare the triumph of life and love, blessed with rituals and traditions.”

The performance takes place within the confines of the artist’s room with the use of a coir rug, a bulb, and colour for face paint. He hides himself by wrapping the stiff rug over and around himself. This seclusion is then broken by the use of red and white light. The face is painted red as if it were becoming a reflection of the red light. He goes on to remove the rug and finds himself trapped headfirst within a saffron-coloured sack that allows very limited movement for his arms and the rest of his body. It seems as if the human tendency to be attracted by light and to be trapped within is being realized.


Performance by SM Reyad


Performance by SM Reyad

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Navjot Singh Sandhu is a young self-taught artist born in the district of Jammu, India, who started his formal art education (BFA) in 2018. He believes that light and shadow play an important role in each other’s existence. They are interdependent. Light helps us build perceptions and these perceptions in turn define our life.


In the performance Navjot uses two bulbs with white and yellow light, and a large mirror on the wall to reflect his inner and outer selves. He uses mugs, saucers and spoons to perform the ritual of bathing, eating and drinking the light emanating from the bulbs, almost as if to absorb the light as a cleansing agent and nourishment for sustenance for his soul. All this takes place while he keeps a close vigil on his reflection in the mirror.


Performance by Navjot Singh Sandhu


Performance by Navjot Singh Sandhu

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Mukesh Singh completed his MFA from the Department of Fine Arts, Kurukshetra University. He has performed across 10 Indian states including at the Morni Hill Biennale, Chandhigarh, and has received the Studio Scholarship from Lalit Kala Akademi, Chandigarh. In his performance, I am a living light he says,

“Darkness is not a presence. It is the absence of light. Light the light within and dispel the darkness around.”

Mukesh is attired in black clothes and he uses white powder (probably flour) to ceremoniously coat himself with. This act of slowly changing the colour of his clothes from black to white while blowing the powder around him seems to start by changing his dark nature from within and reaching outwards. The process takes time but the ritualistic performance seems to calm him down uncreasingly as whiteness prevails and he goes off to sleep lying down on the now white floor.


Performance I am a living light by Mukesh Singh


Performance I am a living light by Mukesh Singh

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Nitesh Kumar Kushwaha hails from a small village in the state of Bihar, India, and currently works and resides in the Punjab. In his practice he explores narratives and iconography from gender narratives, pop culture and media. His work is about himself, as well as sensuality, seduction, desire, eroticism and physicality. In his performance “light and shadow are complementary”


The black plastic sheet used to cover his body reflects the light around while keeping the light of the torch on the inside hidden from outside gaze. The shadow from the torchlight remains invisible during the performance as the light is under the opaque plastic sheet. The shadow symbolizes the body and the soul hidden from the world.


Performance light and shadow are complementary by Nitesh Kushwaha


Performance light and shadow are complementary by Nitesh Kushwaha

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Dinesh Solanki holds a Master's degree from MSUniversity, Baroda. He has done a body workshop with Nikhil Chopra and is a member of HexxyDuxxyBox, India v/s Mexico, Mizzing Nezz, and Tree Project, Germany. His performance, “A Metaphor of a Shadow”, symbolically emphasizes how “each of our senses comes together for an embodiment.”


The use of sound, body, light, and words sets up an experimental space where Dinesh’s fully-clothed body encounters other sensory triggers. Positioned in a corner, he crawls into the space and occupies it, bathed in bright light, as background sounds and words mark his movement. There is an aura of a fictional reality being created through the performance.


Performance A Metaphor of a Shadow by Dinesh Solanki


Performance A Metaphor of a Shadow by Dinesh Solanki

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Attended by over 50 people, the discussions at the end of the performances gave an insight into the perceptions and practices of artists around the world. The second part of the review will feature the performances on the second day by participants from India, Sri Lanka, Iran and Philippines. The third and concluding part will feature performances by India, Iran and Korea.


Image credits: Mobile screenshots courtesy of Aakshat Sinha


Coming soon: Performance Art Project Asia: Part Two and Part Three (concluding part)


Aakshat Sinha is an artist and curator. He also writes poetry and has created and published comics. He is the Founding Partner of artamour.

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