The Peacock Garden
Postcolonial identity and Parallel Histories
in Artistic Practices in South Asia.
Ta’oos Chaman ‘Peacock Garden’ here refers to South Asia, a rich transcultural society with a shared history of millions of years, having vast diverse lands, distinct languages, cultures, crafts, and art forms. This garden has been divided, bordered with gates, drilled, dug and mined, cut to pieces, and people have also been separated from time to time again under multiple colonisations and migrations. Today when physical borders are further hardened, most people across the region know very little about the small distant cities /towns, topography, small communities of minorities, natives, and migrants. Their identity, art, songs, dance, stories, languages, history, and concerns are usually overshadowed by mainstream urban capitals, business centers, or power hubs and mainstream art. Whatever information we have is a common perception, and stereotypes, reflected in the media, tourism industry, and state-generated narratives of the South Asian Other /the neighbor so close yet distanced. In the context of 75 years of Pakistan, the project explores the plurality, peripheries, and parallel history that connect Pakistan to India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Artists from each country tell the story of their community, city, land, river, tropical forest, or mountains they live or belong to. And how this has shaped their way of thinking and making art.
The project stems from my experience of living and working in various South Asian countries. My interaction with a diverse body of artists, art students, and different communities, their histories, concerns, and cultures gave me a wide perspective and thinking discourse. This made it easier for me to understand the constant shift in the visual, artistic, and material culture across the region. But I also found the vacuum and misconceptions due to the lack of people-to-people contact, as the result of years of multiple political and geographical rifts, disjunctures in history, mani-fold partitions, twisted diplomacies, and turbulent borders. The title of the project Taoos Chaman ( Peacock Garden ) is inspired by Taoos Chaman Ki Myna’, a great Urdu immortal tale by an eminent scholar and Urdu short-story writer, Naiyer Masud from Lucknow, India. The story published in 1997 tells the tale of a 19th-century princely state through the eyes of a poor man ‘Kale Khan, who experiences the city in layers of the opulence of the royal garden where he works and his own poverty, desires, and treachery, confinement, and freedom at the dawn of the British Raj. It is also inspired by the term ‘ Mayur Vihar ‘ which means Peacocks’ abode in Hindi, the name of the society in east Delhi where I once lived and called home. Vihāra (विहार) refers to a “temple”, and in a broader sense represents a “devotional place” or “residence of God”. It is one of the commonly used names for a temple, as found in Vāstuśāstra literature (literature of Architecture).
Single Shot | Ayaz Jokhio
Mehrabpur – Sindh, Pakistan
This audio-visual project ‘The Single shot’ is a YouTube channel that welcomes everyone, who uses even a mobile phone camera, to participate by following a few simple instructions for making a single shot video that also records a complete music piece simultaneously. (Detailed instructions for how can you make and share your video with me are given under each video on this project’s channel on Youtube.) Inspiration for this project comes from Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), a well-known French writer, artist, actor and filmmaker, who once said “Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.” Cocteau, here, is simply suggesting affordability and accessibility of an artistic medium to everyone as a fundamental constituent of art. And by suggesting inexpensiveness as a fundamental element of art, Cocteau is also questioning the role of market, commercialization and commodification that shapes this otherness of modern art and makes it an exclusive and specialized field of expertise, limited only to an elitist culture of galleries, museums and auction houses. Where art can be seen only as a sum of works circulating in the market. Cocteau gave this statement around a hundred years back, when camera was still a novel and rare invention. Now there is huge number of people who own a smart phone with camera and can make a video clip and a sort of film too, though not of the cinema quality yet. Though camera is still quite expensive; but recent developments in phone and computer technologies and its availability to masses have already started replacing even the use of pencil and paper itself.
This piece is an attempt to hold on to certain lingering images, landscapes, sounds and characters from Kerala’s folklore that are slowly disappearing from our memories.
The Yakshi is a sensuous female spirit-deity that dwells in the dark jungles. She has a reputation for notoriously seducing lost and lonely travellers into her abode (a peculiar kind of palm tree locally known as ‘Karimpana’). It is said that all that remains of her victims the morning after their passionate lovemaking are their hair and nails.
