by Rahul KumarSep 14, 2022
A thought, like a seed, is the starting point for any compelling work of art. Of any scale or magnitude. For artist Kulpreet Singh, witnessing atrocities – of the powerful over the less fortunate, of administration over the voiceless masses, became that nucleus. He was moved to the point of becoming restless when he saw the news of farmers protesting against the newly formed agriculture laws in India. Widely seen as unfair and dictatorial, the event has caused an ongoing agitation at multiple sites in the country. Singh began with the idea of mark-making with a pelted stone. And gradually this ‘private’ act of creating a work in the confines of his studio became into a massive performative. It involved several people and agencies, blended performance art and visual art, and gathered innumerable audiences from all walks of life. “…this work seeks to mirror all those inhuman activities and its consequences and resultant pain that is being suffered by generations. This work also seeks to awaken the heart of unethical people…,” he says.
I speak to Kulpreet Singh on developing Indelible Black Marks into this larger-than-life public intervention and his motivation for his art practice.
Rahul Kumar (RK): While it may be reasonable to expect ‘mutual respect between government agencies and the public’, do you believe that authority and citizens can live in complete harmony? Isn’t that a utopian thought?
Kulpreet Singh (KS): Democracy is a dialogue between the government and the people. It is mutual cooperation, coordination, and hence the harmony. And if it has existed anywhere in the past, or in the present somewhere across the whole world, then it cannot be a utopian thought. It certainly is an ideal worth striving for, however difficult it may be to achieve. This goodwill must not be limited to just the government and the people at large, rather it must exist in every human being’s attitude towards others. I feel this is a moral responsibility…as well as a duty.
RK: Your recent work titled Indelible Black Marks straddles across performance and mark-making/printmaking by way of process, emotional and socio-political response from a conceptual reference. Please share with us the experience of putting this together.
KS: The print-making process is a performance in itself. Sometime ago, I was invited to participate in a print-making workshop. I was drawn to the possibility of securing the impression of a bang of a hammer from the participating artists in the workshop, and that concept laid the seeds for this performance. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshop got cancelled. On the hind side, during lockdown my initial idea evolved further, for instance taking the impressions of thrown stones. Gradually, this idea itself began to unveil the possibility of it representing number of events which are occurring across the world. The physical form of this idea taking on this turn was also due to the reason of global deprivation of ethics and values and prevalence of human savagery at its peak. Watching violent acts makes me restless and this restlessness becomes unbearable when I hear the lament of the victims and see them consumed by the silence of the ‘living-dead’.
The reason for affinity with this state is also because I have experienced this sorrow from close quarters. I have suffered personally and have seen people close to me become victims. To a large extent, speeches that incited violence and irresponsible rumours have caused these events to happen. To concretise these impressions, a lot of brainstorming was done. All those settings and activities were re-created which transform any public welfare protests into a riot due to vested interests. The purpose was to record the act so that it could be compared to the images of original events. Gradually, this work transformed itself from a private initiative into a public one...it became like a caravan. Everyone played their role very ably. The result is right before you and I hope it has taken the form of a movement.
RK: Is the work a comment on mob (we the people) or administration? What does the work seek to achive?
KS: This work is not a critical comment on any particular person, any government or non–government institution or agency, or even any political party in particular.
I will quote from the holy book of Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Gurbani Sri Dasam composed by Guru Gobind Singh, in Gurmukhi Language, this shabad is a great message given to all humanity.
ਹਿੰਦੂ ਤੁਰਕ ਕੋਊ, ਰਾਫਜੀ ਇਮਾਮ ਸਾਫੀ, ਮਾਨਸ ਕੀ ਜਾਤਿ ਸਬੈ ਏਕੈ ਪਹਿਚਾਨਬੋ ॥
ਕਰਤਾ ਕਰੀਮ ਸੋਈ, ਰਾਜਕ ਰਹੀਮ ਓਈ, ਦੂਸਰੋ ਨ ਭੇਦ ਕੋਈ ਭੂਲਿ ਭ੍ਰਮ ਮਾਨਬੋ ॥
ਏਕ ਹੀ ਕੀ ਸੇਵ, ਸਭ ਹੀ ਕੋ ਗੁਰਦੇਵ ਏਕ, ਏਕ ਹੀ ਸਰੂਪ, ਸਬੈ ਏਕੈ ਜੋਤ ਜਾਨਬੋ ॥੧੫॥੮੫॥
Meaning – Only one God is everyone's Gurudev, all have His light, all are His form, only He prevails. He is the one who does it for all, He is the one who gives sustenance to all, no one else. Some are Hindu, some are Turk but all are human, everyone has the same caste, none other.
This work of art is not for anyone in particular. Globally the environment of raging, loot, violence, massacres, exploitation, caste differentiation, blind adherence to religion, capitalism, dirty politics, religious bigotry, social evils, superstitious rituals, communalism, lies and deception, hate speeches, tampering nature, negligence, superiority, factionalism, disputes of geographical boundaries, all have led to helplessness, anxiety, and pain. This work has traces of it all. It also has the traces of the silent scream of the soul in pain. Therefore, this work seeks to mirror all those inhuman activities and its consequences and resultant pain that is being suffered by generations. This work also seeks to awaken the heart of unethical people to the meaning of the words, ‘Moments have erred, centuries have paid the price’. This work seeks to rise above criticism to serve as an inspiring message to all.
RK: In continuation, how successful has this intervention been?
KS: I feel, the performance and visual art work in question may have originated from an incident or emotion. But with the passage of time, it has renounced the causes of its origin to become capable of freely getting associated with new meanings. And this way it seeks to remain ‘contemporary’ at all times. Some works serve as a mirror to the society. This is one such work. It will continue to act as mirror for the society from time to time, for every atrocity that occurs anywhere in the world.
The first ‘stone performance’ was executed at the railway station at Dablan, a village in Patiala district, Punjab (India) where farmers, protesting against newly formed agriculture laws were made a part of this performance. They took part in it in great numbers and with great enthusiasm. Five to six months after this performance, a gentleman met me at Tikri border of Delhi, another protest site of the farmers. He recognised me and said “I took part in the performance that you did at Dablan railway station. My children also witnessed it and told me that come what may, they will never fling a stone at anyone, ever.” He said many of his friends had taken this message seriously. Even a team was formed to keep vigil lest someone may fling stones at the trains to spoil the otherwise peaceful protest and cause violence to happen. This is the relevance and success of the work. The film has been screened at many places and will be screened at many more, everyone is free to do so. This works belongs to all and is for all.
RK: Please tell us about your on-going and upcoming projects and how they will further your concerns through your art practice?
KS: After the very challenging but fulfilling experience of this work, I moved on to works which are the direct outcome of my tryst with COVID-19, as I experienced it. The irreparable loss of lives, the anger and misery suffered by millions of people, the long queues of the dead bodies, waiting for the last rites the lack of space in crematoriums, and several bodies being burnt on a single pyre, I lived it all.
My recent works are an expression of the unforgettable pain and havoc left by the pandemic. For days I volunteered at the cremation grounds. I respectfully gathered a handful of ash from the pyre of several departed souls. And then I used that ash as pigment on canvas. These canvases are a witness to the pain. Each dot on the canvases represents the uncountable number of people who departed.
My art reflects my response to life as I see it on a global canvas. I aspire to continue my efforts to capture it in a meaningful way.
Click here to watch the full video of Indelible Black Marks.