Monday, April 6 –
Friday, May 29, 2015
Weekdays, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Watson Institute, North Common Room, 2nd Floor
An exhibit of works by prominent contemporary artists invited by Bhrigupati Singh to respond to his book, Poverty and the Quest for Life: Spiritual and Material Striving in Rural India.
Poverty and the Quest for Life – A Conversation between Mediums
An adda is a space of conversation. Sometimes, if there are one or two or more who dare, an adda can turn into a séance, a conversation between mediums. Between mediums may be as tough or productive, as it is to converse between disciplines. Some mediums work with images and their work is called art. Rather than thinking of text or image, academia or art as necessarily having a greater claim on thought, let’s for a moment consider these as distinct but related ways of transcribing movements of spirit and matter.
With such movements in mind, in January 2015, I invited ten contemporary artists to respond to my book from within their own archive of thought and work. Or more than inviting them, I provoked them with the following passage from the book’s prologue:
For those who will receive it, this book contains the offerings I brought back from my spirit-prompted travels. I returned above all with an ethnographic imperative: my indebtedness to life as I experienced it in Shahabad. I wanted to paint a picture of that life. How modest or exalted is such an ambition? In loftier moments, I desired to paint a larger and more colorful picture than what I once saw on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The world I encountered, the gods and grains and ghosts and humans that populate the pages ahead, demanded no less. An anthropologist may strive for expressive knowledge, not as a subject mastering an object, but rather as a form of devotion to this world.
I could tell you each individual artist’s biography and give you evidence of their world renown but Google will do that better. For me, these are continuations of conversations with friends, some that have been going on for the last two or three years, others began in 2000 when I worked for Sarai-CSDS (Delhi) that was founded on an ethos of such conversations.
I won’t, I can’t, explain the images, but I can suggest ways in which they respond to my text, which may act as signposts, I hope, to increase the pleasure with which they are viewed. Some images respond to particular concepts in the book: life force, thresholds, waxing and waning life; some respond to specific people in the book such as Kalli; others traverse both concepts and events that occur in the book – the drastic depletion of forests, shifts in ritual practice, the potentiality besides the actuality of violence; some images recalibrate our picture of the urban; while others tease but also celebrate the picture of knowledge that this book pursues. I won’t say which is which.