The curatorial prompt of ‘Fissure’ by Pollinator made me think about how we have been in a soup of unsettling events since 2014. Starting December 2019, social activists, lawyers, human rights advocates, and those that valued Indian constitutional ideals like secularism protested on the streets of the country against the government policies which discriminated against people on the basis of religion. I was deeply disturbed by the images of violence coming from all over the country and could not fathom the absurdity of this reality.
My immediate response for the Virtual Nursery residency was to distill the protest against the NRC, and the CAA bills to its crux - - who is deemed to be an ‘outsider’ in the definition of a majoritarian Hindu nation state and apply it to the most basic of human requirements - food. This led me to understand the so-called ‘purity’ through the lens of food. The country I grew up in was accommodating and kebab eating. And now I observe how identities have been weaponized to feed propaganda of increasing intolerance. The apartment rental adverts that specify no Muslims or non-vegetarians allowed. A person refusing delivery from a muslim Zomato delivery man.The bakery in Chennai that decided to put “No Muslim staff” on their packaging. The ban on beef. I find the ambiguity and the insensitivity of the State towards its people and natural resources, combined with deep conditioning of people towards hating the “other” both absurd and post-logic.
Why and how did personal food preferences become a part of religion? After all, according to the US-based anthropologist, Balmurli Natrajan, and India-based economist, Suraj Jacob, only 20% Indians are vegetarian. How is this more important than focusing on the impending ecological disasters of pollution and climate change? I had multiple conversations with historians, food writers and artists throughout the course of the Residency which helped shape these ideas into an inquiry - What happens to food when radical majoritarian propaganda succeeds? What does “purity” mean in an Indian context ? What is understood to be purely Indian identity?
As food historian Sohail Hashmi noted in a conversation with me over a video call on 31st October, 2020 at 3:30 pm, a visit to any Vaishnav Dhaba will reveal a menu with three categories - Indian, South Indian and Chinese. This raises the question, what is categorized as Indian food? And can eleven dishes of paneer really be considered Indian when paneer is infact a Portuguese invention? The creation of a post-truth speculative world is a product of these overlapping voices of reason in my head that needed a world of their own to be comprehended. SarvSatvikRashtra- Atmanirbhar 2Q48 is based in an alternate fictional society which focuses on its food mannerisms through ideas of ‘shuddhi’ (purity). Inspired by Murakami’s 1Q84, SarvSatvikRashtra is an alternate reality that coexists but is different from the one you are in. For I believe that many realities exist in the same world based on where one is standing.
In this world, the very survival of the human race is threatened by extreme weather conditions and overconsumption. The ruling regime in this society continues to focus on it’s definition of shuddhi, which is considered to be the highest virtue of this society. “Shuddhi for all” is a salute like “Heil Hitler” used across the narrative to reinforce the importance given to purity.
Using the lens of food, I attempt to recreate the feeling of being wronged by erroneous policies and propaganda. How does it feel when it hits too close to home?
Shuddhi For All
This artwork is created as part of ‘Fissure’ curated by Shaleen Wadhwana for Virtual Nursery (2020-21) by Pollinator.
Deepikah is an interdisciplinary artist based in Bangalore, India. Trained in Communication design from Delhi, she uses painting and installation art to express issues related to gender, self-worth, and perception. She decided to become a full-time artist after becoming a full-time mother in 2016. In the same year, her work was showcased across India at Gender Bender 2016 and later in 2018. In 2019, she exhibited her work "Trial Room" which tackles body dysmorphia and social conditioning, at The Irregulars Art Fair. Currently, she is one of the three selected residents for Fissure, curated by Shaleen Wadhwana at Virtual Nursery 2020 by Pollinator which culminates in an online exhibition in January 2021.