However, the Yakshi also symbolises the demonisation of the independent, ‘deviant’ woman in a harshly patriarchal society in which otherwise they remain shorn of existence and identity outside of their homes and families.
Into the Yakshi is transfused a few other characters like ‘thalla’, who is also a loner. She is a quirky and wise old woman who possesses certain magical and healing powers.
Communication within my family has always been hard for me. Perhaps it is because I had to leave my village when I was young. Now as I grow older, I have come to realize that I’m distant from my family and my roots in so many ways. With this realization, in 2019, I began to explore myself as a distant daughter in my family through conversations with my Aakhe (Grandfather). I became more and more interested in my family history and heritage. Conversations with him slowly brought down a wall between us and helped me get closer to him and his ideals. To fill the gap, I tried to learn my mother tongue, the Thakali language. Through the conversations, I got to unfold many aspects of our caste and community and its importance in history, my identity, and my sense of belonging. I learned that due to different reasons Thakali people migrated from their place of origin, Taglung, Mustang to different places, and only a few old people remain. In the village, I have found a lot of archival documents in a state of decay. The loss of these documents will create a void in understanding the Thakali heritage. One winter, I visited my ancestral village of origin with my Aakhe and shared a series of conversations with him to explore his long-lived memories of migration from Taglung to Pokhara, across the foothills of the Himalayas.
Goa – North East, India
A multimedia digital installation. A co-abling by, Wenceslaus Mendes with Dee Thompson. Impunity is a lament through song and a stitch of panoramas from the Western Ghats of the Deccan plateau bordering Goa, traversing across the foothills, rivers, mining quarries and paddy fields mapping a passage, leading to and from the sea and the docks of Vasco, Goa. The inset video is a loop video of the bordering area of the Mollem National Park, where a felling of trees has begun towards a construction of a large integrated infrastructure and development project of interlinking trade commodities and resources.
Welcome to Goa. We are here, for you to colonize us from 1524. Plant your flag, ‘scape’ and mark this land as you erect boundaries, dig, construct, excavate, mine, dredge and plunder from our commons. Eject and displace us from our homes and abodes to drown our villages and poison the groundwater to develop and conserve your environ. Homogenize and erase diversity, reclassify our trees and make them grass, patent, trademark and GI tag our rites, practices, traditions and culture. Or better still, frame them as postcards or reels and stories of your last visit or in galleries. We remain your maids, cooks, waiters and watchmen, your subjects and objects of study, as you host your offsites, conferences festivals, and biennales since 1895 and before. Don’t bother with our langue and our téchne as we are village bumpkins that need to be woken up, educated and civilized. So I write in your language, taught to me by the stick as you erased my own, thus to never fit in – displaced, deskilled and your consumable product of labour. Know that, this edifice that you have built, our village you have taken over, will all one day burn to the ground.
THE PIEGON’S NEST |
Gwadar – Balochistan, Pakistan
I have been listening to my mother’s story since childhood. The painful journey of migration from Bangladesh to Pakistan due to war. People were already traumatized by those events of war. So they never dared to tell or recall their painful stories.
This is a short story of my mother, Which represents all the people who migrated in 1971. It was not easy for them to leave their homeland but it was a necessity because my parents lost their loved ones. In 1976 they reached Pakistan to find my mother’s sisters. Later on my parents came to know that her sister were taken by people at brothels. When she reached Gwadar, my parents were exhausted and there was no way to travel back to Bangladesh due to post-war situations. Although, Gwadar resembled a little bit like hometown of my mother. However, at the time they knew that it was their destiny to live in the land of unknown people without identity, they were fighting the greatest existential crisis at their time, it was hard but they managed to give their children a good life. Somehow, time passed and they settled by giving up their norms and values and started accepting the new norms and values. One thing she did not give up was the Mother language. She believed that it was the only thing that was her pure identity, she also made us learn Bengali.
Mullaitivu – Jaffna, SriLanka
My work responds to lived experiences of military-centrism and historical distortion. In May 2009, Sri Lanka’s 30-year long Tamil armed struggle was silenced in the narrow coastal strip between Nandikkadal Lagoon and Mullivaikkal village. There, in the brutal destruction without witnesses, history reached its endpoint.
