GRID Heritage Reflections
In 2019 we had a collective vision. Raminder Kaur was at a workshop in Kenya, Navtej Purewal in the USA, and Parul Dave-Mukherji travelling from India to Germany. We put in a proposal to the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Indian Council for HIstorical Research with exciting plans to focus on gender and intersectionality with respect to Indian and diasporic (GRID) heritage so that those people and practices discriminated along the intersecting lines of gender, caste, class and race/ethnicity along with their heritage works are fully appreciated, engaged and supported at national and transnational levels.
Our wish was granted - but it was a tainted wish marked by both retreat and progress.
We retreated because of the pandemic: we postponed the programme of activities twice, and withdrew all our plans for live events - except one with respect to the exhibition, ‘all canaries bear watching’, at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (SAA-JNU). From experiencing the exhibition in situ in 2022, there are elements in the actual space that are not there in the photographs on this website, including other artworks not included in the online gallery, ‘take us as we are’. Without the onsite exhibition, one cannot otherwise appreciate the texturality of artworks like those by Ranjeeta Kumari; the gentle breeze that moves pieces like that by the Tandel Fund of Archives, which looks solid and totemic in the photograph; the size and impact of the scroll-paintings by Dukhushyam and Lutfa Chitrakar and the paintings by Malvika Raj; the thoughtful way the intersecting space is used in the gallery and the use of interjoining rooms for audio-visual projections by Dayanita Singh and Mithu Sen; and how the exhibition space overlaps with educational spaces as with artworks in classrooms, and the laying out of books in the gallery so as visitors can sit and learn more about the wider contexts of gender and caste discrimination and much more.
We moved on because we recruited others to work with us, several of whom we have not yet physically met – namely Sanjukta Ghosh, Sourav Roy, Premjish Achari and Blossom Carrasco – and began to further reflect on, and interrogate what we mean by gender, intersectionality and heritage as well as the time-spaces associated with the project, namely India and the Indian diaspora in UK, past and present.
Gender and intersectionality expanded to a focus on the complex interstices between what seem like fixed identities to do with gender, race/ethnicity, caste/class, and sexuality to create a ‘third space’, ‘in between spaces’ that allude to the vagaries and transmutations of identity, poetics, and politics.
The move was also to consider other intersections to do with differential hegemonies – biophysical, social and political - related to disability (as with Mandeep Singh Manu and Bisakha Sarker’s work). Questions were raised as to whether gender is a constitutive part of the concept of intersectionality that overlaps with and cross-cuts other aspects of intersectionality in a way that is not merely additive (as highlighted in conversations with the textile artist Raisa Kabir and the Kathak dance exponent, Amina Khayyam. And where do the axes of identities end – can and should intersectionality accommodate age, region, the mobility of labour and other factors and vectors, or would this be to dilute the term’s critical edge and usefulness too much?
We also moved away from our earlier plans to coordinate the project along the axes of crafts, threads and echoes.To recall:
Crafts - paintings, illustrations and three-dimensional objects that remain outside the main canons of national and diasporic narratives.
Threads – embroidery and textiles that have conventionally been dismissed as low-class/caste and/or ‘women’s work’ associated with the domestic confines.
Echoes – music and performance that are either suppressed, erased or marginalised. that might be reflected in creative expressions and interventions through song, dance, drama or digital art to push boundaries and challenge assumptions of status, ‘pollution’ or ‘deviance’ that stigmatise the performer and/or the performance.
Instead of the above to be taken as categories, we took them as metaphors as we point out in the ‘Reflections’ on the India workshop: that is, crafts as created objects, threads as emergent cultural, social and political contexts woven around them, and echoes with the trails, traces, memories and transformations of objects and contexts that move across times and spaces including to the UK as part of the South Asian transnational nexus. We found stimulating synergies that are everywhere present in the online gallery as is most clear in the multimedia works of Bishi, George Chakravarti, Janine Shroff and Amina Khayyam.
