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A question of identity

Eight different artists with eight different media have mounted a critique of the Aadhaar project that aims to launch a unique identification (UID) card by 2011.

delhi Updated: Oct 30, 2010 21:09 IST
Paramita Ghosh

Eight different artists with eight different media have mounted a critique of the Aadhaar project that aims to launch a unique identification (UID) card by 2011. The government feels it will integrate India's margins with the mainstream. Its critics say it will be used to control and intrude.

Artist Praneet Soi, a student of professor Jean Pierre Gorin — a collaborator of film-maker Jean-luc Godard during what is known as his 'radical' period — makes the flyover his image of putting a state-sponsored development under scrutiny.

Flyovers, remind Soi of his student days in southern California when while standing on its highways, "much like Gurgaon", his eye would fall on the sprawl of cookie-cutter houses below. "Structures shape cities and geography and the processes by which development is plotted," says the artist. "I have mixed feelings about the UID project. How is it getting done? What will be its penetration? What economies and ideas will it uphold?"

Soi brings style to add force to these questions. His second mural, of a man carrying another man, at the 'ID/Entity' exhibition on at Vadehra gallery till November 25, draws on the metaphor of the 'Piggyback'. You can read this image in various ways. As Greco-Roman hero Aeneas carrying his old man out of Troy. As a worker or migrant carrying a wounded comrade. As resistance in terms of subject matter. "My paintings don't show bleeding and dying, that's one reason I dropped colour and used black and white," says Soi. His human figures are fragmented. They crouch. They fall. "I think of how Walter Benjamin interpreted Angelus Novus, a Paul Klee painting. Benjamin saw Angelus as an 'Angel of Progress', whose flight leaves debris in its wake…undebated development creates dislocation, so I split the images," he adds.

Mansi Bhatt uses her body, the traditional medium to hang hang-ups artistically, to talk of identity. In a 35-minute performance that was documented by three photographers, she dragged herself around the Khoj studio with ordinary people dressed in army fatigues to stage a scene in which she plays the part of a refugee.

What art does — or can do — is to ask different questions and Bhatt does this by placing her emphasis on what is personal, rather than what is national and its byproduct — nationalism. "As I played the part of a person under siege, I asked myself 'which side is mine?' 'Am I supposed to be here, or there?' 'Is the army there to protect me or is it there to keep an eye on me?'"

Mriganka Madhukaillya and Sonal Jain of the Desire Machine collective brought stories from Meghalaya as video installations. Meghalaya will be the first area in the region where the Aadhaar project roll. It will continue the same process of forced construction of identity, they say. "Unification for Europe wasn't simply a glorious thing. The painful histories of Germany, Poland had to be dealt with." Through their work, 25 75 and Daily Checkup, they use art "as the only space left to question the powers who decide."

Tejal Shah's idea of enacting the idea of trust and distrust as a blindfolded artiste walking around Okhla with a 'stranger' was not without charm. But somehow her act, limited by being available only to what seemed like regular visitors to Vadehra art gallery, missed the chance of creating any debate in the minds of those on the street.

"The Aadhaar project will breach our privacy. Why must we give all our information to a super-server?" she asks as I, the first 'stranger' of the evening sit with her at a roadside teashop. I know the answer to that one. But I have a feeling it left the chaiwallah cold.

What is art without a little disturbance?