‘I/eye Witnesses’ photo-performance is borne out of a frustrated attitude and identity; a mind-set that is both questioning and answering. The drowning figure holds a flag defiantly. The body washed ashore is wrapped up in multiple religious, political, and cultural markers. There is a long history to body as a site of power, resistance, and vulnerability. Body in this violent history is also a site of influence and subjection under coloniality. The artworks I present in this series performs and indexes this condition.
A Tale From A Tea Garden |
During the colonial time South Indians were brought to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), falsely promising better jobs. These dignified people walked from the port to the central hill country, nearly two thirds of the length of the island to work as labors. Many died. But their generations are still working in the tea plantations.
First it was coffee that the colonizers planted. Then after the coffee rust epidemic, tea took its place, and Ceylon tea became world famous. Today, the new generation of workers goes to cities for higher wages, and a dignified life. So, there is a huge labor shortage in the plantations.But in the current political and ecomic upheaval , the cities got more affected by the biggest ever economic disaster in Sri Lanka, with food, fuel, medicine shortages and highest ever living cost. Some put the blame on long running effects of neo colonization from within and outside .
As part of a Corporate Social Responsibility project, I was invited as an artist to work with the tea farmers. This story was respectfully written, based on their real-life incidents.For the illustrations I have used tea and coffee stain, charcoal, ink, Manila paper and the pastel that children use; materials which connect to the community and the colonial past.
The tea state is symbolic of the country and its current biggest socio-economic crisis, which hit the tea industry very hard . ‘Go home Gota’ a popular slogan of protest by people is subverted in the poem that appears towards the end of the video . The life of our soil, natural sources and the rich greenery are mismanaged, mis-used and looted by the corrupted ruling hands after independence, While tea farmers and children are needing much respect and world’s support.This story also questions how those little joys are taken away from these children’s lives! Pet dogs are a common prey of the Leopards of ‘the Peak Ridge Corridor’; Leopard sanctuary in the area.
Recital of Untamed Naf |
The bodies that lie in the belly of the river Naf, which side of the borders they belong to?
Bangladesh or Myanmar?
Are there any borders for fishes?
Naf was agitated that day
purple river was roaring repeatedly
I was petrified
not of its raging current
but the history of violence, wrath, and brutality it carries, deep down in its core
Many people come to see Naf
They say- ‘Look when you cross the river, that’s Burma, the Rohingyas used to live there, shall I jump, shall I go? ‘
Jaliardwip, which has risen in the heart of Naf, soon there will be ‘Naf Tourism Park’
The Government has started building tourism park at Sabrang to rival Pattaya
Steel, buildings, brick, concrete
Rivalry, labor, recreation
more money, more & more wounds
will stand in front of Naf
one side will see the other side
will watch the wounds
Incurable wounds traded wounds
Interview with Safia |
Gwadar – Balochistan, Pakistan
My name is Safia. I was around 10 – 15 years old when we came here from Bangladesh. In the beginning we migrated to Karachi, after that we moved to Gawadar; then didn’t go back to Karachi. During the early days, we were so poor; and were told that there were a lot of opportunities in Pakistan, but it all turned out to be a lie. Not only us, but also lots of families moved here (Pakistan) in search of prosperity.
We’ve seen Zia ul Haq. I vividly remember when his (Zia ul haq) plane was crashed because of an explosion. I still have those images in my mind. At the time of our migration to Gawadar, there was literally nothing there – it was jungle at that time, but now, it is petty developed. For the first three years we stayed in Karachi, then shifted to Gawadar – rest of Pakistan’s journey and Karachi, I don’t recall much about it. We only visit Karachi only in case of medical emergencies or if some other important business needs to be dealt with, else we don’t leave Gawadar.
There are a lot of Bengalis residing in Sindh (province); most of them are either farmers or fishermen. The point of moving to Gawadar is to (catch) fish. Hunger can make a person do crazy things; so, everyone is striving to provide for their families. That is the main reason of Bengali’s migration to Gawadar. Because it (Gawadar) is surrounded by water and the chances of catching fish and opportunities are pretty huge. In the past, we had to do petty jobs, now by the grace of God there’s a lot to do in Gawadar. Most of Benaglis living here in Gawadr are under the poverty line, but things are turning out fine.