Regionally, we were to focus on India and the diaspora in the UK. But we moved away from India alone to interrogate the making and cartography of nation-states. So we considered examples from the pre-partition era - as with the contribution by Gian Kaur and the conversations set up with the textile works by Amarjeet Nandhra and Manpreet Kaur; as well as those that cross and interrogate boundaries between nation-states – Shilpa Gupta’s illustrations and sculptures of maps, Raisa Kabir’s embodied geographies of textile labour, Bhajan Hunjan’s public art, the digital worlds of Seema Mattu, and Sohaya Visions and Mukul and Ghetto Tigers’ filmed performances evoking the transnational lyricism of Lalon, to name but a few.
And we moved away from the Indian diaspora in UK to consider a more fluid transnational nexus where artists based in India had tenures and held residencies abroad (such as Dayanita Singh and Mithu Sen); where twice or thrice migrants went to other places on their route to overseas destinations (as with Mohinder Kaur Bhamra, Sonia Panesar and Mir Suhail); and where those based in the UK from different parts of South Asia collaborated with each other as well as continued to return to the region for inspiration and reconnection (as with Meenatchi Gopal, Tanima Dhar, Kamal Koria and Sohaya Visions and Mukul & Ghetto Tigers).
But this is not to see India as merely a place of origin, homeland or history alone. As we have pointed out in the online exhibition, for instance, some of the oldest pieces in the gallery were actually found in UK as diasporic Asians bought pieces along with them from pre-partition India and kept them for heirlooms and archives (as we saw with the textiles and the Gandhi Charkha with Gian Kaur, and the photographs with Apna Heritage Archive in the ‘Black Country’ in the UK workshop).
Therefore, we have a cross-section of constantly shifting roots, routes, and rerouting. This comes with a myriad of journeys, changing pathways, and positions that we have to adopt and navigate.
Our views on heritage moved more confidently to interrogate the misleading yet often trenchant divisions between arts and craft/heritage, tradition and modernity, manual and technological, domestic and professional, pasts and future where memories memorialised through myriad media make the present and future.
Throughout, as Chandan Mahal, Lata Desai, Amina Khayyam and Bisakha Sarker showed in the Roundtable, ‘Polyphony and Poesis’, is the importance of woman-to-woman intergenerational transmission that might be broadened to consider woman-to-children in general as the foundational realm of creativity. Tanima Dhar works with a Fairtrade body, SHRI (meaning woman), that is committed to the revival of forgotten heritage textiles. She also works with Project Little Writer's Studio that supports younger generations to pen their own stories or poetry of folk artists adding intergenerational depth to the visual resources of her collections and design practices.
The only way we could begin to fix these moving territories for the practicalities of our GRID Heritage project was to focus on individuals in context as part of larger groups or collectives. It was also to foreground the notion of labour in creativity in the work of art – in other words, artworks that do not overly fetishise the object nor overlook the socio-economic contexts as to what gets included or excluded from artistic circles, whether they be galleries, museums, auctions and the market in general.
Our lens considered artworks in more than the obvious way: from the fleeting to the more concrete; the fluid to the more constrained; and the transgressive to the more policed. Recently we came across the term ‘Black Inclusive’ to accommodate those other races and ethnicities in South Africa who continue to live with prejudice. We may extrapolate along such axes to envision GRID Heritage Arts Inclusive.
Premjish Achari’s talk as part of the ‘Roundtable: Polyphony and Poesis’ on the importance of care and caring in curatorial work is instructive and inspiring here for these concerns also apply to the more nebulous realm of creativity. CARE acronymously: Creativity, Artworks, Resistance, Equality. Can we create while resisting hierarchy or heterarchy to move to more caring spaces of equality in heritage arts? And in such quests, do new hubs of authority emerge that might be just as constraining or oppressive? The work of CARE is necessarily continuous and contingent.
To build on the SAA-JNU exhibition, ‘all canaries bear watching’, birds appears in several artists’ work – see, for instance, Tanima Dhar, Bhajan Hunjan, Gian Kaur, Amina Khayyam, Mandeep Singh Manu, Bisakha Sarker and Janine Shroff in the online gallery. Birds are born to fly and migrate, but often they are in danger of being trapped or caged. The flight of the bird also implies migratory movements and a sense of artistic freedom to create in a non-borderless world.
Our identities are bird-like, but to adapt Max Weber’s phrase, they are trapped in the iron cage of modernities. Identities become both a restriction and a resource, a resource that people have used in a manner of way to transgress and often transcend such cages. Even if they may not specifically allude to birds, these conceptual avenues are pursued in many of the case studies that have featured as part of GRID Heritage.
