The India Show

Experimental and Political Video Art from India

Programmed for Magic Lantern by Pooja Rangan

“The India Show,” designed and printed by Xander Marro

“The India Show,” designed and printed by Xander Marro

The India Show is composed of a set of short political video works by Indian filmmakers that was originally put together for programming by new media curator and writer Johan Pijnappel. The program includes both independently-produced films and works made as installations in larger exhibitions.  Though quite diverse, nearly all of these videos take up the issue of religious fundamentalism in some capacity, no doubt because many of them were produced in the immediate aftermath of the incredible violence of the Hindu-Muslim communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. We might even say that they diagnose fundamentalism as a focal point around which a number of other repressed issues coalesce, become apparent, and come to a head: from state violence to nationalism, identity, cultural memory, and mythology. Located somewhere between such issues, the nation occupies a decidedly precarious space within these films, and all of the different works in this program examine how the very nebulousness at the heart of a notion like “Indian culture” makes it an extremely dangerous idea, one that can be taken up to inflict a number of violences. Considering how history, gender, sexuality, caste, art, technology, and religion have been variously deployed to define what India is and what it is not, The India Show examines how such categories figure in ethnic struggle, while also asking about the role and stake of art in this struggle. -PR

Memory: Record / Erase
Dir: Nalini Malani | India | 1996 | 10min
Malani’s interpretation of ‘The Job’ by Bertolt Brecht, set by the writer in the period of the depression in Germany. This piece recounts the memories of an impoverished woman who is driven to impersonating her own dead husband in order to procure his job as a night watchman. Using a tactile technique, Malani paints directly onto glass, drawing over or erasing the previous images. Images and sounds crumble into fragments, throwing the ephemeral and unreliable nature of memory and identity into troubled relationship with questions of ethics, class, gender, and performativity.

Dir: Tushar Joag | India | 2002 | 4min
A documentary on the politics of hate, made soon after and in response to the bloody Gujarat riots of 2002. Joag examines the suddenness with which the weight of a repressed fundamentalist history is brought to bear upon identity during moments of religious crisis, turning his own past into a burden that he wishes he could auction off.

Unity In Diversity
Dir: Nalini Malani | India | 2003 | 7min
This piece revisits a 19th century painting by Raja Ravi Varma that allegorizes the unity of the Indian nation. Varma’s painting, ‘Galaxy of Musicians,’ features 11 female musicians dressed in the different costumes of India, signifying ‘unity in diversity.’ This painting was commemorated at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago (1893) where Swami Vivekananda, a famous proponent of Hindu reformism, addressed the kinship between religious orthodoxy and nationalism, a sentiment that was then only just emerging in nascent form. Malani’s video juxtaposes this secular vision of democratic idealism with recent images of the genocide in Gujarat in 2002 and stories of the general rise of fascism in India, astutely raising the question of whether all forms of utopianism are inherently violent.

Jataka Trilogy
Dir: Tushar Joag | India | 2004 | 7min
The title of this piece refers to the Jakata tales, Indian folk stories passed down and reinterpreted by each new generation. Joag wades through and tries to order a disparate collection of mediated memories assembled from newspaper images of butchery, war footage, and animated cartoons, throwing into relief the impossibility of gleaning any simple fable-like message from the media proper to his time.

Stinging Kiss / Chingari Chumma
Dir: Tejal Shah | India | 2000 | 8min
Stinging Kiss playfully interrogates the sexual subtext of mainstream Indian films. Conventionally, a heroine would be abducted by a bandit, taken to his den and tied up only for the hero to come and save her, just in time. Shah maps the eroticism of this scenario onto the equally commonplace trope of hero-villain torture scenes, calling attention through her inversion of gender roles to the spaces of queer desire left unaddressed by Bollywood.

Dir: Valay Shende | India | 2002 | 4min
Shende superimposes footage from a popular TV serialization of the Mahabharata (an epic Hindu tale of warring families which culminates in the apocalyptic battle of Kurukshetra) upon scrolling text on the riots in Gujarat that mimics the format of breaking news on television. The artist weaves together a commentary on the uneasy combination of myth, violence, distraction, and entertainment that subtends religious polarization in contemporary India.

