thotseat : sahej rahal
23 november 2017
Through what he describes as "absurd narrative", Mumbai-based artist Sahej Rahal works with a range of media including video, installation sculpture and performance to explore a twisted measure of the world as we inhabit it.
His work stems from political events, science fiction and local folklore brought in dialogue with found objects and his state of being in the every day to create a reformed, imagined non-world.
Rahal's latest exhibition, Barracadia (2017) acts as a response to these elaborations as well as contemporary events in India, where created artefacts constitute a nation unbounded across space and time. The exhibition is part of a wider dialogue, initially shown at Primary, Nottingham then at the CCA, Glasgow and later migrating to MAC, Birmingham in early 2018.
S: Tell TOMBOY a little about yourself and your practice.
SR: Pretty much all of my work now is evolving absurd narrative - this kind of [fragmented] mythology, so with each work you see one aspect of civilisation that’s coming together.
The show that I did in Glasgow was about almost tracing out boundaries - situated in some kind of nation that’s unbounded across space and time in a way. The whole idea is to literally reform whatever I can find. Like Bricolage. I literally find things off the street and those go into sculptures or costumes and those objects go into performances which become a part of these weird films or music videos.
I also do drawings - kind of like landscapes of thatplace. The whole idea isn’t to put together something that’s cohesive or singular, rather something that is inherently going to fall apart so that what you’re left with are the toys or tools to reconstruct a completely different version of what that mythology could be for yourself. It's an absurd world where nothing makes sense - even though nothing makes sense in the real world either.
S: I watched your interview with Ainslie Roddick, which raised some important questions in line with TOMBOY’s mission. One interesting topic was the notion of protest. In speaking about Barracadia, you asked: “how do we prepare for that sense of affect?”. In what ways do you think protest can be explored with artistically to both prepare for that sense of affect but also to drive an effect?
SR: I’ve been involved with a protest movement in Delhi that started in response to the fact that there were systematic lynchings happening of Muslims and also other minorities such as Dalits across the country. The mandate was to literally seek out people who might be eating beef.
The BJP, a Hindu Nationlist party look out for the needs or wants of a very particular section of Indian society which would be the Hindu, upper-class, upper-caste male.
There’s a hopelessness that’s [now] permeating in everyday life. You can’t say the things that you’d like to or you can’t eat the way you’d like to - wear the kind of clothes you want or worship the way you’d like to.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about in terms of being involved with what’s going on is around this kind of growing sense of fatigue. The act of protest, or saying no, is stressful - emotionally, psychology, physically. Physically more so than anything else.
But there’s also this need to prepare ourselves for the fact that the worst probably hasn’t happened yet.
When I’ve been speaking to people even in the UK or the States, there’s this implicit kind of understanding that there’s a better world that’s possible. One where the kinds of things we’re going through right now don’t exist.
[Protest] is also about tracing the contours of what that space of hope could be like.