Even as the ambitious AADHAAR project, with the aim to provide every Indian with a unique identification card by 2011, is covering rapid ground, it brings to the fore urgent questions regarding issues of citizenship, individuality and identity. While implementers argue that UID will provide much needed visibility and access to people as well as greater accountability within the system, its detractors raise issues of infringement of the individual right to privacy and the misuse of the data collected. The debates are centred on the nature of citizenship, as they are recast as a conflation of public and private interests in a globalised context, and on the procedural tools of identification and classification, and their significance and end-use under contemporary conditions.
This type of paradigmatic enquiry and debate has been a long-standing engagement for many artists as well. ID/entity brings together Atul Bhalla, Mansi Bhatt, Desire Machine Collective, Shilpa Gupta, Tushar Joag, Tejal Shah and Praneet Soi – artists whose work are thematically diverse but pursue modes of engagement that are inherently dialectical and deliberately critical around questions of identity, gender, environment, race and nationality.
If Shilpa Gupta’s video titled 100 hand drawn Maps of India speaks succinctly of the potential of individual agency in reshaping national boundaries, Guwahati based Desire Machine Collective (Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya) in their installation Daily Checkup look at everyday violence experienced in spaces like the Northeast, on the periphery of national imagination.
In other works the body emerges as a crucial site of enquiry; a contested terrain here – the fractured collages body that speaks of violence/terror, the satirical body of superheroes in human situations, the performing body that blurs the boundary between the self and the other, or that consciously communicates with its geographical/ecological exterior.
In one instance conceptual artist Atul Bhalla, known for his long-engagement with environmental issues, offers extreme close ups of his own body as disembodied markers of identity while Mansi Bhatt’s performance images are about the meeting of the medium of photography with the theatrical and sculptural potential of her own body. The exhibition also features a series of drawings by Tushar Joag, superhero personifications of the Unicell Public Works Cell, an organization set up by the artist to undertake projects on behalf of citizens and/or the State.
ID/entity will also feature works that transform the gallery into a live laboratory of sorts – for a week Amsterdam-based artist Praneet Soi will create a site-specific mural. In continuation with such recent projects at Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, Adeleaide International, Adeleaide and CAC Vilinius, Lithuania, Soi works directly on the walls of the Gallery to image the body at a time when it is, as art critic Ranjit Hoskote has noted, “restricted by securitisation, mutilated by terrorism, distorted by media and communications technology, and reduced to a cipher in a bureaucratic labyrinth of data.” [i]
Finally, Tejal Shah will offer a live performance —‘An Exercise in Trust’—in which viewers are invited to become participants in the making of the work. Her multidisciplinary oeuvre employs video, photography, performance and installation to explore biopower, the social construction of normalcy, and questions about the relationship between knowledge and power in the constitution of subjects, identities and social relations.
This Exercise is an experiment, a literal embodiment and enactment of trust among strangers. It draws attention to the way in which the requirement of identity documents functions as an index of the widespread mistrust that pervades our societies. By allowing herself to spend an hour, blindfolded, with strangers, she performatively instantiates and reconstitutes social trust, the lack of which is implicit in the requirement of leaving one’s photo ID in order to participate in the performance. Through this ambiguity, the work navigates the terrain between trust and mistrust.
The performance takes place on October 28 (between 6 – 8 pm) and October 29 – 30 (11 am to 7 pm), and the artist welcomes the participation of anyone interested in exploring these questions in a walk through the city. To sign up in advance, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your time slot.