Kissa-E-Noor Mohammed (Garam Hawa)
Dir: Anita Dube | India | 2004 | 15min
The reference to “Garam Hawa” (or “Warm Breeze”) in the title of Dube’s piece, refers to a 1973 classic of Indian cinema of the same title about the impact of Partition on a Muslim Indian family. This video is performed entirely by filmmaker Anita Dube, dressed in drag. Dube plays a fictitious character named Noor Mohammed, an amiable middle-class male owner of a small store, who is asked to speak his mind for 15 minutes. Noor’s rambling monologue begins with a friendly and innocuous biographical history, but quickly escalates to a diatribe on religious fundamentalism and fascism that betrays the volatility and violence of his own dormant views on the topic.

National Pudding & Indigenous Salad / Rashtriy Kheer & Desiy Salad
Dir: Pushpamala N | India | 2004 | 11min
In a satirical play on early post-Independence family values, Pushpamala N’s film Rashtriya Kheer and Desiy Salad draws inspiration from patriotic material found in family recipe books dating from the 1950s and ‘60s. While the mood of this parody of mid-century dogmatic patriotism is endearingly silly, the persistent references to scribbled domestic lists, personal memos, poems, and classroom notes compose an inventory of the banal, quotidian, and innocuous practices in which ideological rites continue to be consecrated.

Nalini Malani was born in Karachi in 1946 and lives in Mumbai. She is a senior multimedia artist with an extensive exhibition history. Her practice encompasses drawing and painting, as well as the extension of those forms into projected animation, video and film. Committed to the role of the artist as social activist, Malani often bases her work on the stories of those that have been ignored, forgotten or marginalised by history.

Tushar Joag, born 1966 in Mumbai, has a BFA from the Sir J.J. School of Arts in Mumbai and an MFA from the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda. He was a Resident at the Rijksakademie van Beeldenden Kunsten in Amsterdam (1998-2000), and has exhibited in Milan, Shanghai, Amsterdam, London, and in India. Joag’s work has created a discursive platform for urban issues through a visual practice that is both educative and artistic. Rather than adopt a behalfist, subaltern perspective to speak for the city’s masses, Joag struggles through the frustrations of contemporary life with humor and hyperbole, reminding the public of the full scope of urban reality. Tushar Joag lives and works in Bombay.

Tejal Shah is a visual artist who works with video, photography, sound, installation and performance. Her interests lie in the areas of sexuality, gender, disabilities, and the interrelations between humans and nature. In 2003, she co-founded Larzish — India’s first international film festival of sexuality and gender plurality and in 2006, she had her first solo show “What are You?” in India and the USA. Shah was born in Bhilai (central India), graduated with a B.A. in commercial and illustrative photography from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (2000), and was a visiting scholar at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1999-2000). Currently, she lives and works in Bombay, India.

Valay Shende was born in 1980 in Nagpur, India, and completed his BFA in Sculpture from Sir J J School of Art in Bombay in 2004, and participated in an artist residency programme at Point Ephemere in Paris. Among others, he has exhibited in Havana Biennale,‘Bombay Maximum City’ at Lille 3000, and ‘Made by Indians’ at St Tropez Beach in France. Shende works mainly with video and sculpture installations, and his pieces take up the vicissitudes of class, struggle, and the status of the family in contemporary Indian urban life. Shende currently lives in Bombay.

Anita Dube (b 1958) is one of India’s most renowned contemporary artists. Born in Lucknow in northern India, Dube holds a BFA from the University of Delhi and an MFA from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda. She has been exhibiting her work in India and internationally since 1987 and was included in the 2000 Havana Bienal, 2001 Yokohama Triennale, and ARS 1 Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. Trained as an art historian and critic, Dube’s work is predominantly sculptural, paying attention to the sculptural fragment as a cultural bearer of personal and social histories. Usually employing a variety of found objects, Dube explores a divergent range of subjects that address a profound concern for loss and regeneration- both autobiographical and societal. Anita Dube is now based in Delhi, India.

Pushpamala N (b 1956) studied sculpture at the MS University in Baroda, India. Since the mid 1990s she has been mainly working in photo performance and video, exhibiting widely all over India and internationally. She uses women’s stories and women’s material as a device to explore history, memory and contemporary society. She lives and works in Bangalore, India.