Empowering through Art

May 29, 2015 |

Celebrated Indian artist Samar Singh Jodha discussed the roles art can play in addressing development, human rights and conservation issues at a programme organised by the SAF in Kathmandu

Since time immemorial, art has served as a source of pleasure. But times have changed, and so has the role of art says Samar Singh Jodha, a celebrated Indian artist who has been addressing various development, human rights and conservation issues for the past 20 years through the medium of art–photography and film, in particular. At a programme organised by the Siddhartha Arts Foundation (SAF) at the Himalayan Bank Auditorium in Kamaladi on February 6, Jodha expressed that art has now become a powerful tool for sustainability and capacity building. Through his lecture and his short film, Jodha elucidated that an artist needs to be a “change agent”, one who has taken up the profession for enhancing the capacity of the people (beginning from the ground level) and not for “glamour and money.”

According to Jodha, artists should treat their audiences with respect, and this respect, he says, comes through identity. Hence, not surprisingly, the artist’s own films focus primarily on issues of identity, especially those of marginalised populations and of people living in conflict. His films and photographs are a testament to his belief. A film of his which documents the making f the Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world, documents the plight of the migrant workers who toiled so hard in the construction of the skyscraper but were never given proper acknowledgement for their work. The artist believes that films on such overlooked issues are a call to act upon rethinking and hence rebuilding the

identities of marginalised groups. Such newly built identities, Jodha says, shall help others attribute the contributions of such groups. When that happens, he continues, sustainability and capacity building are ensured. To further the point, Jodha has denied the common tendency of focusing only on the beauty of the final product in his work. He pointed out that such behaviours are led by self-defeating eyes. As such, he advocated for a process-oriented approach. According to the artist, when a process is identified, everybody–from the owners to the actual makers–will have their parts seen in the final product. Consequently, this shall enhance the confi dence and the capacity of the unidentified or marginalised groups, especially the workers.

Another way that art can help in bringing about long term-growth and in building capability is through metaphor. For instance, amongst the highlights of Jodha’s film, were the photographs of the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal where the infamous Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984–the leakage of 42 tons of Methyl Bocyanate on the night of December 2 and the early morning of December 3–which killed 2259 people among the 528, 125 exposed, took place. In one of those photographs, Jodha shows a black shroud “bearing names and fi le numbers of some of the victims that envelops them in anonymity”. Such a state of anonymity, the artist says, is a metaphor of the “enforced silence” that the victims are suffering as they are denied fair compensation, adequate health care or legal redressal.

Furthermore, the documentation itself is a super metaphor that allows the audience to think about the many Bhopals taking place around them. Photographs, Jodha believes, should allow an audience to not just picture the very photos in view in their own context but must also allow room for contemplation on how similar kinds of victims–oppressed populations in other parts of the world–are living. Such thinking, the artist says, can pioneer in leading long-term projects to do away with all forms of victimisation and marginalisation. Moreover, when such works of art are felt as being metaphorical to their own context, the audience feels connected emotionally. As a result, they advance towards being change agents to bring about sustainability and capacity building.

After voicing these rather indirect statements, Jodha, on a more direct, note shared his ideas about how art can help in sustainability and capacity-building through money gained from the arts. “You take photographs; they make sense to the people and raise you money and you utilise it for the people at the ground level. This would build the much-needed empowerment for them, and help in their long term growth,” he said.

The artist demonstrated that art has changed its face and has now become an important weapon for bringing long life to a project and enhancing the capabilities of unacknowledged populations and groups deemed vulnerable. Nischal Oli, representative of the SAF’s Education Initiative, commented that the programme was organised to “expand the vocabulary of art, and give a platform for outsiders so as to aid the growth of the arts in Nepal.” The event was supported by the BP Koirala Foundation and the Himalayan Bank with Kunda Dixit moderating the audience interaction session that followed Jodha’s lecture and short film screening.


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