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Shabana Ali on Colors of Dissent : Reiterating Contemporary Ambedkar through Art


Colors of Dissent : Reiterating Contemporary Ambedkar a Dalit Art exhibition which was curated by Shabana Ali in Artists Centre, Kala Ghoda Mumbai on the occasion of 125th Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti. This was a unique attempt of such a kind where Dalits and some non-Dalit Artists came together to display their work. The exhibition featured 21 works by 11 artists, including Savi Sawarkar and Jaya Daronde, Mogglan Shravasti, J. Nandkumar, Navneet Bharti, Prakash Bhise, Rajnish Kumar, Dr. Sunil Awachar, Uttam Ghosh, Vinay Avtare and Vinu. V.V. And it was organized by Padmashree Shir Sudharak Olwe who also runs Photography Promotion Trust (PPT).

Hi, I am Shabana and I have curated this exhibition – Colors of Dissent : Reiterating Contemporary Ambedkar through Art. This was basically an extension of my ideas and research in MPhil which I did in Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Now I am doing my PhD from JNU – School of arts and aesthetics.

I have been engaging with the subject of Dalit Art through my Mphil research and I met a lot of artists during my research work. I also met Sudharak Olwe who is behind this project entirely. While speaking to him and discussing my research he suggested that since I have been in touch with so many artists I should also bring them together in a common platform and Dalit Art which is already less spoken about subject we should try to bring it out to the public and have some discussions around it. So that is how the project got initiated.

All the painters who have contributed to this exhibition, they have all been working with Dalit movement and caste issues since the past 30-40 years, some of them have been working for longer period than that. This is not a one time event, it’s the kind of subject they have been working for a very long time and they have thankfully agreed to participate in this exhibition. Funding was a major problem in organising the exhibition because we did not have funds. The artists have contributed without any remuneration or expectations. We have had lot of volunteers from all over Mumbai helping us out.

DC: What is the idea behind this exhibition?

SA: The idea of this exhibition has been to explore the concept of Dalit Art. What do we mean by Dalit Art is just not by whom the painting is being done by but also what the content of the painting is. So by Dalit Art we mean any art forms which is dealing with the subject of caste and which is being done with a Dalit consciousness. We often find that a lot of social issues have been projected in art works but caste is largely ignored in such art work. In the mainstream gallery art caste is something which people refrain from doing. Many artists said that the demand for you such painting is very less. That is a risk the artists do not want to take, they would rather paint on subjects which are aesthetically more beautiful to the mainstream public. In that way the artists who have contributed to this exhibition have taken huge risks because the demand for such artworks which do not fit the mainstream notion of beauty in aesthetic. They have challenged that mainstream idea and they have tried to create a separate Dalit aesthetics challenging the brahminical and mainstream notion.

One more good thing about this exhibition is that a lot of different ideological perspectives have come together. There are people from the Ambedkarite perspective, there are people from Buddhist perspective and even people from Marxist perspectives have contributed to this show. They are flexible in their ideologies and therefore have agreed to come together on a common platform. Their main aim was to bring about discussions on such issues and I am thankful that that is what has been happening in the exhibition.

We often find that a lot of social issues have been projected in art works but caste is largely ignored in such art work. In the mainstream gallery art caste is something which people refrain from doing.

DC: When did the process to hold this exhibition begin?

SA: The process began almost one and a half years back when I was doing my research. I spoke to the painters and I have been discussing about the issue of Dalit Art. During the process there were some artists who did not agree to contribute because they were not very comfortable with the idea of the Dalit Art, I am telling this because even the subject of Dalit Art is very controversial, and it is very new and there are debates that such a category should not exist. So, the idea of this exhition is to bring about such debates and dialogs. The fact that we are having such an exhibition makes it apparent that there is such a category but to what extent it should be there or not is a question which we want to explore.

DC: How is the response?

SA: The response, I don’t know, we are not having too much public right now because the very hot and it is in the weekdays. But on 14th April and on saturday-sunday people have come and they are mostly people who are related to the movement, so what I feel is that people from the mainstream public is not that much. In that way probably the audience is a little restrictive.

DC: what do you think is the reason for this?

SA: Maybe because this is a small gallery and a subject like Ambedkar and caste, I feel, is not something which people get attracted to. When I spoke to the audience I found that they were either activists or students. But the response has been very good. People are appreciating the efforts and people are actually giving new insights to the paintings and we have also given small descriptions in the painting so people can understand and discuss on them.

Thank you.

Shabana Ali, is a Bengali research Scholar and student, doing a PhD and who has studied at Mumbai University JNU and TISS.

Video: Nilesh Kumar, Transcription: Archana Bidargaddi