56 years of hate bites
10 October – 30 November 2014
'56 years of hate bites’ (AFSPA): Aniruddha Barua
founder of the artist collective in Guwahati, The Yellow Cab
Opening Reception: Thursday 9 October, 6pm–9pm
On 4 October 2014, despite activism, internal government recommendations, and human rights organisations demands for the removal of AFSPA, the Ministry of Home Affairs has further extended their description of three districts in Arunachal Pradesh - Tirap, Changlang and Longding - with the label 'disturbed’.
Bollywood’s indictment of AFSPA in a film 'Haider’, the story of Hamlet transfigured to Kashmir, opened on 2 October 2014 at Regal Cinema, down the road from Mumbai Art Room.
On 22 August 2014, human rights activist Irom Sharmila, on hunger strike for the last 14 years in protest against the murder of ten people by the army, was arrested again two days after being released from hospital detention.
Brutality in proportion to impunity
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and the Nagaland Security Regulation, 1962 are acts that give constitutional rights to even the most junior officers of the army to kill on grounds of mere suspicion, and warrants to search, burn and destroy any place in the so-called ‘disturbed areas’ with legal impunity and immunity. It also allowed the removal of entire villages to another area for any length of time. In the middle of the afternoon where children are playing, a uniformed man can trample over her garden, to torture, rape and murder a young woman. This man will never stand trial, and will never face a sentence. Immunity turns into state terror, and is proportionate to brutality. Over and above its functioning, the AFSPA has become a symbol of oppression in these areas. Its removal is a real, but also a psychological necessity.
Under the Inlaks Artist Award, Aniruddha Barua has been selected for his exceptional practice. Barua studied printmaking, and has a mastery of lithography. He has worked on a series of lithographs of 'Supermen’ from his home, Guwahati. Barua’s practice and his political commitment finds equal expression in projects in the public realm, and concerns of community art practice. He has been working deeply over several years with the community in Assam, and proposes a similar method of working in Bombay. For this exhibition he involves the nearby community, drawing attention to the law Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958’ and its necessary and urgent repeal. Bringing together the Supermen of his printmaking, and the 'Special Powers’ given to the army - he ironises the role of the army. In the current exhibition, he works closely with Irom Sharmila’s brother, and a large community of people, to understand the Act, both from within and outside of zones marked 'disturbed areas’, while pointing to new kinds of betrayals met with in the city, and how the Act remains in the psyche and perpetuates. A printmaker, you cannot somehow disregard the play on words in his title - his hate bites, is a kind of corrosive - acid bite, where the mind, the psyche, like the copper plate gets permanently etched upon.
Aniruddha Barua has sought stretching artistic dimensions for art in the public realm. As the founder of the Guwahati-based collective 'The Yellow Cab’, which came together in 2011, the collective has made public interaction their own, devising new ways of being with others. They have been working consistently in rural Assam, making workshops, and psychologically trying to restore a sense of meaning, in villages that had been ravaged by riots in Kukrajhar, Assam in 2013, in projects such as ‘My India, My Home’ made in collaboration with Clark House Initiative Bombay. The Yellow Cab promotes views using multiple methods like video projection, digital text, news print, and performance, exploring the levels of meaning of each concept and its connotations for an audience. The collective acts as campaigners or as provocateurs stimulating debate for positive social change. While thinking about wider social reform, they seek to expand the frontiers of aesthetic experience.
The collective has traveled to Manipur, for a project ‘Hunger and Hungry: 12 years running’ where they addressed the issue of Irom Sharmila’s 12 year long fast in protest against AFSPA. In a public art event that preceded this, called 'The hunger of hungry: 11 years and counting’ the collective paid homage to the 'Iron Lady of Manipur’, Irom Sharmila, by 2011 on an eleven-year hunger fast. Barua wrote at the time:
'We have been travelling to various places meeting different people,various classes and categories of people in the same society: people in the markets, schools, colleges, offices, railway stations. We introduced ourselves as TYC asking them about Manipur’s AFSPA Act and Irom Sharmila, and trying to know their views regarding this issue. It is a sharing process, whatever we know, we were trying to give, and what we were not aware of, we were trying to gain knowledge regarding the issue.
We have been questioning them on some topics as to why Irom Sharmila, even after eleven years of fasting, the central government hasn’t done anything? Why is it that they are trying to not see a problem which is so wide and vast. Are they trying to cover up the situation? If news like this from any other place in India is heard, of someone doing the same thing for even a week, it becomes the national news, even the ruling party wishes to talk with them. Why is it not the same with Irom Sharmila? Is it because she belongs to the North East? Why has the media not focussed on it as yet?' The group made over seven hundred photographs, of people’s expressions, trying to capture traces of their despair, their individual emotion and gestures, some cover their face, some cover their eyes, some hurt their faces, some look down, look away, to express their emotions on the subject of the army and its excess.
The exhibition is a serious reflection by artist Aniruddha Barua on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the psychological trauma of it on the people of the North Eastern regions of India. Barua is concerned with how the 56-year long enforcement of this Act had been affecting the lives of the people in Assam and in Manipur. By gathering close experience of being within such an environment, he asserts that the implementation of this Act has disturbed the growth and lives of especially the younger generation of that region. According to Barua, AFSPA is acting as ‘acid bite’ on the brains of the youngsters. This exhibition is an effort by the artist to raise opinion regarding the same, from a group of north-eastern youth residing in Bombay. He chose diverse mediums to construct a conversation. He has interacted with young people regarding the issue, forcing them to trace old memories and their roots. They were asked about their own lives and those traumas they inherited, from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Barua has painted ideas, expressions and views on their body, or on plaques, or embroidered them into their clothes; as if it is an inseparable part of their lives. These have been digitally documented for the exhibition. He has also painted directly onto the wall, on circular wooden plates that he fitted with handles, as a metaphor of these youngsters’ brains and their conditions after getting affected by the act’s consequences. 'Beauty to me means a sense of clear perception rather than reason. The idea is to project art & its demand for social change from a contemporary perspective.' He asks, and ponders, equally acutely, the very present racism as it is faced by ethnic minorities within this supposedly cosmopolitan city.
- Text by Zasha Colah and Bala Karchaudhuri
Bala Karchaudhuri, Assistant Curator, Mumbai Art Room. Graduated from Santiniketan with a master’s degree in Art History. She has been preparing the exhibition with Aniruddha Barua.