As part of the ‘Align and Disrupt’ talk series—a crucial part of the ongoing Indian Art Fair 2023 in Delhi—the session, ‘Looking at Art Historical Blind Spots: From the Margins to the Mainstream’, will focus on the need to amplify marginalised voices in art, society, and art history. The series has been put together by Shaleen Wadhwana, an independent curator and educator who aims to shape a more aware and inclusive art world.
The talk is a step towards recognition of ideas and people whose voices have been invisibilised in the field, specifically, under-represented minorities in the caste and religion spectrum. “In South Asia, [arts] curricula, histories, and systems are trying to move forward from a eurocentric lens towards a ‘decolonized’ re-looking at ourselves. An important part of this process is the gap in the representation of certain voices in the arts and art history, a tough challenge to address in any format-talk, curriculums, or daily discussions,” Wadhwana explains.
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The panelists include Siddhesh Gautam, a multi-disciplinary artist and an Ambedkarite, artist Aban Raza, Prabhakar Kamble, artist, curator, and cultural activist, and Amol K Patil, conceptual and performance artist. Wadhwana says, “They will shed light on what is necessary for private and public art spaces to be more inclusive, accessible, and open with regards to underrepresented and marginalised minorities."
The art ecosystem has been perceived as focusing on themes and symbols that cater to the upper-class and caste narratives, pushing the minorities to the periphery unless for tokenism. Creating a system, which does not promote the action-oriented progress of the marginalised communities, makes the space exclusionary by default, further adding to the cycles of privilege that fuel systematic discrimination.
Gautam points out that this exclusion is not only an extension of the caste and class system but also because of the rituals and traditions. He says, “The subjects in the art are upper-caste. We do not produce art for equality, liberty and fraternity, which is a global phenomenon; instead, we focus on gods and mythology, which only a specific group of people can relate to.”
Space in the art ecosystem is denied when marginalised communities cannot relate to the mainstream subjects. Although they have been creating artwork since as far as human memory can go, there is a severe lack of recognition and respect. “We made the religious structures. We have made different sculptures of gods and goddesses. But historically, we have not been treated as an artist or a craftsperson, but only as labour.”
The rise of the Internet and social media have seemingly provided a platform for some—those with digital access—to assert their voice and make space for themselves.
“Social media plays an undeniably important role in any art practice and its visibility and amplification today. When it comes to marginalized voices, social media is even more crucial. For the Internet-enabled audiences, it democratises access to the art space, but more effort needs to be made to hear and include these voices,” says Wadhwana.
While it might open up the space, sparingly, the renewed focus on inclusion is not because of acceptance as much as it is about their assertion, emphasises Gautam. Although articles on Dalit artists are not new, someone else has been until now making art on them or looking at them with a privileged gaze . But with more artists speaking up, “using the Internet to shout louder” and asserting their space, now publications cannot afford to exclude Dalit artists. This is one of the points that Gautam will be talking about during the panel discussion. “I will highlight how marginalised communities have used the Internet to present their work and in the process, became curators themselves.”
As Wadhwana mentioned earlier, there is a move towards ‘decolonisation’ and re-evaluation in the art ecosystem and beyond. However, one of the issues with the current discussion around decolonisation is about the reimposition of the same mythologies and symbolism. “I will be talking about my understanding of decolonisation of art, which is not just decolonising it from the British, but also from the upper caste and class,” he adds.
Speaking about these issues, and engaging in solution-centric on large-scale platforms such as the Indian Art Fair, opens another door for the artists to highlight the barriers and demand accountability. Gautam feels that although these spaces are not culturally and financially feasible for everyone, it’s important to be part of these discussions. “If these talks translate into actions, only then something could change.”
The talk, ‘Looking at Art Historical Blind Spots: From the Margins to the Mainstream’ will be held at 4 pm on 12 February at India Art Fair, NSIC Grounds, Okhla, New Delhi.