Updated: Jul 15
by Georgina Maddox
Anupam Roy’s solo exhibition 'Broken Cogs in the Machine' speaks of our wounded democracy through his powerful ink on handmade paper installations, gouache drawings, poems, video and book works
When one enters the gallery to view the larger-than-life scrolls that are pinned to the wall and hang from the ceiling like protest posters, one notices that Anupam Roy and a group of his artist friends who have helped him install his artwork are all seated in the corner eating lunch. The sound of cutlery punctuates the artist’s voice that rings out from the small television set where a loop of his video-work is playing.
One then takes in the twisted tortured human forms that merge and transform with machines and beasts of another universe; one notes the subaltern hands that raise up from the earth clutching their tools; one is literally surrounded by the armed soldiers that police the protestors and the silent yet potent screams of protest that fill the gallery.
“Art activism is a popular and catchy terminology but it is only when you converse and negotiate with the art spaces of art and of activism that one does not surrender to its popularity that this catch phrase has become,” says Roy, his tongue firmly in the cheek, after he has finished his lunch and is engaging with his work and the visitors who have dropped in to view the exhibition.
Appropriately titled Broken Cogs in the Machine, the exhibition is supported by The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) in collaboration with the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and is a culmination of Roy's journey with the FICA Emerging Artist Award, which he received in 2018. Supported by Vadehra Art Gallery, the exhibition is currently open for public viewing at their contemporary art gallery. Roy who originally reflected on the hinterland of rural Bengal, where his roots lie, has studied contemporary art at Ambedkar University, Delhi, and he did his second MA in Fine Art from De Montfort University, Leicester, UK, supported by the Charles Wallace Long-term Scholarship.
“One is glad and honored by the support received by FICA and Pro Helvetia, for the art that is made for protest is not an easy ‘collectible’. It is made from materials that even a common man has access to, not even canvas but handmade paper and ink,” says Roy, adding, “I have of course made some works in gouache on paper and I have created video work as well, but what I am really happy about is the books that become ‘affordable collectibles’ which can be picked up by young artists and even the average person” referring to the limited edition books in black-and-white, filled with his protest drawings and poetry by him and others from the left movement.
Roy’s art practice emerges from a continued engagement with grassroots politics that has led to the development of a vernacular vocabulary around modes of collaborative making, tools of resistance and a multitude of contexts around ‘art and activism’. Moving beyond conventional formats of display, his drawings and paintings are informed by a discursive, political witnessing and an awareness of the deep roots of systemic violence and injustice.
Broken Cogs in the machine_0022, Oil on canvas, 12 inches x 12 inches, 2022
Broken Cogs in the machine_0019, Wiggle eye and Oil on canvas, 12 inches x 12 inches, 2022
Broken Cogs in the machine_0011, Black ink on Nepali handmade paper, 24 inches x 30 inches, 2022
“When one visits, for example, Birbhum District in West Bengal, one is witness to the levels to which the land has being mined. How the capitalists would not leave and how it will not survive at the rate that it is being ransacked,” says Roy giving one example of the many sites visited by him and his colleagues during their many visits to engage with the grassroots politics through left-leaning organizations. Allahabad, Pune and Delhi are some of the other places that he mentions.
Broken Cogs in the machine_0042, Black ink on Nepali handmade paper, 30 inches x 90 inches, 2021
Broken Cogs in the machine_0002, Black ink on Nepali handmade paper, 90 inches x 24 inches, 2020
“One must of course try to do what one can in the given scenario,” says Roy. Through this exhibition, and even his previous artworks, he brings together an inventory of work encompassing a range of forms and explorations with media, looking at the historical constitution of the working class in the contemporary moment. “We may be cogs in the machine, but we are broken. In other words we do not submit passively to the system even though we may be part of it. We protest and fight for what we think is right," says Roy. The concept of ‘brokenness’ he believes addresses the experience of being part of a ‘larger system’ while retaining a sense of ‘individual agency and personhood."
The exhibition then becomes a discursive space of convening the various ‘incapability of definition’, of ‘differentiation and discourse’, where one creates ‘a stage to think of and encounter ways of being that meditate on what it means to break, resist, and remain broken’.
The exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery, D-53 Defence Colony, New Delhi, will remain open till 5 August 2022.
(All images are courtesy of the artist Anupam Roy)
Georgina Maddox is an independent critic-curator with almost two decades of experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She was assistant editor at India Today’s Mail Today and senior arts writer for the Indian Express and the Times of India. She is currently working in the media as an independent critic for various publications and has published articles in Open Magazine, India Today, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and also in Elle Magazine, The Hindu and Business Line, Sunday Magazine BLINK, TAKE on Art, Time Out, and online with US based E-magazine, Studio International, STIR world and MASH Mag.