Lost-Referential Land

The following imagery and artist statement originally appeared in Red Wedge #6, “In Defense of Transgression.”

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My decade-long engagement as a communist propagandist had convinced me of the importance of revisiting the old question of “political art,” and the linkages and gaps it opens up between the received notions of “aesthetics” and “politics.”

I had been associated with various people’s movements in this time period, bearing witness to the violence unfolding in several locations of “India.” Confronted with the suffering as well as the perseverance of migrant laborers, anti-caste and anti-superstition activists, the Kashmiri rebels in the fight for self-determination, Adivasis struggling against forced evictions, the nation-wide student movements, all compounded by the burgeoning Hindu fascism in the country, my art and life have been committed to the truth of our political situation.

My training as a political activist and a propaganda designer has helped me place myself critically vis-a-vis the contemporary art world understanding of the “political.” In the latter, thanks to its all-inclusive and free-floating aesthetic, the “political” in “political art” is often abstracted and polished to the degree of erasing the marks of real-world dissent and rebellion.

But if the truth of contemporary reality lies in the much-censored narratives of violence and corporal suffering, the ethical and political task of the artist is not merely to report or represent them from a comfortable outside, but to leave one’s self exposed to the brutality of the world in the course of transforming it.

Anupam Roy is an artist and activist in India, involved in struggles concerning race, class and gender, and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation. His work, Surfaces of the Irreal, was part of the 2018 New Museum Triennial, “Songs for Sabotage” in New York.