Enactments of Subjectivity: Reflections and the Life of a Double—Videos of Pratul Dash
CLEVELAND--Tamarind Art Gallery proudly announces the opening of an exhibition of the work of artist Pratul Dash, beginning Dec. 18. Below is an essay by Rajesh K. Singh on the subject.
As an effective medium of critiquing contemporary realities and proposing a forceful media alternative to artistic praxis and ideological positioning, video interjected itself into the main discourse in the 1970s. The decade of 1990s saw its arrival in India, after the medium swept the ‘First World’ with its power of composite deliverance—something that painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, or music had achieved only partially. With the popularity of affordable electronic gadgets, rise of capitalism in developing countries, and the degenerated aesthetics coupled with the loss of content in the broadcast industry created the ideological space for alternative arts to take place.
The experiments in South Asia address both the local and global issues—some even universal. The trajectory of creativity made possible by video art has acquired the status of a new intellectual positioning in this part of the globe.
Pratul’s videos—like his paintings, mannequins, and sculptures—dwell upon the complex nature of transformation India is undergoing both on the political and cultural level. The ramifications of the ‘economic reforms’—a matter of questionable political choice—has etched out a complex mesh of cultural defragmentation. Displacement of people, growing urbanization, suffocating industries, and systematic devastation of natural resources and ecology is too obvious to need emphasis. What is underscored is the plight of subjectivities, the death of traditions, for the creation of ‘islands of happiness,’ at the cost of the masses on the margins with voices subdued.
The growth of the land mafia with the recent boom in the real estate created unprecedented demographic changes, and displacement of unskilled laborers. Disease, death, and plight of human labor are at the bottom of the attention-list, while more and more billionaires have been produced at the same time.
The social inequality, ethnic cleansing, communal tensions, and socio-historic identity of the ‘self’—cries helplessly. The heart and the soul seem to be lost in the quagmire of this ‘development.’ The enrichment of the urban class always takes its toll.
The videos of Pratul Dash are situated at the intersection of such affairs. Each shot and frame, each imagery and locale, each motif, is a comment on the brutal realities India is witnessing. There is always a price to pay—the self is always tortured, always subjugated, always annihilated; and one feels like jumping from a high-rise. . .
This is exactly what the protagonist, the artist himself, does in the video. The deafening sound of the traffic, and the sense of homelessness, the wandering as if without an aim, and the abysmal stairs of the construction sites are symptomatic of the tensions between incomplete processes of modernism and postmodernism that India is currently witnessing. The ‘self’ is quite at odds here.
Janeu (the sacred thread worn mostly by the Brahmins in India) is signifier of many levels and trajectories of meanings. Once a revered caste, which carried knowledge from one generation to another, the Brahmins have much to answer today. The sagacious history of the caste is replete with continuous narratives of discrimination, marginalization, suppression, and subversion. In the context of India’s current political and social transformation—and the gradual enrichment of democratic values—there is little meaning attached any more with the thing, object, sign, and signifier that janeu is. As a symbol of Hindu puritanical values, and communal rift that is dividing India, janeu and its supposed sanctity, has come under serious scrutiny at the behest of the artist. He performs a play wherein the sacred thread offers itself as a source of acute physical pain. A glimpse of a situation is had when the thread, tied round the head and neck of the artist, implies the infinite possibilities of being an agency of puritanical actions on one hand and violence/death on the other.
The metaphoric enactment is pregnant with meanings. The text, inter-text, and the subtext, tell a story seldom heard before.
--Rajesh K. Singh