Murari Jha explores the idea of body as an object through his performative work

Indian artist Murari Jha investigates emotions, experiences, and blurring of the line of body and landscape through his multidisciplinary practice.

by Rahul Kumar Published on : Oct 28, 2020

All that we experience and all that we consume is primarily through our bodies. The five senses become the mode of engagement and our body itself becomes the core of everything that we go through. But how about we look at the body as an object? Can the body be viewed as a landscape?  Expanding beyond the physicality of the body, of skin and its textures, of hair and nails, relative to contours of mountains and barren land? Artist Murari Jha dedicates his practice to the enquiry of deep and severe emotions, its experience, and blurring of the line of where body ends and landscape begins. He is interested in the experience of body becoming an object, a place where it is alive and yet sans all emotions. Jha sources his motivations through literature. “The philosophies around this subject can be very abstract but reading has helped my understanding of it, for instance The Stranger by French author Albert Camus really made me think on the concepts of absurdism, coupled with that of existentialism,” says Jha.

Untitled (studio explorations for Murari Jha’s project Far From My Home) | Murari Jha| STIRworld
Untitled (studio explorations for Murari Jha’s project Far From My Home) Image: Courtesy of Murari Jha

I first encountered a video work of Murari Jha on a recently launched social media platform, Abr. Created as an alliance of cultural practitioners, Abr aims to be a peer support space for networking and commissioning performance and digital works.

I speak with Jha on his practice, his recent work titled The Longest March, and his forthcoming projects.

Rahul Kumar (RK): What provoked you to move away from classical art form like painting, to performance? And what led you to use your own body as the medium to express, rather than emoting gestures to communicate?

Murari Jha (MJ): I never moved away really, from any medium. All of it remains in my practice. I have just expanded to include performance in how I express. And to be honest, in each and every project I try to blur the lines. And that feeds my curiosity to learn and find new possibilities with my work. Medium is the first conscious step that you apply to manifest your idea. The idea itself takes particular time and space and what it becomes is my curiosity. I remember my first performance in Patna Art College, titled After my death. It was very literal, but the viewer could see my approach to showcase the other side of the ‘canvas’. For the first time I used my own body without really knowing that it was ‘performance art’ or for that matter any form of art. Later, when I came to Delhi, it become part of my thought process and significant part of my practice for various reasons. Performance gave me the language to experience things beyond my consciousness, to heal my repressed and suppressed thoughts, understanding the nature of self and structure, and at the same time realising my body in a political manner.

Untitled (studio explorations for Far From My Home) | Murari Jha| STIRworld
Untitled (studio explorations for Far From My Home) Image: Courtesy of Murari Jha

RK: You say ‘pain and suffering’ are the most fundamental human emotions. Why? You also say ‘celebration of pain’ while referencing a novel by Premchand. How does all of this come together for you?

MJ: Yes, pain and suffering are the most fundamental human emotions. I feel these are basically thoughts, but it has many layers to it. In my explorations I stretch the extent of these feelings and thoughts where there is no thought, maybe feeling of nothingness, and that’s when the body becomes an object. Something like a post-trauma scenario, where body is no more ready to deal with emotions. It is that absurd moment when the body does not function. My understanding of this experience is that of acceptance. Just as we surrender to the death of many things and yet we also know that death itself is celebrated in many cultures. For me it is a moment of celebration. Of course, the entire idea is debatable and honestly even I am trying to understand it. With this objective, I refer to literature, both Hindi and English text, to understand the layers of celebration, acceptance, healing, death, and the entire circle of life. The philosophies around this subject can be very abstract but reading has helped my understanding of it, for instance The Stranger by French author Albert Camus really made me think on the concepts of absurdism, coupled with that of existentialism.  

05 mins watch The Longest March | Murari Jha| STIRworld
The Longest March: Stretched Bodies by Murari Jha Video: Courtesy of Murari Jha

RK: Is your work making a political commentary?