Baloch people used to hate us and call us names as “Bhangi”, to their racial comments we defended ourselves as muslims. We both bow before the same God, read same Book – ‘we are not bhangi, we are muslims like you’. Still, Baloch hate us and pass racial comments. Wherever you go, whatever the businesses are, Benaglis are found working everywhere. Educated Bengalis are working at good posts as well. But people are always unhappy with us.
They don’t issue us identity cards, are Bengalis not muslims? First they invited us to their country (Pakistan), now they want us to leave. Even Bangladesh doesn’t take us back and call us Pakistani. Now that every possibility our return has ended, they (Bangladesh) want us to stay in Pakistan. Even if we want to return to our homeland, we need at least 1 – 2 million rupees to fulfill that purpose – plus, we are somehow not even allowed to return.
Benaglis are expected to do as told, no matter what – there’s a lot of discrimination and different behaviors that we have to tolerate. There’s a common perception that Bengalis are bound to do whatever they’re told, but it is not like that. As bhangis and Benaglis wear Saaris, people treat us both with the same manner. Thus, we had to give up every norm just to look like Pakistanis. Now, Shalwar Kamiz has replaced out Saaris, as we’re bound to wear that. Due to social pressure, we can’t wear Saaris anymore, and have to wear Pakistani clothes.
Mehrabpur – Sindh,Pakistan
Ayaz is one of the leading contemporary visual artists from Pakistan,celebrated for his candid views on art and art machinery . He uses an amalgamation of imagery from print media, the internet, and popular culture along with his own observations of contemporary Pakistan in his work. He incorporates diverse media and techniques, ensuring he cannot be defined by a single style. In his own words, “My ambition as an artist, if there is an ambition, is to work with all the things that I see, that I touch, that I know, that I love, or that I hate…My work is not based on any certain topic; my subject matters change time and time again, as do the techniques I use in my practice… The subject matter of my work varies from personal to political and from literary references to education. Art itself is the most important subject of discussion in my work.”A continuous thread throughout his practice is the play of text against images, which he utilizes to interrogate the definition of art and its role in the contemporary world.
Jokhio trained in painting at the National College of Arts, Lahore, before starting out his career as a poet and cartoonist. He has exhibited solo and group exhibitions across the world in Japan, Germany, the UK, the USA, and Pakistan. Jokhio was the recipient of the Akademie Schloss Solitude Fellowship 2004-05, awarded by a prestigious foundation in Stuttgart, Germany, which promotes younger, gifted artists by means of residency fellowships. Jokhio lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan.
Goa –and North East
Wency is a film-maker with over 20 years of media industry experience from Delhi and currently residing in his hometown Goa. He is a cinematographer, editor by profession; practicing and working with multimedia and mediums. He also collaborates and works with video and technology in theatre and performance as well as, constructing conceptual and installation art projects that have travelled globally. His work expands and focuses on the intersection between caste and race, indigenous communities, livelihoods, environment and ethno-technologies. For him, the making and sharing of knowledge is conjoined in the process of making work, thereby able-ing knowledge pro-positions that are community driven.
He also works in Advertising, Broadcast Television and Digital-Web, independently producing award winning content.
Dee is a singer-songwriter and composer based in Goa, India. The granddaughter of a sitar player, composer and music director of his own Tamil orchestra, Denise was surrounded by and drawn to music from an early age. At the age of 6, she started writing short poems to express herself. Piano classes in her teens made her realise her passion for composing music and songwriting. Soon after, she taught herself how to play guitar and has since written songs about the earth, life, love, loss, longing, and the struggles to understand one’s self. Denise is currently working on her debut album.
is a practitioner of Koodiyattam, which is one of the oldest forms of world theater and the only surviving tradition of Sanskrit theater in the world. It is practiced in Kerela, which Kapila describes as an ocean.
