Where ‘local’ leads to international for artist Ashim Purkayastha

In the year 2014, Delhi-based artist Ashim Purkayastha started collecting stones from different streets in Delhi. At that time, he had no idea that his work ‘Shelter’ would be a part of the Indian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale.

A physical experience, the making of which involved moving around the city and collecting materials, ‘Shelter’, which is now being exhibited at KNMA’s online exhibition ‘City Tales’ included time and experience of different events. “While picking up stones from Delhi’s roadsides, ‘identity’ was at the centre of the thought,” says Purkayastha.

Recalling the overwhelming response his work received in Venice, the artist says, “While ‘Shelter’ was displayed on the floor, the canvas ‘Untitled’ was on the wall. When I decided to paint on the wall, it was the more conceptual part of the work which had to be done at one go. Considering the fact that it could not be repainted, there was a certain conflict in my mind, it was also important that the stones should be scattered all over. During the exhibition’s opening, it was interesting to see the reactions of the viewers — such an incomparable experience.”

Purkayastha, who is known for his work on Gandhi including ‘Gandhi/Man Without Specs’ says that till now he is yet to experience any movement or protest, that does not have his name or image. He adds, “However, in face of this pandemic — when so much is happening — lockdown, migration and protests, it is for the first time we do not have any mention or reference to Gandhi.”

Known for highlighting social and political issues in his work, while laying stress on the local, the artist feels that the post-Covid times for artists and exhibitors would mean far more dependence on the virtual medium. “However, despite such a tough scenario, we may see the Kochi Biennale materialising.”

While he has experienced ‘lockdowns’ frequently considering he is from Assam, Purkayastha says the one in wake of the Covid pandemic is different for him. “There is this realisation that the whole world is going through it. I have been using this time to collect material for my future work.”

Talk to him about the pathetic state of young artists in face of no measures announced by the government for the art community when the country was put under lockdown, and he laments, “The government is just highlighting its ‘success’ rate when it comes to a lower mortality rate and not talking about several related key issues. He adds, “Lakhs of people have become jobless, we saw the walking migrants, and now many migrant workers are back in the cities trying to look for work. These issues need to be addressed, no?”