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The exhibition ‘Broken Foot’ documented the migrant staff’ crisis amid a network of inequalities

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The on-line exhibition, which concluded on October 10, created a unifying structure with the Constitution as its keystone to handle manifold inequalities

Inked into a confined area, the inmates are stressed. One appears to be on the verge of attempting to tempo about; one other, sharp-featured and masked, sits cross-legged and glares at the artist. Others loom in the background — are these shadows on the wall or males crumbling into bones, with cracked skulls and skull-textured masks? And but, all these are distinct figures nonetheless, human beings full of individuality and nervous vitality. This is not the case after we go on to the second half of Umesh Singh’s exceptional diptych, Escapade — a Journey with the Migrants. By this time they’ve dissolved into an undifferentiated mass of huddled humanity. The partitions have narrowed, and shadows lean in opposition to them with an air of desperation.

Singh, who endured an arduous two months of isolation in Varanasi throughout the lockdown, and was then stuffed into a sequence of crowded buses to return to Bihar, determined to doc the experiences of his fellow travellers, a group of migrant labourers and poor college students, via his artwork. “The bus had only 30 seats, but there were 50 people. There would be two-three people under one blanket,” he remembers. The claustrophobia and eventual dehumanisation — dehumanisation in the eyes of, and by, an detached state — in stark black ink evoke ideas of the notorious Black Hole incident of Calcutta or Chittaprosad’s depictions of the Bengal Famine.

Umesh Singh’s ‘Escapade — a Journey with the Migrants’

Umesh Singh’s ‘Escapade — a Journey with the Migrants’
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangment

Interrelated contours

‘Spontaneous solidarities’, as epitomised in Singh’s works, was one of the thematic clusters of the exhibition ‘Broken Foot — Unfolding Inequalities,’ which ran on-line for 3 months earlier than concluding on October 10. Driven by a want to answer the unfolding migrant labour crisis, when an estimated one crore folks tried to succeed in house on foot between March and June, curators Prabhakar Kamble and Rumi Samadhan reached out to 60 artists and constructed a thematic framework with labour at its coronary heart. The works went up on the market on the Mojarto platform with proceeds going to artists in want.

The curatorial imaginative and prescient was developed alongside a quantity of interrelated contours, together with the Constitution, with its concept of ‘we, the people’ and the numerous guarantees of equality; the contributions of B.R. Ambedkar to the labour motion; labour and urbanisation; migration; kinds of labour; the plight of farmers; the relation between land, folks and ecological points, which ties in with tribal folks and their traditions; and the notion of schooling as emancipation.

Vikrant Bhise’s ‘Ambedkar and a Labourer’

Don’t see

The eponymous work, Broken Foot, a sculpture in wooden by curator Kamble, will be in contrast with Balaji Ponna’s portray, Walking Under the Empty Sky, wherein a cracked slipper bestrides the define of India as innumerable souls with glowing eyes stare accusingly. Both level to the rupture brought on by the nice migration, a tear in the social cloth born of blindness and betrayal. One of the exhibition’s main themes was the relationship between labour and the nation, and as we too typically neglect, a nation is nothing however an abstraction of a folks. It is the nation that has been ruptured.

Photojournalist T. Narayan captured these lockdown journeys in his personal manner. One hanging picture, taken from behind, exhibits a little one virtually fused to his father’s neck and shoulders, as if they’re one entity. Venkat Shyam’s portray, The Journey, equally depicts a mom, trying virtually like an Egyptian goddess with a pot for a crown, taking her son by the hand and strolling barefoot, at the same time as a prepare and an aeroplane cruise previous. It’s exhausting to not suppose of the very totally different remedies the authorities meted out to returning NRIs and home-bound labourers.

T. Narayan’s photograph ‘Migrant-2’

An Ambedkarite gaze on society is outstanding in lots of of the works, and maybe its baldest expression is in Vikrant Bhise’s portray, Ambedkar and a Labourer. A employee cleansing a statue of Ambedkar covers the latter’s eyes — maybe urging him to not gaze, shielding him from egregious actuality. Arun Vijai Mathavan’s images of Dalit sanitation staff and mortuary technicians throughout the lockdown, and the excessive circumstances and prejudice they face — heightened at a time of enforced social isolation — are additionally hanging.

Uncanny timing

Gopal Gangawane’s portray Thinker is certainly Rodin’s Thinker, however sitting on a glass-cube pedestal, he towers above three emaciated kids gazing longingly at a roti hanging inside the dice. Does his philosophical, maybe sympathetic, gaze assist them in any manner? Will they ever be capable of suppose abstractly if all they’ll afford to consider is their subsequent meal? Another acquainted picture — the pietà, Mary cradling the physique of Christ — is repurposed in the ink portray, Mothers Arms are More Comfortable, by Khandakar Ohida. A physique with crimson flesh, blood and burns, held in a lady’s arms reminds us of the quotidian violence confronted by the subaltern.

Khandakar Ohida’s ‘Mothers Arms are More Comfortable’

Khandakar Ohida’s ‘Mothers Arms are More Comfortable’
| Photo Credit:
Special association

Intersectionality was at play all over the place, as the exhibition checked out inequalities in numerous dimensions. Siddhi Jadhav’s images supplied a peek into the life of a hijra, whereas Tejaswini Sonawane’s etching, Arriving Home, depicted, grotesquely, the contradictions between modernity and custom as a grimacing woman-owl, striving to take flight, stays grounded beneath the gaze of society’s beady eyes.

Such thematic expansiveness meant that Broken Foot wasn’t purely targeted on the plight of migrant labourers, however created an unifying structure that took the Constitution as its keystone. Its invocation of basic rights and the now-totemic preamble took one again to the anti-CAA protests whereas the work of artists like Randeep Maddoke and Kuldip Karegaonkar depicting the lives and deaths of farmers was uncannily well timed. The documentary worth of recording via artwork the tragedy of migrant staff throughout the lockdown, one of the biggest but most muted crises in our latest historical past, is that this challenge’s most vital achievement.

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