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India: Artist’s resistance

Monday 21 March 2016, by siawi3


Angst gets an ebony makeover in social experiment


Photo: Young artist dons black paint to get under an unfair society’s skin
Artist P.S. Jaya, who has daubed her body with black paint to train the focus on issues facing Dalits and other weaker sections in India in a three-month long public performance, waits at the East Fort bus stop in Tripunithura, near Ernakulam. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

The strident outcries for justice to Rohit Vemula, and for Dalits and other socially underprivileged sections in its wake, may be thinning down. But a young Kerala artist has taken it upon herself to keep the focus locked on issues of caste bias through a unique public experiment.

She is doing it by ‘living’ the surrogate life of a black body in a public space.
She is P.S. Jaya

P.S. Jaya, a promising artist, wanted to find out how it was being a black body in a fairness-obsessed Indian society. On January 26, she embarked on a performance which involved daubing her body with soot-black kajal every day, as if in a ritual, before stepping out of her home near Tripunithura. Fifty days past the beginning of this daily performance, which invited reactions on the street ranging from the incredulous to the ludicrous and the condescending to sympathetic and affirmative, she has now extended the project till May 5.

“While I’ve never felt not being myself under the skin when I’m in public ‘wearing’ a dark complexion, people have their doubts. Some are anxious. Some are keen to know why I am doing it and engage me in discussions, especially on bus rides. Some look in wonderment, while some others simply laugh it off. There was this middle-aged woman who kept staring at me on the bus the other day and dryly remarking, as I was alighting, as to why someone should appear in the guise of Poothana!,” says the artist.

Kalakakshi, a young artists’ collective in town in which she’s a member, organised an in-situ performance of women artists on International Women’s Day in which Jaya had her body wrapped in a wire cage illuminated by LED bulbs.

“Through the network of artists, she’s trying to throw light into the gratuitous renewal of certain morose conceptualisations, like demonising the black body and existence or equating it with anything that is inferior,” explains Jaya’s sister and fellow artist P.S. Jalaja.

Jaya intends to document the daily performance in the coming days through photographs, videos, jottings and an inclusive calendar.

“Also on the cards is a small volume on the experiential part of the project. It’s a great learning experience for me as well,” says Jaya, who’s also rummaging the knowledge archives for a better understanding of the alternative histories of the subaltern people.

More in-situ performances are also in the offing.

A part-time painting teacher and a Bharatanatyam student at a dance school at Panampilly Nagar, she plans to give a Bharatanatyam recital with her face and body painted black, in an eloquent subversion of the customary make-up that equates beauty to fair skin, in classical dance forms.

Before that, she will take out a trip to Wayanad’s tribal hamlets with a view to understanding first-hand the daily battles being fought by the community living on the fringes of society.