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Performance Art Project Asia: Part Two

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Shadows are vacant souls

by Aakshat Sinha

The Performance Art Project Asia curated by Satadru Sovan and Mahmoud Maktabi and organized by HexxyDuxxyBox (India) and Rah Art Residency (Iran) was held over Zoom online from 9 to 11 October 2020 and on 14 October 2020. The performances witnessed by me first hand on the first day were the perfect launch pad for the performances to come on the subsequent days. The review of the first day captured the essence of Satadru Sovan’s poem, “Every shadow having own specification with million tonality”, which had been the foundation for the curators when ideating the project.

As I sit down to review the second day’s performances, the following lines from the poem resonate in my mind:

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.

The changing landscape of witnessing performance art (in fact, most art these days), dictated by the use of virtual mediums, is often fraught with the challenges of poor network connectivity and at times conflicting simultaneous engagements. Owing to these reasons, regretfully, I missed the first two performances for the day by Ashish Maurya and Anima Ehtiat. Having read their profiles and concept notes I was eagerly looking forward to their acts but couldn’t see their performances live. Thankfully, the sessions have been recorded and the videos have been made available for further viewing. While I’m reserving my responses to the two missed performances for another day when I’ve seen their acts at length, I’d still like to briefly make a mention of the two of them.

Ashish Maurya is currently pursuing his Master’s in Fine Arts from the College of Art, New Delhi. He has received several awards and accolades, including the Prafulla Dahanukar Art Foundation’s City Merit Certificate. He says that we are surrounded by innumerable material objects and matter is best understood today not as passive or stable, but as dynamic and as a process. According to him, he objects of everyday life are not stable, but they perform and compel us to perform. He was to perform with these everyday objects in front of his ancestral home which now lies in ruins. He feels that every piece of the ruin is attached to an emotion within him.

Anima Ehtiat from Iran is an interdisciplinary artist covering performance, video and sound art, filming and painting. His poetic way of interpreting and talking is something that connects with people at large. Through his performance called “Dialogue” he raises the questions,

“Are humans still capable of conversation? Can words, as one of the most important human artworks, be reconciled? If so, why are we still witnessing poverty, war, looting, government greed, and relentless environmental degradation in the world? The performance was to be a signal of protest against human misunderstanding and distorted communication.”

Saurganga Darshandhari is a visual artist and printmaker based in Kathmandu, Nepal. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts from Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu and a Master’s in Printmaking from the University of Development Alternative 2009, Dhaka, Bangladesh. She has exhibited and participated in artist residencies around the world. Her performance is titled ‘She is not secure’ and as she puts it,

"Who are you? Are you human? Are you a social animal? Why are societies not social? Cruel eyes are freely roaming in our society during the Covid-19 pandemic. Those eyes are inside your home; there is nobody that you can trust. We – girls, women – are living in an insecure society."

The use of a diya (an earthen lamp which is lit with camphor) and the red colour that stains her hands while moving in and out of the houses symbolize the challenges and insecurity that a woman faces both inside and outside her home.

Performance She is not secure by Saurganga Darshandhari

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Foad Alijani is a Tehran-based trans-media artist who is known for his site-specific installations and performances. He has worked in residencies in South Korea, Germany and France. He sees visual arts as an ongoing dialogue between mental images and the material world and refers to his artistic process as an imitation of creation.

His performance was the first that I’ve ever witnessed where the performer is not part of the visible act. The camera captures a revolving office chair with colourful covers. The chair keeps changing position on its revolving axis while the lights – handheld and stationary – throw moving shadows of the chair on the wall with the light changing colour as well. It is captivating to see how the absence of the performer itself becomes a testimony of the individual’s presence. Such an act would not have been feasible were it not for the online medium. This act would have been far more complicated to manage in person since it wouldn’t have been fro`m a single viewing point, which here was managed easily online by the frame of the screen and the singular camera eye.

Performance by Foad Alijani

Nicolas P Aca Jr is a visual/performance artist who is currently a resident artist and the gallery curator of the Museum of Three Cultures in Capitol University, Philippines. His performance art deals with issues concerning the environment, poverty and local politics; he has participated in many international events across the globe.

This performance is the artist’s reflection and response to the current global crisis owing to the Covid pandemic. The two sturdy wood pillars(resembling the Toran gate of the Buddhist tradition) standing on the entrance of his own household portray his foundation as an artist. The string depicts how everyone feels trapped during the pandemic. The hunger of the masses is represented by the empty wok. Water that gushed down on him in the end was a symbol of the hope that all these global struggles would finally come to an end. The animals that rushed past him to and fro repeatedly, made his act move beyond the stage. The strings, gate, wok and the falling stream of water seem to provide a context for the struggle and a final cleansing.

