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Artist Nikhil Chopra: Only you can own your body

New Delhi, ¬†For India’s best-known performance artist Nikhil Chopra, co-founder of one of the first art spaces in Goa, HH Art Spaces, the high point of the recently concluded India Art Fair in the Capital has been the fact that works of young Goa based-artists, not represented by any gallery that they showed at their booth garnered much interest by viewers and buyers.

“We have brought artists here who are under 30-35 years old. Frankly, we have always been very interested in the voice of the young, and are trying to convert their talent into a sustainable relationship in their own practice,” says the artist who was the 2019-2020 Artist in Residence at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.

The past two years, which have seen a massive influx of artists from across the country to Goa have witnessed many of them ‘interacting’ with HH which was established in 2014.

Chopra insists that they never started anything with this idea of becoming ‘something’ and wanted to be just who they were — practice what they do and make art. “What facilitated that for us is that we’re in Goa. It gave us the luxury of space, and time as well, to some extent. And with these assets, we were able to create a space not just for us to grow and develop as artists but to engage the community — not just our friends and family but also our neighbours and the large creative community. What we were doing for ourselves actually had an effect on a much larger level. It was not just generating ideas for our own development, but also for the development of a community. HH is an artists studio, experimental space, lounge, meeting place, and hub. It’s a place where many things happen. And we’re not looking back,” he tells IANS.

Adding that they have realised that in order to sustain the space, it is important to wear many hats, and generate revenue from different sources, the artist says that they brought their ‘currency’ to the fair. “This is to create a sustainable relationship with the project. Despite the generous hands and philanthropists who fund us, on our part we need to understand the importance of art as our biggest currency. We need to use that. It is actually quite empowering when we can convert our own talents into currency, that allows us to exist.”

Smiling that he can notice people’s excitement in coming back to the physical world with an adrenaline rush and deep pockets, Chopra says that the Pandemic had two sides for him. While during the first stage they felt quite invincible and safe as they were in a place where we were safe from crowds. “However, when the second wave struck, we were quite devastated with all of it because the disease did come home.”

For him, it took away a lot of the travel that he was on a roll with. Forcing him to change his game and stay in his studio, he would spend hours making drawings and paintings on paper. He adds, “The practice of drawing is always connected to the performance. It helps me build a skill base and the dexterity with the materials that I would need to have in developing my performance practices as well. So in a way this time was really used in skill development and honing in,” he says.

While the two recent grants, by the British Council and Swiss Arts Council received by HH will lead to two festivals that will be organised in Goa, Chopra feels that performance art is yet to get its space in the art school curriculum. He feels that one of the reasons is that it is tough to teach performance art per se.

“You can talk about the body and the politics around it — the materiality. However, the leap of faith that needs to happen for someone to enter performance work is really something that cannot be taught. It has to be felt. The live space is very raw and has a certain way of making clear what the truth is. It’s important for fine art programmes and institutions to realise the importance of performing arts in the curriculum. And it’s something that I would love to think about — to design a programme within an academic space. There is an urgency to introduce the conversation around it, techniques and methods to introduce the body around one’s practice. But it’s a tricky syllabus to make. Curriculums are demanding. I cannot demand you to perform — only you can own your own body.”

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