Revisiting our Questions
We expanded our GRID Heritage repertoire of research questions with which many participants engaged. We provide our preliminary thoughts here that are part of our ongoing work as ‘reflections on reflections’.
How do we develop a context-specific understanding of gender and intersectionality as they apply to Indian and diasporic heritage?
Rather than offering personal biographies, we honed in on specific artists’ life stories and considered their artworks with respect to key GRID dynamics. While the pandemic stopped much movement, we managed to meet several artists in their homes in person or over the internet to discuss and record the social biographies of their artworks. We noticed how artworks accrued meanings as they moved from times and spaces as with phulkari moving from domestic spheres, navigating and resisting the mass production of the market and into the gallery. Continuous comparisons across borders made conversations and fruitful exchanges possible as with Gian Kaur’s diasporic repertoire from India engaging with the works of Manpreet Kaur based in India and second generation artists such as Amarjeet Nandhra based in the UK.
We noticed how biosomatic prejudice operated in specific ways in the two countries where race dominated in the UK (as contested in George Chakravarthi and Bishi’s work) and caste in India (as raised in Sudharak Olwe, Parag Tandel, Randeep Maddoke and Malvika Raj’s works). Islamophobia was another point of comparison, challenged in the works of Raisa Kabir and striking in the illustrations of Mir Suhail who grew up in Kashmir witnessing and experiencing the violence around him. The video stills by Dayanita Singh, On Myself Mona Ahmed, addressed intersectionality across sexuality and Muslim identity in powerful terms. Sounds of resistance to intersectional oppressions can be heard in the Punjabi revolutionary folk lyrics sung powerfully through the voices of Kavishri Jatha Rasulpur, Ikkatar Singh and Jagsir Jeeda. Mithu Sen lent another dimension to marginality as she focuses on the girl child in an orphanage in South India and creates a film with them in an artistic solidarity. Deploying gibberish as a means of communication, she appears to transcend the constraints of language and arrive at gestures of care. Altogether in our Reflections, we noted the importance of CARE: Creativity, Artworks, Resistance and Equality.
The broad landscape of academic research, cultural interventions and activism has enabled us to picture both a panorama of oppression and also extract the smallest pixel of specific experiences in that picture. An intersectional approach was used both in the selection and presentation of artists’ works in the exhibitions, by bringing together artworks, testimonies and documentation in diverse mediums from different generations of practitioners to examine their specific contexts that could offer us a nuanced series of explanations on conditions of marginality. The artworks helped us navigate through the labyrinth of social relations to unravel what it means to be marginal. The curatorial attempt was to make visible the similarities of these experiences in all situations of marginality; while also being cautious in formulating generalised solidarities and comparisons through narratives.
As exhibitions, the works have inspired us to think through two important possibilities: first, to make visible the effaced specific experiences of multifaceted inequalities that are accreted in the marginal subjectivity through its intangible and material traces; and, second, to also think through the universality of inequality, discrimination, and oppression, allowing us to visualise these factors in a wider context. For example, the two textile-based works in the exhibitions by Ranjeeta Kumari and Tandel Fund of Archives, are rooted in their specific cultural and social contexts. The repurposed sujani saris in Ranjeeta’s works are artefacts drawn from the everyday life of lower caste women in Bihar, amplifying the invisible domesticity, unacknowledged labour and their survival in a system of double oppression. But these vibrant colours of saris and the sequins on them pulsate with radiant energy. They shine brightly amidst the bleak experience of lived realities. Ranjeeta has infused these works with an aesthetics of resistance: the poetry echoed in the invisible corners of domestic spaces is released to be experienced, shared, and reiterated to form other new connections. The blouse pieces in Tandel Fund of Archives large installation are not only a relic conjured from the past, but they are also a material witness to the brutalities of bio-politics. This blouse-based artwork invites us to an epoch from the annals of histories where women’s bodies were controlled and governed to maintain caste hierarchies. While these are varied experiences and testimonies of lower caste women from different regions, they are nevertheless united by their oppression and existence in a context of relentless Brahmanical patriarchy. The Koli community’s predicament is more urgent than ever with increased urban expansion and ecological crisis on the coastal shores of India. So is the lives of these women in an increasingly oppressive political rule that takes pride in caste-based hierarchy that has minimal respect for subaltern classes and has repeatedly attempted to crackdown on Dalit-Adivasi-Bahujan movements for equality, self-esteem and dignity. These specificities - not necessarily comparative but embedded together as layers - allow us a clarity to engender multiple readings of marginality from the past and present and emphasises why we need context-specific approaches.
