by Devanshi ShahMar 11, 2021
Performance artist Nikhil Chopra is known for his stirring performances that last for days and stretch the artist’s mental and physical endurance while claiming the attention of the audience in ways that are often demanding. While he takes on various roles and performances, creating large-scale landscape paintings that are usually immersive and surround his habitat, he uses his own body as an artistic medium. Come September 2019, and the Goa-based Chopra will be an Artist-in-residence at the New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), performing live at the MET’s galleries, in several pieces that come under the rubric of land, water and sky. At the heart of Chopra's durational performances is the contemplative act of drawing.
During his residency, Chopra will interrogate how identities are formed and understood through a series of dramatic characters. For nine consecutive days, Chopra will inhabit various personae and interact with The Met collection. Akin to a nomadic traveller, he will move through the museum, following an itinerary of his own making that will query the museum's own organisational principles and logic. A large part of his performance is spontaneous. Hence, it is difficult to predict what Chopra will execute. However, by and large, his performances dwell on issues such as identity, the role of autobiography, the pose and self-portraiture; and therefore, one can hazard a guess that the performance will address these issues.
Lands, Waters and Skies are recurring themes that Chopra has been delving into since 2018. However, their genesis goes back to his childhood. “As a child, I spent many summers in Pahalgam with my grandparents in their little cottage on the Liddar river,” he recalls. “They had to sell their home for a pittance in 1989, when the area became politically troubled. These early formative years of my life were framed within this landscape,” he says of his inspiration. Later, as a young backpacker on long treks with his sketchbook in hand, he was confronted by the magnitude of the hard mountains and the soft galaxy around it. There was a familiar feeling of awe for this landscape and its bounteous enormity. “The fragility of the air, of how thin and how fleeting it all is; in all this, there was a deep desire and love to represent it again and again, to record it all, to connect with that human instinct that is as old as the people who walked these glaciers,” adds Chopra.
To begin his artistic journey, Chopra had a brief stint at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, where he studied painting. His early days as a theatre actor, where probably Chopra found his calling, was at a group called The Play House, which was run by Arun Agnihotri. Later, he went on to study and work at Rachana Sansad in Mumbai. His first performance was at Kitab Mahal in Mumbai. Chopra donned the persona of Sir Raja III in 2004-2005. It brought together the disciplines of theatre, photography, and posed portraiture. His next performance in 2007 was as Yog Raj Chitrakar at Kamal Mansion in Colaba where Chopra brought the disciplines of drawing and performance into the same ambit. He transformed the walls of his lived space for the period of three days, into a representation of the world outside with the aid of a camera that captured the panoramic view of Colaba.
Chopra’s association with Chatterjee and Lal gave him the international exposure he sought and it wasn’t before long that he became an international name. Since then the artist has exhibited and performed globally. Some of his important participations have been Fire Water, 2nd Yinchuan Biennale, China (2018); Drawing a Line Through Landscape, documenta14, Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany (2017); Blackening VI, Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, UK (2017); Bhairav, New Art Exchange, Nottingham, UK (2017) and The Black Pearl: the city from the river, Alchemy, Southbank Centre, London, UK (2016) to name a few.