MJ: This question is very important for me and in response, I am referring to a few lines from my diary. Some of the thoughts have been borrowed from lectures that I have attended:

Many of us grew up believing that political activism is a very specific thing. Probably meaning that political activities are: people with big banners marching or shouting in front of police force, or hurting or burning themselves. But what if I tell you that the political activism is not actually a choice? What if I tell you that political activism is a fashion model unapologetically sporting a beard? What if I tell you that political activism is Stella Young delivering a TED talk on society’s habit of turning disabled people into ‘inspiration porn’?

There are many examples and I can go on. The truth is that our bodies ARE political, the personal is political… whether we want it to be or not. We use our bodies for a system of oppression, almost to defy them. There are many ways to use our bodies as everyday act of resistance, especially in this time where every day something tries to kill us. So knowingly or unknowingly we have some kind of political views. And I quote Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare”.

A still from The Longest March that describes certain traumatic experiences that stretch the body far beyond its limits of bearability, sanity and cohesion | Murari Jha| STIRworld
A still from The Longest March that describes certain traumatic experiences that stretch the body far beyond its limits of bearability, sanity and cohesion Image: Courtesy of Murari Jha

RK: Does humour (or absurdity) play a role to attract attention of your viewers?

MJ: Yes, that is very much part of my discourse, although I don't know if it is to attract people. Or is it the condition, a moment of participation of my spectators. And the so-called final display of my work itself is arrived at through the process of its making and that if often absurd for me.

The Longest March offers a bricolage of various body parts, where their labours are highlighted as opposed to any relationship to the whole| Murari Jha| STIRworld
The Longest March offers a bricolage of various body parts, where their labours are highlighted as opposed to any relationship to the whole Image: Courtesy of Murari Jha

RK: Please describe the conceptual framework of your recent work, The Longest March. How critical is it for your viewer to socially and culturally relate to your life experiences that you intend to express through the work?

MJ: This work was an outcome of my recent project. I spent considerable time to examine my interest to understand ‘body as a landscape’ in a psychoanalytic manner. In this particular work I was exploring the action and extreme psychological conditions which shape our bodies. It was also the transformation of body-part into landscape. One can experience the sound and frame, movement, the measured march of the feet, an iconic yellow-helmet, yet a numb and stoned body. All this while, simultaneously I was carrying out the abstraction where I was trying to see the universality and extremeness of emotion. How it expands, how the body performs in a post trauma condition. This was my enquiry. I was also looking at the possibilities of performance where I was following the frame and the camera, and not the usual vice-versa.

Far From My Home: 'Machaan', part of the framework of Five Million Incidents 2019-2020 conceived by Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan in collaboration with Raqs Media Collective | Murari Jha| STIRworld
Far From My Home: 'Machaan', part of the framework of Five Million Incidents 2019-2020 conceived by Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan in collaboration with Raqs Media Collective Image: Courtesy of Murari Jha

RK: How do you see your practice expanding in future? Please talk about some of the interesting works/projects that you are working on.

MJ: Working on new project is always exciting for me as every project allows me to grow my intellect. I am working on my project called Far From My Home’, which has a layer of psychological outlook. I continue to observe the body and idea of landscape. Looking at performativity of complex emotions, physical labour, suffering, pain, anxiety and trauma and how these transform the body and expands it in to a landscape. How can we perceive the sun, a mountain, barren land, animal bodies and their skin, calluses of body, roughness, nails, the gross and numb body, wounds where there is no activity; are they dead part of the body? I am interested to study the transformation of body, which although happens due to some other reason, but it manifests differently to shape the body. My enquiry is of that point where the lines between the body and the object are blurred.

More specifically, in this project, I am using industrial materials such as iron, concrete, rubber, sealants (like black m-seal) in large quantities. I am working with different mediums and formats such as drawing, painting, and installation. The 2-dimentional works like painting are also sculptural at its core and I use a material-based approach. I am also using electronic device and sensor-based process as I am interested in performativity of object and spectatorship and how space itself creates that performativity, how the viewers can establish a relation with the work.

Murari Jha | STIRworld
Murari Jha Image: Courtesy of Murari Jha

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