Similarly, Shyama Devi’s retrospective reflection on her own position as a performer and a woman rendered powerless with no agency has to be compared with other artists like Malti Rao, Rupali Jadhav, Saida Begum and figures like Mona Ahmed in the works of Dayanita Singh. All of them are joined together by a life dedicated to performance and performing in different contexts. But their marginal positions always make their existence difficult. Their lives are enmeshed in the everyday violence of a caste-based system. Some rise to sing together, and collaborate politically to interrogate this existence. Others float around in the margins, silently reflecting on their precarity but also constantly redefining, rebelling, introspecting, questioning and surviving.
In what ways have practitioners felt discrimination with respect to their identity and heritage?
Discrimination was felt at both subtle and strident levels. For instance, Sudarak Olwe pointed out how even though he got one of the highest national awards for his artistic work, he still felt that mainstream media could not deal fairly with him as a Dalit artist, nor much of the stark content of his photography. He was therefore excluded from circles open to others of higher castes in India. Dayanita Singh argued for a third space for Mona Ahmed’s sexuality as being neither male nor female and took Mona’s identity as a ‘eunuch’ to be ‘unique’.
Anand Chhabra in the UK workshop considered how Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in the late 1960s struck an axe through interracial relationships that were being developed through common residence, work and leisure rounds. Kamal Koria discussed how racism against his work as a British Asian artist was complemented by a lack of understanding from members of diasporic communities who felt that his time would be better spent doing a ‘proper job’. Nevertheless, he disregarded such prejudices to have a seismic impact on artworks in diasporic Britain.
In the gallery, Seema Mattu talks about experiences of discrimination in the UK in multimedia expressions as a reflection of her intersectional identity. In the Roundtable, Janine Shroff mentions how Facebook, Twitter and Instagram monitor queer arts and how she has to defend her illustrations from being removed or challenged in the digital domain that is popularly conceived as free and fair. Despite her experiences of exclusion, Bisakha Sarker remains optimistic to break barriers by developing holistic artistic practices that intersect with various forms and levels of obstacles that are non-specific to cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
What are the implications of this for the individual and the community/ies with which they self-identify in changing contexts?
Such discrimination has meant that people’s contributions could not be fairly valued or evaluated. Some of it was even discarded as a lack of interest from external sources meant that marginalised artists did not make an effort to pursue or conserve their own works. Fortunately others have managed to collate some of these including for instance the Dushad artworks from India under ‘Anon’ in the gallery for which we have no names or contexts but only speculations and theories. However, these works open up doors for further research and future attribution of specific individuals from lower castes as artists in their own right. Oral histories and personal archives have also meant that memories and objects might unleash a variety of perspectives that add to mainstream histories even though gaps remain. This is particularly apparent in Gian Kaur’s repertoire where she is able to connect domestic items with wider anti-colonial politics for self-determination in India and now travelled with her as an heirloom in the diasporic context after she travelled for a new life in the UK in the 1960s. Others such as Bhajan Hunjan and Rezia Wahid draw upon specific heritage to do with nation, religion and/or gender to forge ahead and make a mark in the present with innovative creative forms that also modify our view on those earlier traditions.
To what extent is the value assigned to forms of heritage used to include some groups and the devaluation of other forms of heritage used to exclude others?