She was seven when she started training and is now one of the foremost exponents of Koodiyattam. The daughter of maestro G Venu and Mohinattam danseuse Nirmala Paniker, Kapila Venu grew up in an atmosphere devoted to the arts, for which she says she “will be forever grateful to the universe. Every day, and almost every topic under discussion, had to do with art and aesthetic and I think that molded me into who I am.” She is the Director of Natanakairali Research and Performing Centre for Traditional Arts at Irinjalakuda, a staff artiste at Ammanur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam, and visiting faculty at the National School of Drama, New Delhi, and at Intercultural Theatre Institute, Singapore.
Her repertoire comprises both traditional performances and new experiments. She has traveled with her performances both as a solo performer and together with the Kutiyattam ensemble (Natanakairali and Ammannur Gurukulam) performing and giving workshops in a variety of venues. She aspires to explore the depths of traditions and at the same time find other than the regular possibilities, spaces, and people for her art. Apart from this, she has danced pieces choreographed by Japanese dancer Min Tanaka and storytelling performances in collaboration with Swedish director Peter Oskarson and English actor Arabella Lyons. She ranks her collaboration with Min Tanaka as “the most memorable” and one that had the “strongest impact” on her.
is a Gwadar-based visual artist. She studied Fine Arts at the University of Balochistan and the National College of Arts Lahore. Her parents mostly spent their lives in Bangladesh/East Pakistan and in 1971 they lost their siblings. To find them they traveled from East Pakistan to Gwadar.
Their earliest fond memories of their new home Gwadar are associated with multiple buildings of the colonial period such as Jamiat Khana (a sacred place of gathering for a Muslim sect), Porana Qilah (old fort), Shahi Bazaar (royal bazaar), and the middle of these the school of Aga Khan. These buildings reflected and resembled Dhaka and in the whole city, there was only this place where her mother could find peace because she did not know to speak Balochi but she knew Urdu and Hindi as the Agha khan community there also spoke these languages. Shahina was sent to the school of Agha khan, where she had a good time. It was mostly populated by Ismailis. The local Baloch people she says only glorified their Baloch culture and criticized the Ismailis and Agha Khani as foreigners, spending their life according to the British. They also believed that modernity is only the slavery of the British.
Being a Bengali and minority, there were fewer friends and people made little interaction with her due to her ethnic and linguistic identity. This created a feeling of inferiority complex as they were often called migrants or eastern. Neither they could practice their own culture in public ceremonies nor could they practice local Baloch culture because they were already subject to discrimination, so practicing their culture would result in more discrimination.
Rafiq Alam, a celebrated Pushto singer ,hails from the provice Logan in Afghanistan and belongs to the family of musicians . His father and uncle used to play Rubab . During the Soviet-Afghan war (1979–1989) he was seven years old,when migrated to Peshawar,Pakistan with his family and lived there for 25 years . It is here ,he learnt music from many great’ Ustad’ such as Gulzar Alam, Ustad Nazir ,his Uncle and many great musicinas of Pushto and Persian . He started performing at the age of 15.He moved back to Kabul during the time of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani and performed music in various Afghan Tv and Radio chanels .During this time he widely traveled to Arab Emirates , Russia, Asia and Europe to perform and gave Interviews to voice of America and BBC in Pushto .
He is currently living between Kabul and Peshawar , since the Taliban Regime banned music in Afghanistan in 2021 .
from Mustang – Pokhara .
Priyanka Tulachan is a visual artist based in Kathmandu, Nepal. She received her BFA from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Her personal projects have been exhibited on several platforms in recent years. For her photography is a strong means of communication with the public.
At a very small age, she left her hometown Tatopani, Myagdi with her grandparents to Pokhara for her studies. After that, she came to Kathmandu with her relative, due to which she wasn’t able to spend most of her time with her family. Because of this distance, she could not learn her mother tongue and she always felt cut off from her ritual, culture, and tradition. Due to language barrage, and communication her connection with her grandparents has become weaker. Keeping this in focus, she now explores art as a point to re-connect as well as discover more about the barrier that the language has brought between them. Her interest in art grew in early childhood from watching her cousin’s brother who was an art student too. But nowadays she finds inspiration in her art from her grandfather who is an author, his way with words, his storytelling, his energy, and his positive response to life are what encourage Priyanka to create art. She too hopes like her grandfather she is able to tell a story through her art.