Performance by Nicolas P Aca Jr

Performance by Nicolas P Aca Jr

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Bandu Manamperi and GR Constantine are performing artists from Sri Lanka. Bandu holds a BFA in sculpture and is a core member of Colombo’s Theertha Artists’ Collective. One of the initiators of performance art in Sri Lanka, Bandu remains one of the leading performance artists in the country. Constantine was born in a minority community of Sri Lanka, displaced from Kandy with his family. He was studying at the University of Jaffna when the ethnic war broke out, so he utilized this period to study art and become involved in cultural activities. “Broken Palmyrah” by him in 1994 was the first performance art event to take place in Sri Lanka. In 2015 he formed the “Theertha Performance Platform” to promote performance art in Sri Lanka.

In the performance two people meet face to face but both are wrapped inside transparent polythene bags. They try to greet each other, shake hands and even hug but the thin plastic layers prevent them to do so. They remain incomplete. Their bodies become increasingly blurred with only the broader outlines of their shapes visible – like a wrapped toffee or, rather, like a parcel. Parcels have a strong history in the uncertain times of the island country. Parcel bombs were a rage (constant public paranoia) during the three decades of civil war in the country. People started to associate terror with a parcel which was simply the form of the object, much like this performance where the individual features of the two performers are completely blurred and become simple plastic coated forms; but all they lead to is solitude and isolation.

Performance by Bandu Manamperi and GR Constantine

Performance by Bandu Manamperi and GR Constantine

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Chathuri Nissansala is a multidisciplinary performance artist from Sri Lanka, currently practising in Colombo. An alumna of Chitrakala Parishath, Bengaluru (BFA) and MSU Baroda (MVA), she is an apprentice with the renowned artist Somapala Pothupiye at the Mullegama Art Center. She is currently exploring the roots of practices of southern ritual performing art.

In her performance she and her mother are both attired in white. Her mother’s face is also covered with the white cloth and as the performance comes to an end Chathuri’s visible face also wears a shroud. There is a sort of tea party in progress with a laid-out table and a stocked rack in the back. There are repetitive shouts of “sadde” (noise) and "Shame". This could as well have been the setting of a police interrogation scene with their relentless attempts to shame the individual. Further shouts in the native language that translate to “Shame, you didn’t love mother” (could nation be the mother?). The repeated shout of “sadde” transfers the role of the mother to a leader and then to a questioner. The mother passes on the crown she wears to her daughter Chathuri, who soon assumes the persona of her predecessor. The cycle continues.

Performance by Chathuri Nissansala

Performance by Chathuri Nissansala

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Satadru Sovan is a Fulbright scholar and a multidisciplinary Indian artist. His works have been featured in many art fairs and exhibitions. He conceptualized HexxyDuxxyBox in 2019 and has since been involved in many international collaborative festivals – both offline as well as online – since the pandemic. Having curated his works at the Indian Contemporaries Pavilion at Art Russia 2017, I’ve seen first-hand the response of the audience to his art that tries to capture and present gender and sexuality; the connect is immediate, relatable.

There is a quest for unnatural light and unnatural darkness as a communicative tool that utilises body, space, and action as a means of artistic expression in Satadru’s act. In his performance, Light and Shadow are a mirage, a camouflage, merely a question. He says and I quote,

“As a deep dark night passes over my heart, the morning rings the bell. Last night in it I lost my heart. The night is dark, deeply un-illuminated, ill-lit, moonless, dingy, gloomy, and overcast. The deep dark mystery is a song of desire.”

His use of balls, orbs, spheres and multi-color lights create an atmosphere where the darkness of the night becomes essential for the brightness of the lights to break the mould. He holds the glass ball in his mouth while directing laser lights onto it, creating reflections and refractions. As he keeps changing the elements of glass and light sources, it parallels an individual’s life as they go experimenting along, changing paths and viewpoints. Light attracts but it is the shadows that become the point of desire. In Satadru’s performance his body becomes the vessel that combines the light and the dark. The shadows accentuate the sparks of bright lights; in the beginning they are in complete contrast but then slowly they begin to diffuse and blend, leading to a blurring of the layers. This lends credence to the ‘psycho-geographic’ nature of light and its shadows.

Performance by Satadru Sovan

Performance by Satadru Sovan

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The day ended with Satadru’s performance and we all logged off to think over what we’d witnessed, eagerly waiting for the next day’s performance. Till this time we weren’t aware that an extra day (14th October) was also being planned as part of the festival to accommodate the artists who had been unable to log in to perform owing to network issues or health reasons. But I get ahead of myself, for this tale is to be told when I cover the next and final part of the review of days three and four.

Image credits: Mobile screenshots courtesy of Aakshat Sinha


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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