While fine arts and classical dance forms are easily considered as valuable heritage in international contexts, artists stepping outside the conventional domain of performances and/or craft have met myriad challenges both within their familial and community settings. Mohinder Kaur Bhamra, for example, may have begun with devotional songs in the gurdwaras (places of worship for Sikhs) but she also recalls the challenges of living and working within conservative settings while venturing into the genre of ghazals. We hear similar overtones of devaluation in Amina Khayyam, who had to make excuses for dance rehearsals within her community. Textiles associated with ‘women’s work’ become the site for creative expressions for some like Surjeet Hussain, who among the older generation of artists, could move beyond domestic confines through her own career as a community-orientated textile artist in London. Raisa Kabir, a multidisciplinary artist practising in London, adopts a more strident tone against social injustices through the medium of textile and by incorporating the perspectives of both community and factory labour in her multisensory creations. In this respect, Ranjeeta Kumari’s use of fabrics as a contemporary medium lends legitimacy to textiles as a means of self-expression and asserting the subjectivity of a Dalit women. Parag Tandel in his installation uses a stitched blouse as a way of invoking a rebellion by the women of the fishing community who had refused to wear this piece of clothing imposed by colonial authorities. These artists look at heritage as not something passively inherited but a point of contestation that affects their present lives.
Curatorially, the exhibitions embrace a self-reflexive strategy to first survey the object domain of heritage in order to not only understand the values that are generated but also to assess the claims made temporally and spatially. Mainstream heritage projects not only facilitate an aesthetic value but also concretise cultural, moral, and political values. They are part of a contemporary ‘civilising mission’ that bifurcates the so-called ‘civilised’ from the ‘uncivilised’. Such categories are essential to maintain the power relations of the state, and heritage becomes tangible paraphernalia of display in this agenda, that we have tried to unravel.
The vast minefield of objects from both colonial and postcolonial histories imbricated in heritage-building has not only denied marginal groups access to cultural capital and heritage building but it has also created an unequal and homogenous cultural landscape - a landscape in which the diversity of a nation-state’s own citizens and their heritage is muted and erased. The challenge was to build an exhibition out of this cultural violence, to excavate forms that agitate and rebel against dominant traditions and politics. The task was to carefully pick the disregarded object domains and place them in institutional spaces to generate vigorous and valuable discourses on public memory and heritage. This requires a multi-site and context-specific intervention that can accommodate expressions of discrimination and their vanquishing.
We have built this project on existing and ongoing radical qualitative and quantitative research, but that is not enough. A new curatorial intervention is also required to foreground the silent traditions of expression in which not only the artefacts and expressions but also strategies of self-documentation, testifying, intervening, publishing and mobilising of the diverse intersectional marginalised groups have to be foregrounded. The exhibitions were able to become a platform for these complex intersectional expressions and echoes, where the more established is united with the more eclipsed. Our attempt was to examine conditions of cultural erasure, the institutionalisation of selected practices and the marginalisation of others, the problematic binary of arts and crafts, and the formation of official categories and its excluded cultural others.
Malvika Raj’s painting on Ambedkar, ‘Quantum Leap’, helps us to think through some of these problems. Her portrait of B.R. Ambedkar, the former MInister of Law and Justice of India, in the Madhubani tradition is not only a tribute to the revolutionary life of the leader of ‘Untouchables’ (nowadays termed Dalits), but by using a marginalised cultural form that is mainly used to represent Brahmanical deities, the artist liberates this tradition to realise a radically new political potential. Both the form and the content are reconfigured to mutually accomplish a strong claim in the heritage of postcolonial India. Art historically too, these works equip us to complicate the art-craft binary. Sudharak Olwe’s photographs of Dalit manual scavengers is not only a simple documentation of their precarious lives. but they also serve the purpose of memorialising these workers without overly romanticising them for which and white photography can add a stark granularity. The commemorative function of photography is used to position these marginalised subjects into the national memory to interrogate the question of who do we care to remember and how?
How are categories such as 'art' and 'craft', 'artisan' and 'artist' applied for work that draws upon an individual's heritage?
Following on from the above discussion, many of the artists like Raisa Kabir, Ranjeeta Kumari, Rakhi Peswani, Surjeet Hussain, Rezia Hamid and Tanima Dhar demonstrate that the categories of art and craft are not separate, but mutual and inclusive. Tanima blurs the boundary through her dissemination of textile as ‘wearable art’ in the form of exquisite sari designs. Surjeet’s is outside the mainstream of both heritage and the arts in the UK. Her embroidery and textile work fuses traditional techniques into original contemporary artworks that are pioneering for the South Asian diaspora context. In doing so, her experiments navigate both the worlds of art and craft labour. Raisa’s textiles are intimately connected to the resistance of displaced peoples and the linkages made across movements shape the fate of the artisan and the artist caught up in cycles of labour. In a similar move, Ranjeeta lends dignity to labour through her artistic labour of turning saris donated by domestic workers into striking mosaics of a mural where the sewing machine is both an important utility as well as a remarkable aestheticised form.
