Artist Priyadarshini Ohol, for the first time, unveiled a large scale, socio-political work of Artivism about the current mass scale persecution of Dalits. It was showcased recently at the North Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata. This unique work of art introduced by Ohol, with a live interactive performance of Butoh, a form of Japanese dance theatre, as the highlight of the evening, drew a sizeable crowd of curious onlookers and art aficionados. The work titled “Dehumanised Body: India 2018” includes a weeklong performance with audience participation.
The Butoh performance was complimented by large screen video installations of the brutalities of casteism in various parts of India. As viewers walk through the space, they can hear racist cries like “Hindu! Hindu! Hindu!”, “Sickular!”, “Anti national!”, “Reserved category!” or “Kill them all, they deserve to die!” which enhanced the dystopian graveness of the situation. The video clippings have been gathered from social media.
Prints on canvas of her Butoh performances provided an added insight into the artist’s mind. The backdrop was set with white curtains which contributed the perfect lighting and served as the medium for projection. As the performance space was opened for audience interaction on day 1, it was modified by a local performer using a rope from the objects area into a mini installation. In this background the live interactive session happens every evening Butoh by Priyadarshini in the evening.
Through her Butoh performance portraying a dehumanised body, Ohol channels the pain and suffering of countless victims across the country. The audience is invited to enter the performance space and interact with her body. Various props such as knife, brooms, ropes and oil among other things are kept for their use, if they choose to. Text cards with excerpts from Manusmriti provide the context for their use.
Members from the audience approached the artist. One poured oil on her, one covered her with a white cloth, one bound her with a rope while another came and cut it with a knife. After doing their part, as each came across their reflection in a mirror while exiting, one hopes they understood how it feels like to dehumanise and alienate someone. Ohol has used video documentations shot by people on social media. These footages of the violence of dehumanisation in real life have been juxtaposed with the Butoh performances.
The fotages include Badaun gang rape case, Thoothukudi massacre, Rohith Vemula suicide and Bhima Koregaon incident among others. All of them conveyed the harsh reality of oppression and deprivation. She has attempted to mirror the society’s denial of basic humanity. “If this is the ideal and these are the social laws you want to live by, why don’t you start with me? Do whatever you can to my body.
Can you be as inhumane as the Manusmriti asks you to be and dehumanise me to that extent? Do it and then go and look at yourself in the mirror. Is this who you want to be and is this the world you want to build?” said Ohol. Working from her studio in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, Ohol has developed this installation over the last six months. The central video has her Butoh performances as “Pink Girl” layered on top of each other. The sound bites of various demeaning slurs that are used nowadays added a touch of surrealism to the show.
She has combined multichannel video, audio, text and visual art into a single site-specific installation. Along with a live Butoh performance where she allows audience to interact with her dehumanized body, this exhibit has left a deep impact on viewers garnering much praise for the artist.