by Shaunak MahbubaniJul 27, 2021
Indian artist and advocate Siddhesh Gautam tells his story, sharing his creative process with the STIR audience. Known on Instagram as bakeryprasad, Gautam is an illustrator with a point of view. His aesthetic reminds one of magazines or comics from a few generations ago, bringing together contemporary politic with continued relevance. Although his work addresses narratives around hegemony and discrimination, he is known by a playful name on social media. About his Instagram handle he says, “There’s no special story behind my handle name. I started my Instagram account as Bakery Products as I was quite fond of baked products. Even though I was quite interested in cooking, I found it very difficult to bake. I realised that my work as an artist is also quite similar. It takes a lot of hard work along with the right ingredients, right methodology and right patience. Without any second thought, I kept bakeryproducts as my handle name. As the time got darker, I found my handle name a bit out of context with the kind of work I was producing. I replaced the Products to Prasad to be more relevant to India and to make a satirical comment on the present society”. Gautam describes himself to be a multi-disciplinary, mixed media artist, designer, writer, researcher, treasure hunter, fallen angel, soul searcher and Ambedkarite.
1. Please talk about your general practice.
I enjoy reading. Most of my work is built from the text that I explore from various books, stories and essays. I tend to study a subject thoroughly and reflect upon it through various mediums.
As soon as I am finished with my research, I do a lot of rough drawings and scribbles. Out of many explorations, I pick up elements from relevant scribbles and drawings. This leads to new set of ideations and the process continues till I decide upon final illustration(s). Finally, I digitise the illustrations on iPad or computer as required.
2. What are the key concerns that you aspire to address through your work? What prompted you to make this your area of focus?
I am currently fully indulged in the Dalit movement and am working towards a Dalit art movement. I am also very sensitive about the issue of gender equality, LGBTQ rights, menstrual health and so on.
Most of my present work is around the Dalit movement because I was born in a Dalit community and have started to learn about my community very recently. My current work is the reflection of my experience and exploration of my community’s present, past and future.
I do wish to explore other areas as well, but maybe now is not the time for that.
3. How do art interventions aid the process to voice anxieties of the subaltern and question the normative order? Do you think art helps its audience to think and experience about matters that are otherwise considered of lesser importance?
I believe art’s role in the society is to document the present, reflect upon the past and conceptualise the future. Art has always been the expression of the subaltern. What we see in the galleries is only minimal representation of art. Art resides in every house and every mind.
Art is a tool and weapon for self-expression first. When self-reflections reach an audience, the audience try to relate themselves with the expressions of the creator, and these connecting threads is the real art. These audiences are not always found in the galleries and cafes, they are mostly on streets, bazaars, slums, homes, schools, forests, river banks, mountains, beaches and so on. Upon visiting these streets, slums, forests, mountains and so on, one can find such art and artists already performing and practising their art for the welfare of their community and society. All we can do is learn from them and help them.
4. What kind of artistic liberties do you take to reflect (your version of) the reality of the community?
I work a lot around the colour blue. Blue is not my favourite colour aesthetically, but ideologically. For me blue is the colour of sky, the sky that treats each living and non-living entity equally. Blue is also the colour of Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi resistance, that demands equality.
As a subject, I also work a lot around Ambedkar, as he is at the centre of the Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi (DBA) struggle. Ambedkar has been the ideological icon for the DBA struggle for a long time, but he has also become the visual icon of equality, justice and fraternity for the whole nation. I unapologetically use Dr. Ambedkar’s ideology and iconography in my work as I find it relevant and morally sound.
5. How do you involve artistic sensitivity to capture the fragility of the people on the periphery? How do you balance the aspects of sensitivity and solidarity?
I was born in a Chamar family. Chamar being the most common slur in North India forced me to remain deep in inferiority complex for most of my life. I attended schools and colleges where reservations were considered a bane to the ‘society of merit’.
I was born in a family where pigs were revered, where women used to smoke, where no gods were worshipped, where no priest would even enter, where I was the first one to speak ‘correct’ English and where I was the first one to graduate from nationally and globally recognised colleges.
For my whole life, people have been mean and insensitive towards my community. Most of them were not directly mean and insensitive towards me as I never revealed my caste. But they were very hurtful towards my community; which means they were hurting me and my family as well. However angry I might get, it’s just natural that I can’t reciprocate that level of meanness and insensitivity. I know what it can do to individuals.
6. Lastly, how far have things changed in past years and what do you aspire as an outcome in medium to long term through your work?
I am not sure how much has changed on the stage of power, but I can’t resist to notice some very positive change in the art that the community is practising. From music to visual art, from poetry to design, from film to crafts; DBA community has been creating and presenting some great work in these present times. We are not just creating and presenting on our own, we are also documenting and producing it on our own. I guess we are living in the times of DBA expressions. And, I am hoping to see a DBA renaissance soon.
Art & Voices Matter
Co-curated by Rahul Kumar and Dilpreet Bhullar, Art & Voices Matter is a STIR original series of interviews with global creative practitioners who bring to the core the issues of communities that may be seen at the periphery.