What is heritage?
A slippery term that stretches from personal archives to national repertoires, we adopted a multi-scalar and multi-contextual lens that both continues patterns of the pasts and innovates, inverts and/or subverts them in contemporary contexts. The online exhibition expands its remit to include on the same platform both India-based and diasporic artists in the UK. In so doing, it questions the parameters of nations that try to channel and ossify heritage with specific state design. Heritage is defined through the multiperspectival prism of an equal and equalising platform as is clear in the gallery named ‘take us as we are’. Taking a hint from bell hooks’ intersectional politics, we have created the space for exploring heritage through a maze of artists’ profiles that are at once individual and interlocking. Here, we find people who have made artworks in the home, some who made them for collectives, some as individuals for audiences based in India, some in the UK, while others have been embraced more widely in national and international circles, having pierced through the veils and barriers that they have encountered against their positional identities -- whether it be based on the interstices of their gender, class, caste, ethnicity, race, disability, and sexuality among other dimensions.
Heritage objects and practices are not labelled or fixed as traditional or modern but constantly evolving and transforming as Amina Khayyam shows in her Kathak dance innovations where skilful choreography is merged with a protest against domestic abuse.
Even though traditionally phulkari would not be sold in the market, it has seen a recent revival with designers incorporating the pattern into garments, accessories and home decor for mass consumption. However, as Manpreet Kaur’s work highlights, machine-made phulkari cannot replace phulkari’s roots as a handmade textile steeped in women’s spaces and Punjabi culture. Amarjeet Nandhra extends this to the diaspora through her exploration of phulkari as carriers of meaning and memory through textile and mixed media practices. Phulkari continues to inspire other artistic works and colours including the GRID Heritage logo.
The works of artists who have adapted traditional craft media and how these have evolved over time and aesthetic shifts are also seen in Dukhushyam Chitrakar and Lutfa Chitrakar who use the traditional genre of scroll-painting to comment on the COVID-19 pandemic and Islamophobia. Both the onsite and online exhibitions give much importance to the performative act of painting and even the techniques of production of colours and materials of art. Lutfa demonstrates how the scroll-painters make colours out of organic material from the local environment like leaves and flowers through a video that was self-documented.
Fouzia Dastango takes a conventionally male performance genre of oral storytelling to excel in it as well as bring to the fore the tana (tone of speech), proverbs and idioms that represent the knowledge of women in the zenana. The old is woven with the new and vice versa. Heritage is vitally alive. It is both an anchor from the past and a rocket to the future, becoming a forward-looking conduit to social change and justice.
How do we make sense of heritage objects and practices located across diverse caste-class, ethno-racial and regional contexts?
In the online and onsite galleries, objects and practices prevail across diverse caste-class, ethno-racial and regional contexts. Artists such as Kabir Kala Manch, Ita Mehrotra, Sudharak Olwe, Mir Suhail, Tandel Fund of Archives show artworks that transgress national borders. Older generations who act as both inspirations and pioneers (Anon, Shyama Devi, Mohinder Kaur Bhamra, Gian Kaur, Kamal Koria, Malti Rao) are placed next to those whose artworks are appreciated as part of new and upcoming scenes. Their challenges and beginnings showcase change as well as continuities across different time-spaces.
As mentioned above, commentaries on caste as is prevalent in the works of Sudharak Olwe and Malvika Raj’s work prompt debates with those who explicitly counter racism as apparent in the works of Bishi, whereas those against Islamophobia can be compared across different contexts with respect to the works of Mir Suhail and Raisa Kabir. Similarly, the discussions on disabilities as brought up in the works of Mandeep Singh Manu and Bisakha Sarker compel conversations on differing contexts for those who live with intellectual and physical challenges yet can use artistic practice as a fruitful way to navigate and even challenge such limitations.
