November 8, 2021


Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery at Concordia University

Sohrab Hura, The Lost Head & the Bird, 2016–19. Video with sound, 10:13 minutes, variable loop. Performance view, Wendy Marijnissen, Hannes d'Hoine, Sjoerd Bruil. Courtesy of the artist.

Rajyashri Goody, What Is the Caste of Water?, 2017. 108 glass tumblers, watered down panchagavya (water, cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd, ghee). Courtesy of the artist.

Prajakta Potnis, He woke up with seeds in his lungs 6, 2020. X-ray film in LED light box, 30.48 x 38.1 cm. Courtesy of the artist, Project 88, and Anil Rane.

In 2022, India will celebrate 75 years of decolonization. In the process of writing the Constitution of India between 1949 and 1950, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, Chairman of the committee, was adamant to include an article outlawing discrimination against what he termed the “Untouchables of India,” or those who fell out of the four castes as determined by the ancient law book, the Manusmriti. Yet, caste apartheid and violence against women in particular take place over and over again without repercussions in a country that is becoming subsumed into Hindutva or Hindu nationalism, contrary to the secular state it was founded as.

The Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery presents Constitutions curated by Swapnaa Tamhane that brings together the work of Rajyashri Goody, Sohrab Hura, Sajan Mani, Prajakta Potnis and Birender Yadav from India in their first exhibition in Canada. Their work considers escape routes and ensnarements of the body within the state—a condition amplified by the pandemic. Over the last year and a half, we collectively witnessed the flow of bodies leaving cities for villages in various parts of India; we saw people helplessly watch their loved ones gasping for air amid oxygen tank shortages; and just prior to being instructed by the state to socially distance, we saw protests for the right to citizenship, the right to be recognized. Constitutions attempts to address this trapping but also offers proposals for ways out of these absurd labyrinths.

The five artists are all from a similar generation. They address and complicate the oppressive social hierarchy of caste discrimination, politics of labour, and the post-truth state. In their works, there are threads of poetry and literature, a sensation of disembodiment, the transition of body to tool, and the representation of what the body retains, absorbs, and discards.

Public programs include a conversation in two parts with the artists and the curator (online); a screening and discussion with Dipti Gupta of An Indian Story by Tapan Bose and Suhasini Mulay (onsite); a workshop with the South Asian Women’s Collective (onsite). For more on the works and to read the Tamhane's essay, visit the gallery's website.

Swapnaa Tamhane is an artist and curator. She has an MA in Contemporary Art, University of Manchester (2001), and an MFA in Fibres & Material Practices, Concordia University (2021). Her visual practice is dedicated to drawing, and decolonizing art, craft, and design. She has exhibited her work at articule, Montreal; A Space Gallery, Toronto; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg; Serendipity Arts Festival, Panjim; and has upcoming solo exhibitions at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, Dundee.

She curated the group exhibition In Order to Join—the Political in a Historical Moment with Susanne Titz, an exhibition of global feminisms at Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Germany and CSMVS, Mumbai, India (2014–15), taking as its focal point artist Rummana Hussain whose work defined a feminist Muslim history in pre- and post-Partition India. At the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, she curated HERE: Locating Contemporary Canadian Artists (2017), which included twenty-three artists. She has been a Research Fellow with the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2009), and an International Fellow with the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (2013–14). Her interests also extend to material culture, and with designer Rashmi Varma, she curated and wrote SĀR: The Essence of Indian Design, published by Phaidon Press (2016).

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