For me even painting and sculpture is a performance – Mithu Sen

by Ekatmata Sharma
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Contemporary artist Mithu Sen performs a contemplative art piece ‘LUNCH IS CANCELLED’ and again questions the conventional dynamics of the society. In a candid conversation, she speaks on blurring the lines between different art forms she practices and her constant push to un-box the boxed mindset.

What is the idea behind your art performance ‘LUNCH IS CANCELLED’?

I have been to this house a few times. It has a completely different lifestyle. The staff is constantly at work. The pet dog has a complete set of staff to look after him. The whole setup is different from the common people. I was thinking that how the whole power structure can be twisted or done upside down. The idea is not derogating the lifestyle, but using the place to question ‘Radical Hospitality’ through my performance ‘LUNCH IS CANCELLED’.

My main practice is about the notion of ‘Radical Hospitality’ where I question and critique the notion of hospitality which is conventionally farced. I try to change the dynamics of power structure. The most precious thing in this house is the pet dog no one is allowed to call him a dog. He is the baby of the house. So, I thought of using the dog collar as the main element in the performance. The dog collar is a very metaphoric way of saying that ‘Lunch is cancelled’. But, cancelled for what! As the entire guest host relationship, tolerance level and hospitality goes for toss. In the performance, we all eat with the dog collar which was discomforting for the audience. My project always gives a kind of discomfort and the audiences go through a slight humiliation. The idea behind it is to contemplate what is happening around you, to unsettle the power structure between the guest and host, the patron and artist and the employer and employee. Everything during the performance is happening with a non-language, but it has a tone of command. We are having food without any table manners and struggling to have food with a dog collar. As the collar is used to prevent dog from eating food or also he doesn’t bite someone. The whole project is an irony.

There is always a bodily release when I do a performance. I don’t do rehearsals for my performance. I also like to make it playful, so that audience can engage and interact.

What excites you more – visual art or art performance?

I want to critique and break this stereotype of categorizing someone and create an identity which I call a myth. The myth of visual artist was created when I was projected by somebody as visual artist. For me even a painting and sculpture is a performance. Physically when I do a performance I take a risk and there is a freedom as well. The way I speak in non-language I don’t care of whatever I speak. I am not good in English and Hindi, hence I will be judged. So, I block the idea of being judged.

How do you blur the identities of as an artist across genres?

Last year I did a show ‘UnMYthU’ at Chemould Prescott Road gallery where I made legal contracts like “From today onwards I make this artwork 10% less from the market.” My art practice is now about making legal contracts and following them. My first contract says that ‘All my tangible form of art is declared from now as by-product and by-product of my last 20 years of performance.’ So, this is what I am performing and what I am leaving behind is by-product. By-product is not the primary thing. It’s to make the art market understand that art is not a commodity. It’s about counter-capitalism, how you can change the perspective that this tangible form is not art, art is conceptualizing and conceiving an idea.

Till a while ago I was projected as a visual artist, but I do so many different things I write poetry, I play football, why to put me in a box of a visual artist? I thought to break the idea of commodification. If I become a Mithu Sen, where people will only connect with me as a visual artist, then I will be trapped by the market. I constantly try to break this thing by different role playing. That is the concept of my per formative identity.

How have you conditioned yourself as an artist?

I judge everything by my own consciousness, emotions and sentiments. I just don’t subscribe like what is already said and done. When I was young someone said to me, “You are so dark, pink is not your colour, so don’t wear pink.” So, I had my solo show 15 years back ‘I hate pink’. I created everything in pink. Sometimes your weakness becomes your strength. I take it everything very positively. Same goes with the language, when I unable to be sophisticated and fancy and I am not able to follow a fashionable accent, then immediately I am judged and I feel I am not capable of adapting things. I am dyslexic. But, I have to have something different in me, to protect myself.

(Mithu Sen presented LUNCH IS CANCELLED, a performance piece curated by Dr. Arshiya Lokhandwala at the Shalini Passi Art Foundation. The piece was part of the IAF Parallel program for 2019.)



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