As a gender-expansive Valmiki artist, Seema Mattu’s created world with digital artefacts cover manifold themes to do with the caste system, queer sorcery, non-specific and othered cultures, fan labour and gender taxonomy in 2D and 3D mixed-media. The mixed-media animation of heritage practices (songs for example) in her films is sparked by a Virtual Reality (VR) experience that creates a sense of immersion, oneness and 'our-ness' – defying the fixities of regions and boundaries. Their evocations compel productive comparisons across intersectional identities with the works of George Chakravarti, Janine Schorff as well as Dayanita Singh for very different media and contexts.
How does this influence an understanding of home and place, whether in India or in the UK?
Female, LGBTQI and other marginalised artists adapt their cultural heritage in new ways and provide contemporary commentary on social and political life across boundaries as has already been mentioned above. Artists like Mithu Sen, Shilpa Gupta and Dayanita Singh entered into international arenas attempting to move beyond essentialising and restrictive notions of national Indian identity to embrace the spaces of global citizenship. Meenatchi Gopal sought inspiration in Tamil Nadu for her work in the UK. Kashmiri artists like Mir Suhail have had to navigate state repression and censorship in the region, and the diasporic space afforded him possibilities to continue with his artworks without physical or material recrimination. British Asian women foregrounded in the Roundtable presentations by Chandan Mahal and Lata Desai demonstrate how they forge new connections with heritage while carving out their homes in diasporic territories, while Professor Jyotndra Jain and Cindy Z. Tlau’s work shows how tribal groups in India constantly have to navigate their place and marginality on the edges of Indian mainstream structures and imaginaries.
How can we use gender and intersectionality lenses to empower individuals and communities to build upon their heritage sustainably?
GRID Heritage artists have pierced through the veils and barriers that they have encountered against their positional identities - whether it be based on the interstices of their gender, class, caste, ethnicity, race, disability, and sexuality among other factors. We can see the strength of women networks and collectives among weavers among other arenas of creativity (Surjeet Hussain, Amarjeet Nandhra, Raisa Kabir, Tanima Dhar, Manpreet Kaur), and multimedia artists like Bishi who started curating digital festivals, and mentors and supports the LGBTQI power of the collective. Collectives have become less of a taboo in the last four to five years and a new subconscious has emerged inspiring mentorship of emerging artists, empowering individuals and communities to forge an open space for the freedom of choice, expression and movements. Drawing upon the tradition of miniature illustrations, Janine Shroff explores a range of day-to-day themes including birth, pregnancy, relationships, sexual identity and gender to empower queer identities. Rakhi Peswani, in her drawings of women lying on the floor, alludes to menstrual blood and the state of abjection in a powerful artistic language. By bringing tabooed subjects out into the open we are compelled to debate them and the conversations can expand exponentially as was clear in the workshops. Following the drift of conversations, we can add to other waves that have begun to shift and shape discourses to make structural change possible and necessary as we next outline.
How can we place what might be off-the-grid or hidden heritage associated with marginalised people on a platform where they can be valued now and in the future?
Some of the artists featured as part of GRID Heritage events have begun to access new spaces and opportunities for their artworks including other international gallery spaces and the front cover of a journal. Those who may self-censor or fear a frank discussion of aspects of their identities as implicated in the content and contexts of their works were able to open up to appreciative audiences. Those whose works may be shunted into obscure niches have been put on an international platform alongside those works have seen the limelight. Those who are in the winter of their lives have seen a boost in the appreciation of their creative works by younger artists and scholars in artistic and academic spaces. This is an ongoing project that we have incorporated into our future projects.
The onsite exhibition in India has already inspired many students at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University to turn to artists and their artworks shown in the gallery as topics of their end of term papers and further research. They will fill in the need for creating a new discourse of art writing that is far more inclusive and sensitive to artists from the margins. Other steps are in process to integrate the works into teaching at the University of Sussex and SOAS in the UK.
While we continue to reflect and act on the above questions (and there is much more in the content in the UK and India workshops), we can conclude that borders and boundaries should not matter but in the modern world they are forced to matter. In their navigation, transgression and even erosion, we emphasise and celebrate journeys, fluidity, freedom and global democracy going back to the true sense of the demos as orientated towards people, not politicians, and informed and inspired by constantly shifting margins.
GRID Heritage Arts Inclusive Futures.