by Sukanya DebJan 07, 2023
Inspired from the practice of lumbung, an Indonesian rice barn tradition, the 15th edition of documenta brings a range of conversations about the multifaceted practice of collectivism. These conversations are informed by histories of anti-racial, anti-caste, and anti-majoritarian activism from aboriginal Australia, India, Indonesia, Cuba, the African continent, and its diaspora, to mention a few. ruangrupa, the artistic directors of documenta fifteen, refer to its participants as lumbung members and lumbung artists who come together to expand definitions of collective responsibility today. While exploring the ongoing projects of Mumbai-based lumbung artist Amol K Patil, this article also reflects on histories of collective resistance by other lumbung artists participating in documenta fifteen.
For over a decade, Indian artist Amol K Patil has been working around the ideas of the collective and community, while developing a practice that encompasses a wide range of social and political issues in the Indian subcontinent. The material scope of Patil’s conceptual practice includes video installations, kinetic sculptures, and performance. In the past few years, he has been preoccupied with the sonic fields of Mumbai’s chawl architecture built by the state in the early 20th century for working-class communities.
The emphasis on community engagement is grounded in Patil’s work due to his involvement in different kinds of collectives including Shunya Collective and The Clark House Initiative (Mumbai). "I wanted to expand the conversation from the collective to the community by engaging with people from different places who are speaking about similar issues I was interested in. The format of performance and video helped me to embark on this journey,” he says.
Patil’s recent body of work integrates performance and community by revisiting the theatre work of his grandfather and father, who are powada (traditional Marathi ballad) performers. Patil elaborates that "the history of powada is multifaceted. In its early years, it used to play for the rajas(kings) as a form of praise, over time there were powada performers who travelled from one village to another articulating visions of social and political change. For instance, during the 1950s and 60s Ambedkar movement, mobilisation happened through powada to inspire the Dalit communities to join the path of caste annihilation." For Patil, the uniqueness of the powada form lies in its ability to embody different purposes across locations and communities. From praising kings to the songs of resistance for lower caste communities, powada also seeped into the working-class mobilisations in the industrial city of Mumbai.
Patil’s current work revisiting the powada includes collaborations with a young community of sweepers in Mumbai who are also practitioners of popular theatre. Most of the powada protest songs, according to Patil, speak about the Dalit community fighting for their rights. Patil notes, "Powada is not a very well-known form despite its historical and political significance, even the accounts you find of it on the web are not reliable. This is why it is important to me to revisit the history of powada since I come from a family of powada practitioners.”
The history of resistances that embody the artistic visions of Patil, will also be accompanied at documenta fifteen with anti-race, anti-authoritarian solidarities including, Taring Padi (The Institute of People Oriented Culture) from Yogyakarta,Indonesia, and Black Quantum Futurism from Philadelphia, USA.
Taring Padi, a collective of underground artists, is an inspiring instance of cultural production that emerged in the wake of social and political activism during the country’s reformation era. It began in Yogyakarta, in the late 1990s that marked a shift from Indonesia's authoritarian regime. Formed by a group of students and activists, Taring Padi’s artistic engagement includes “street protests, woodcutting workshops, art carnivals, and exhibitions in unorthodox spaces.” Their role has been catalysts of political change with long-term alliances and solidarity with local and marginalised communities.
Taring Padi began with a manifesto to contest, what they call, the "Five Evils of Culture”. These five provocations challenge the ideas of art for art's sake that are catered to and serve the elite classes of the society. They propose democratic ideas of art driven to build communities beyond the individual interests of those in power. They imagine art and cultural practice as sites of alternative imagination and critique that should steer clear of associations with those they contest.
In a contrasting approach to contest the mainstream histories and temporalities, Philadelphia-based Black Quantum Futurism (BQF) integrates the ideas of quantum physics and Afrofuturism. Founded by Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips, BQF repurposes science and science fiction to uncover "counter histories, Afrodiasporic mythologies, and Black quantum womanist futures." In its material manifestation of these visions, BQF has created films, organised time camps, conducted time and memory surveys, and started community initiatives to foreground the experiences of Black communities in Philadelphia and beyond.
At the core of their inquiry is the perception of time as non-linear and their artistic endeavour is to transform negative cycles of historical temporality "into positive ones using artistic and wholistic methods of healing." It is to reintroduce into public imagination that different cultural histories embody different temporalities that should not be limited to the western ideas of linear time.
The radical and alternative imaginaries of Patil, Taring Padi, Black Quantum Futurism will both contribute and partake in a diverse constellation of collective endeavours that documenta fifteen will bring to Kassel in June this year. Together they will remind us that collectivity is perhaps the path for social and political transformation.
documenta fifteen will take place from June 18 until September 25, 2022 in Kassel.