Born in the small village of Kobbekadua near the city Kandy of central hill province of Sri Lanka. She started her art education at the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts (VAFA) in Colombo Sri Lanka. She went to India where she studied drawing and painting. But she spent a greater part of her life in Lahore, Pakistan where she did her bachelor’s in Theatre, Film, and Tv and later masters in art and design from Beaconhouse National University (BNU). She can easily be taken as a South Asian performance artist because she speaks Urdu/Hindi besides her native language Sinhala and English. She has a deep understanding of the diverse cultures and practices of the region. In Lahore, she taught art through drama and performance to children from varied age groups and from different communities to support/promote art education and cultural experience. Storytelling in the form of expression she finds comfort with. For this, She is collaborating with choreography, video and performing arts, books for children, nature study, and community work.
During the Pandemic she is relocated to her native place, Kandy. She is currently conducting a multimodel art program for kids focusing on diversity and inclusivity at Theertha International Artists Collective, Colombo. She is also working on a Documentary project with Tea Plantation workers in Kandy, a mostly Tamil-speaking community, who were brought here during British time for the cultivation of tea as laborers. The film is in the context of their livelihood, access to schools for their children, health, and other related concerns in the post-colonial realm.
Zafar is born in Bahawalnagar, presently working and living in Lahore.
He has done his graduation in Painting from the University of Punjab College of Art and Design .
He has participated in several National and International exhibitions and has also been a part of many modeling shows. Some of the highlights from the past year’s exhibitions are:
ICP (International Creative Drawing Exchange Program) at Gallery Artoz, UDAIPUR INDIA. Your best painting at “artelibre gallery MEAM” museum of Barcelona Spain. We the People We the Artist organized by the Switzerland embassy at “PNCA” Islamabad and also got the position. His work was also displayed in the London art room fair, Chittagong open art biennale, and in the collateral exhibition of Lahore Biennale 02 in 2020.
He has taught as visiting faculty member (Lecturer) at University of Sargodha, Institute of Art and Design, as a lecturer at LSFD Lahore School of Fashion and Design, Lahore and currently working as a lecturer at IAC Institute for art and culture Lahore, Pakistan.
Currently, he is also working as an Art Director in film and media.
Kajendran is born in Mullaitivu in 1988 and survived the war and the tsunami of 2004. He graduated in Fine Arts (Art History) from the University of Jaffna in 2014. He was awarded the prestigious UNESCO scholarship of the Madanjeet Singh Institute for South Asian Arts (UMISSA) and graduated with a Master in Art and Design from the Beaconhouse National University (BNU), Lahore, Pakistan. Kajendran served as a temporary assistant lecturer and visiting lecturer at the Art and Design Unit and the Department of Fine Arts, University of Jaffna. His practice involved several mediums such as drawings, paintings, installations, photography, performance, video-based performances, and digital works. Kajendran has exhibited works both locally and internationally. His first solo exhibition “STRANDED” was held in Jaffna in 2016. This was followed by his second site-specific installation “ESCHEW” staged at Thondaimanaru beach, Jaffna in 2019. He has also participated in group exhibitions including “Absent of the present, Nomad” at Art and Culture Center, Islamabad, Pakistan in 2019, “Visual Art Exhibition”, Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2019, “Of the Moments” at 12.0 Contemporary, Islamabad, Pakistan in 2020. His works are also in several personal collections all over the world.
Chittagong – Dhaka
Sadia Marium dreamt of being a filmmaker, worked as a Merchandiser and at present an independent photographer based in Dhaka. Sadia’s practice pollinates the process of creating photographs, books, videos, and alternative printing methods. The question of ‘Intrusion’ in photography intrigues her the most. Ordinary characters, unremarkable memories, spaces and objects are the protagonists of her works in tracing the distinction & overlap of reality & fiction, private & public. Sadia’s interest in geopolitics & border discourse, role of narratives in creating memory are shaping her recent and new works. She is one of the founding members of ‘Kaali Collective.