“Mujhe kaato toh khoon bahta hai | Na kaato toh bhi khoon bahta hai
Tumhare alfaazon ke vaar se khoon bahta hai
Tumko duniya mein laane ke waqt khoon bahta hai
Sirf mera kafan hi hai
Joh roke mujhe bahe jane se”
These words, written in Braille, adjoining the work Flaming Altar, resonated through artist Piyali Sadhukhan’s solo exhibition Seeing is (not) Believing at Akar Prakar Gallery in New Delhi. On display from April 16 to May 31, 2019, the works exhibited included mixed-media works, installations and Hindi and Urdu poems in Braille. On entering the gallery space, one was overtaken by the redness of the works, a feeling which oscillated between the one evoked by the bloodshed of a warzone and yet a certain sense of beauty owing to the aesthetics renditions, which resembled Kashmiri handwoven carpets. On closer inspection, however, one came face-to-face with broken glass bangles placed intricately next to each other to create anatomical forms as well as human figures.
Imprinted across the walls of the gallery was a description of Sadhukhan’s oeuvre by Nancy Adajania, a cultural theorist and curator. She describes her work as, “What looks like a Persian carpet or a Kashmiri namda, from a distance, erupts into open sores on closer scrutiny. The eye focuses on a pattern made of broken glass bangles; on wounds that refuse to be stemmed; on a carpet hanging like a flailing self from the wall. Something uncanny transpires in the physiognomy of this object. It screams, breaking the symmetry of the floral pattern into a sound wave, amplifying the escalating violence against Indian women in general and the Kashmiri people in particular, who have been colonised by the Indian state. This violent disruption in an ornamental pattern could be interpreted as an expression of what I have elsewhere called the ’politicality of abstraction‘. It emerges when political provocations hack into abstraction’s repertoire of formalist devices, including repetition, seriality and the stable grid, questioning their implicit rigidity and authoritarianism.”
Adajania further compares the camouflaged uterus, once again made with broken bangles, as well as the crocheted spinal cord and pelvic bone as reminders of the wounded history of women, both individual and collective. Adajania says, “By politicising the domestic crafts of embroidery and crochet, Sadhukhan demands acknowledgement of women’s labour, which is undervalued or made invisible. One of the most stunning works here is a response to the Sabarimala crisis of 2018, when an all-male community of devotees barred women from entering the temple, claiming their presence would pollute the precinct of the celibate god Ayyappa. This shimmering altarpiece exceeds the artist’s intent. While her feminist position is manifested in the threateningly cowled patriarchal figures, a censorious male god and a uterine carpet, this work also embodies a primal moment of theatre, with its solitary central figure counterpointed by a choric ensemble. Sadhukhan brings, into the white cube, the baroque, synaesthetic impulses of her expanded practice as an art director for theatre and an artist-designer of Durga Puja pandals.”
The poetry in Braille, then, is not a reference to the visually-impaired, but to those who refuse to look, to feel, or to believe despite being able to see. It is a commentary of how we turn a blind eye to the wounds of others, sometimes even our own. Perhaps, for the unvoiced then, death itself shrieks. It is time we pay attention!