Anika Havaldar of Saffronart in conversation with performance artist Sahej Rahal about his recent series of works, ‘Bhramana’
Mumbai: Two weeks ago, Mumbai-based performance artist Sahej Rahal enacted the second instalment of his series of performance pieces presented by Chatterjee & Lal, titled ‘Bhramana’ at the Dhobi Talao pedestrian subway in Mumbai. A surprised shriek of a passing pedestrian announced the beginning of the performance, as Rahal, dressed in a humongous white turban and robe, descended down the stairs from Exit 3 of the subway. Entirely put together using found objects, Rahal’s costume was completed by a didgeridoo made out of a PVC pipe and a tree branch. As Rahal traversed the subway, humming and playing his didgeridoo, under the overtly artificial lighting of the space, curious passersby stopped and attempted to make sense of this otherworldly figure that had mysteriously entered their world. The absurdity of the act and the character played by Rahal created an interesting dialogue between what is public ritual and what is personal mythology, what belongs to the past and what belongs in the present, what is real and what is mythical. Rahal explains, “Bhramana combines art, history and mythology, and in the process of mapping the city, it also tells a story. It’s a subjective map of the city as it shows how people live and travel as a communal ritual.” Last week, I had the privilege of speaking with the artist about Bhramana II.
Q: For Bhramana II, you donned the avatar of a ‘warrior-fakir.’ Tell us a little bit about the process of creating the otherworldly characters that you portray in your performances.
Sahej: The characters that inhabit these performances bare indices to different cultures, mythologies and pop culture. It’s almost as if I stumble upon these characters in bits and pieces that then arrange themselves into these patchwork beasts.
Q: What role do the settings you choose play in the performance? How do you choose the venues and how does this contribute to the meaning of your work?
Sahej: The Dhobi Talao subway and the Bandra skywalk, are quite literally, moving ground, and in these places of commute that are inhabited by us transiently, the narrative of the city reveals itself viscerally. The work both feeds off and seeks to embed itself within this narrative.
Q: You have often cited German artist Joseph Beuys as a major influence on your work. How does the Bhramana series fit into Beuy’s beliefs about the potential for art to bring about revolutionary change to society?
Sahej: I was going back to look at the things Beuys was looking at, the idea of the shaman as the storyteller, and looking at the art making process as a kind of alchemy, I wouldn’t say the Bhramana series aims to realise Beuy’s beliefs about the potential for art to bring about revolutionary change to society, as these performances arise from a sense of play and spontaneity wherein I see myself as a participant among the crowd that is jointly partaking in these ephemeral acts. To approach a public space with a heavy handed social message would make these performances didactic and that is something I am uncomfortable with.