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Art for one, art for all

  • Artists across India are coming together to make an impactful political comment on the collapse of democracy
  • The tensions between India and Pakistan make the convention even more relevant

Astad Deboo; Rabbi Shergill.
Astad Deboo; Rabbi Shergill.

Whenever there has been a need for protest, art in myriad forms —theatre, music, poetry, dance and film—has become the vehicle to convey it, amplify it, and rally people. This weekend, artists across the country, in Delhi, Mumbai, Indore, Chennai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh and Pune, will come together to hold a demonstration for unity, peace and democracy.

Artists Unite (AU), a platform that brings together artists across the country, is organizing this act of dissent in Delhi.

The Red Fort will transform into a unique site where artists like Shubha Mudgal, Astad Deboo, Rabbi Shergill, Delhi Sultanate and Begum X will perform. The event, called Chalo Laal Qila, will also feature spoken word poetry sessions, dastangoi (oral storytelling) and a mushaira/kavi sammelan. These will be led by some of the country’s most respected Urdu and Hindustani poets, including Ashok Vajpeyi, Asad Zaidi, Akhil Katyal and Gauhar Raza.

“Artists Unite is for artists across disciplines coming together, holding hands and forging links for a common objective. All of us share a deep concern for the kind of politics of hate that we see around us in the country today and we are committed to standing up for democratic values and for democracy per se," says event co-organizer and independent film-maker Saba Dewan.

“Over the last five years many of us have been deeply concerned by the turn of events in the country. The kind of attacks that have been taking place on minorities, particularly Dalits, Adivasis, women and even children, the ways in which cultural and educational institutions are being taken over and suppressed, and the ways in which our democratic values are being flouted, as artists we feel that this is an assault on the cultural fibre of India," adds Dewan.

The tensions between India and Pakistan make the convention even more relevant.

Taking a cue from AU, a Mumbai-based team of artists called 2020 Group will hold a performance parade in their city. “2020: Walk For The Future" will be held from Shivaji Park to Carter Road on 2 March, with over 1,000 artists from different creative fields, including theatre, art and music, taking part. “We are walking for a future we desire, affirm and promise to strive for," says a person who wishes to only be identified as a member of the group.

“We walk for peace, but also for many dreams and desires. The war mongering cannot take away our collective voice. Over 30 directors and artists are choreographing their own phalanx, each with a group of 50 people or so. The parade will end at Carter Road, where we will read our charter and also release a poster," says the group member. An ongoing project initiated by 2020 Group is Posters Unite! Created anonymously by some of the country’s leading artists, the posters circulated online and available for download, work in tandem with 2020’s vision.

A poster by Posters Unite; and an Artists Unite poster.  
A poster by Posters Unite; and an Artists Unite poster.  

Established in 2017, the 2020 Group is known for its large-scale public projects. Last year, it held “2020: A Future Under Construction" in Mumbai, with over 75 artists and performers responding to the political climate of the country by showcasing their work anonymously.

The genesis for this weekend’s performative gathering, too, can be traced to last year, when over 700 artists, including Nalini Malani, Vivan Sundaram, Dayanita Singh, Anand Patwardhan, Nandita Das, Naseeruddin Shah, Kiran Rao and T.M. Krishna, signed a declaration circulated by AU, protesting the way democracy was being beaten down. The declaration stated, “The right to life, the right to love, food choices, cultural expression, language and histories are all under assault.... Cultural and social life in India is being torn asunder by a toxic cocktail of propaganda, violence, censorship and distorted histories.... As artists and cultural practitioners, we dedicate ourselves at this critical moment to defend a culture that speaks of love, equality and solidarity."

Chalo Laal Qila is on 2-3 March (from 10am-10pm) at the Red Fort in Delhi, while ‘2020: Walk For The Future’ will be held in Mumbai on 2 March, from 4pm. For more details, visit their Facebook page.

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