‘This year will also witness more projects on ecology’

The capital-based autonomous not-for-profit contemporary arts organisation through its programmes supports and incubates emerging, experimental and transdisciplinary creative practices and pedagogies…writes Sukant Deepak

On March 5, Chandigarh’s Open Hand will witness a ‘staged’ court hearing following the format of the National Green Tribunal and will debate ecology and air pollution. A project by Delhi-based Khoj International Artists’ Association in collaboration with Zuleikha Chaudhari, the performance will include artists, lawyers and retired judges. The hearing will interrogate the blame that is squarely placed on the farmers from the state of Punjab for the escalation of air pollution in Delhi due to their practice of stubble burning.

As per the NGT format, it will include three practicing lawyers, a principal bench comprising five retired judges and experts, three artists as central witnesses and their selected artworks as evidence, and two expert witnesses.

The performance/staged hearing, comprising opening and closing statements by the lawyers, examination and cross-examination of witness testimonies (along with evidence), and closing statements of the judges will be broadly scripted. The final judgment (read out by the judge) will be unknown as the judges will not be part of the rehearsal process but only come in for the hearing.

“Through the project, we wish to build discourse and understanding among various stakeholders in the agrarian community, policymakers, activists and the youth to collectively think of alternate and sustainable solutions to counter challenges in the agrarian system,” Pooja Sood, Director of Khoj, tells.

The capital-based autonomous not-for-profit contemporary arts organisation through its programmes supports and incubates emerging, experimental and transdisciplinary creative practices and pedagogies.

As part of celebrating its 25 years in 2022, it undertook several large projects on air pollution, a three-year project “Does the Blue Sky Lie?: Testimonies of Air’s Toxicities”, through which it supported art projects that engage with the idea of air and toxicity: its composition, movement, landscapes and scales of impact; paying special attention to its social connections.

Sood says in 2023, Khoj wants to look at where its stands as an art institution — what they should be thinking, what they want to think about, and what art should do.

“We want to continue to look at gender and deconstruct its different layers — say queer feminism or where you situate feminism. These terms need to be understood as well.”

A new approach to environmental activism

Adding that something that is glaring and obvious is climate change, which Khoj has observed for long, thus the staged hearing in Chandigarh, she adds, “It will be in Hindi and Punjabi. We could do it in Delhi, but it was important to get out of our comfort zone. This year will also witness more projects on ecology and looking at it in a nuanced way.”

Stressing that projects revolving around technology are high on her agenda, Sood says, “It is important to understand the multiple dimensions of fake news, how it is deflecting democracy, and what AI is doing for and against us. The most important point being — are we understanding what it is doing — data mines etc?”

“If artists don’t begin to unpack this, then we are in trouble. You will also witness one of our artists talking about the feminist Internet and violence against women on the Internet. Another thing on our agenda is design, not just product but also social design. Some of the projects we did for ‘Threading the Horizon’ are also done by urban planners. We are trying to do research and it will be a year of continuation and pilot projects in new places. I believe if we ask artists to take risks, we as an institution should be ready to support them in that.”

Sood is also working on a succession plan for Khoj. She says it is about building a strong governance that will go ‘beyond’ others and her.

“We are in the process of making those decisions and changes. It is important that many things that are taken for granted are transmitted in writing,” she concludes

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