Common Ground II: Parallel Migrations


12th September, 2019
British Council, New Delhi


An assessment of contemporary media and lens-based culture will highlight some remarkable features: a strong emergent affinity among all disciplines of study and an evolving cross-pollination and fertilisation of concepts, aesthetics and outcomes through overlapping critical frameworks. How do we absorb and impart these relationships within and outside the academy, and does practice often precede pedagogy?

“Parallel Migrations” bought together art makers, performers, curators, activists and independent publishers, who analyse how arts and media practices offer themselves in multiple formats and along multiple axes that enable aesthetic juxtapositions, interpretations and transfers, exploring possibilities for convergences in the future. This day-long seminar seeked to unearth means of ‘collaboration’ through which new modes of inquiry can be discovered; and socio-political challenges collectively confronted. At a time when mobility and expression within the region is being heavily monitored and controlled, these interactions present how innovative representational strategies are being deployed, which in time, could further consolidate our alliances.

Some of the questions that may be addressed through the three panels and artists’ presentations are: which new sites of exchange do our individual practices open up and how do we continue to bridge our visual fields? Are there quantifiable ways in which the humanities can declare the social impact it has made as all disciplines carry their own codes, categories and genealogies? As panel organisers we also thought about whether practices, when aesthetically deployed, alter parameters of engagement over time. In doing so, do some fundamental aspects remain constant while others become more provisional? Does that process lead to their revision or replacement

Presenting reputed specialists in their field from South Asia, this seminar was also envisioned to question whether arts and documentary practices are generalised, essentialised and ideological spaces (alone) that organise and contain the subject? Rather, the subject – the works we choose to reflect on, embody and circulate – is released into view through stylistic means, based upon acknowledging the contingent, the dispersed and the indeterminate.Provoking us to think about a new visual culture that requires new kinds of associations, the talks are meant to offer an open-ended inquiry into the challenges of image-based knowledge production, and how it can be (or is being) radically redefined.


Session I – Interrogating ‘Place’ in Practice
Bringing together an art historian, filmmaker and independent publisher, the panel deliberates on how ‘location’ as a variable in practice continues to undergo interrogation – highlighting how their individual means of expression engages with activism, often deployed through creative strategies and community imperatives, that takes into consideration, a specific regional politics in South Asia. Through their presentations, we may think about how to further foster vibrant dialogues, absorb and interact in new locations by re-considering notions of otherness, exile and migration. Perhaps then, our primary sense of belonging or affiliation can be rooted to subject matter rather than the place of origin.
Moderator – Gayatri Sinha
Panelists – Nancy Adajania, Dechen Roder, Kanak Mani Dixit

Artist Presentation
Ayisha Abraham

The Firefly Filled Night Goes by Like That (2016), Ayisha’s most recent self- published book is both a document of a site-specific project undertaken in the spring of 1999. Taking place in the vacant house of her maternal grandmother situated in the cantonment of Bangalore, the project consisted of a range of activities – art-making, exhibiting, performing, conversing, teaching and socialising – that transformed the house for one month prior to its demolition. For Ayisha – history, memory and the archive, come together through a process that began in 1991 with four photographs and a letter from her grandmother.

Session II – Configurations of the Self
What does it mean to question and re-make oneself in the face of continual oppression and discrimination? How does the creative exploration, construction and assertion of the ‘self’ act as a form of agency in these scenarios? What is the potential shift in power when one locates oneself, makes an image of oneself, performs, embodies and re-invents oneself? Could a deeper engagement with the psyche, within the frame of the psychosocial and psychotherapeutic, offer us a useful lexicon with which to open up and examine the notion of the self? The panel attempts to understand a broader, more holistic understanding of contemporary art by engaging with other disciplines to expand and unpack what it can be and do.
Moderator – Jyoti Dhar
Panelists – Sharareh Bajracharya, Priya Sen, Venuri Perera

Session III – Political Dimensions of (Arts) Practices
How do documentary and performance images of lived experiences explore the intellectual, cultural and technical transformation of each era, especially in the digital age when it can be swiftly used to counter state propaganda and censorship? Beyond the crucial questions of ‘how’ and ‘why’ certain content is being imparted, this panel is an assimilation of positions around how to deploy a political statement through one’s creative practice, and thereby extendedly question, what is the unique character of ‘South Asian’ in our diverging and converging practices taking into account the subcontinent’s particular histories? How do these ‘positions’ help us interrogate national, cultural or even personal histories
Moderator – Shohini Ghosh
Panelists – Ashmina Ranjit, Sudhanva Deshpande, Shahidul Alam

Curator Presentation
Tanzim Wahab

While South Asian art often defines ‘place-responsiveness’ between the binary of rootedness and hybridity, is there a new reality we need to consider in order to think beyond the binary? Artists and cultural practitioners are often imagining a cross-regional solidarity during a time of growing nationalism in vernacular landscapes and political rhetoric. How do we redefine a place beyond national identity when a regional problem becomes the shared concern of South Asian vernaculars? Furthermore, with the advent of new cultural institutions, biennales, international exchanges and art tourism, how do we (re)explore regional.