Locating Identity in Contemporary Indian Art: Tejal Shah and Nikhil Chopra

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Bindu Bhadana, Heidelberg University, Germany

    In contemporary art the body has been recognized as the principal arena for the playing out of the politics of identity. Using it as a dynamic signifier of lived experience, two contemporary global Indian artists, Tejal Shah(b.1979) and Nikhil Chopra (b.1974), use the body to revolt against the binaries of conventional representation. Their work encapsulates the potential for an individual to represent wider issues such as cultural difference, historical context, sexual preference and the transgression of gender roles. Tejal Shah categorizes herself as ‘feminist, queer and political’, her performances, videos, and installations focus on gender and binary taboos. Her video installations (the focus of this paper), propose an egalitarian democracy where deviance and ‘unnatural’ bodies and identification are the norm. She makes a strong case for representation of queer and same-sex desires in India’s cultural traditions and the problems faced by them in conforming to hetero-normative roles. Nikhil Chopra’s performances combine theatre, live art, painting, photography and sculpture, occupying lost cultural spaces and proposing historical counter memories. As Yog Raj Chitrakar, a self-ethnologizing traveler-explorer, European or Oriental by turns, he projects himself into a space of multiple identifications through a form of story-telling through time and space. Fragmentary cross-gendering questions the premise of gender as a binary singular system of determining social and personal identities. Both artists traverse cultures and geographies to create identities that go beyond the colonial or post-colonial. Their work both references and transcends otherness. These gender ambiguities are enacted through masquerade, fantasy and live performance. This paper broadly aims to show that their artistic practice de-stabilizes notions of gender and identity. I use the term ‘global’ for them because they have an international presence, are written about extensively and are exhibiting and performing across the world. Tejal Shah’s ‘Between the waves” was part of Documenta13 at Kassel recently and Nikhil performed at San Gimignano in April and Fremantle, Western Australia, in October this year.