The Language of Lockdown Arts
Manch UK launches Meet the Artist
Compiled by Payal Ramchandani (Kuchipudi dancer) with editorial comments by Dr Sanjukta Ghosh (SOAS South Asia Institute)
During the lockdown, many artists are keen to share their personal stories on social media as the language of art could be empowering and enable one to connect with the inner world of emotions. It has been particularly difficult for dancers who are used to practising in groups and use space creatively in their dance moves. Lockdown not only constrained the daily routine, but the shackled physical space limited the scope of bodily communications. This limitation, in turn, had a compelling effect on personal reflections and on the mental health of practitioners when failures loomed over successes.
Manch UK has taken the initiative to celebrate stories of personal struggles that have shaped the lives of aspiring and inquisitive dancers. Facebook serves as the new digital studio and a realm of celebration and hope for the founding Director Mira Kaushik (OBE) who initiated Meet the Artist series, supported by a dynamic team of four –Ambika Kucheria, Subhaluxmi Mukherji, Suhani Dhanki and Vidya Patel. Mira Kaushik, over a long period of an eventful career, has been concerned with the development of dance as an art form, the transitions in South Asian classical dance to contemporary popular form that is relevant to Britain and the South Asian diaspora. Manch UK’s Meet the Artist series, therefore, aims to create a suitable digital platform enabling South Asian dance artists to talk about their journeys that inspire and exude hope among the audience who can visualise the backstage and read into the artist’s mental capacity more vividly.
Celebrating the South Asian Heritage month, in July, SSAI in association with Manch UK will feature thematic clusters of dance perspectives in the coming weeks, illustrations and links to video clips.
OF SUNSHINE AND HOPE, the first theme captures a dancer’s emotive feelings during the lockdown: …my gaze falls on the multiple yellow Sunshine flowers (Brachyglottis) that light up the garden, each like a lamp desperate to tear through the darkness clouding the mind. Nature has a compelling effect to spring to action, freeing the mind to co-create and share life stories on the screen that are otherwise embedded in the individual artist’s practice. The result is a seamless visual collaboration among artists during a physical lockdown, willing to subject their personal anxieties to a collective endeavour of learning.
(FIG 1) Nahid Siddiqui draws on the debate around race, religion, caste, and creed, reflecting on the process of erasing (borders) that informed her creativity. Her quest as an eternal ‘Shahgird’ (disciple) of dance is reflected in her demeanour and understanding of dance as a medium that allows the audience to see through the dancer. The body of the dancer is akin to a finely tuned instrument chimed with each rehearsal and resonates with artists, both young and old.
Nahid Siddiqui- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=At060kTtLac
(FIG 2) Mavin Khoo’s nostalgic reminiscence of his ‘Arangetram’ (full-fledged debut performance) under the watchful eyes of his devoted Guru Adyar K. Lakshman, enables him to fathom his responsibility as a dancer. The ceremonious event that is considered equivalent to a ‘marriage to dance’ is a reminder of his Guru’s profound advice to remain watchful of the discerning audience and remain unhindered by race or colour of skin to carve a niche in the world of Bharatnatyam.
Mavin Khoo- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0EzZoo5YMc
(FIG 3) Chitra Sundaram’s poetic and an eloquent recollection of her early years with her grandmother in a small town in Tamil Nadu paints a vivid picture of an enchanted place associated with her ‘childhood’. Her journey from being the coveted Miss India pageant to being a dancer is rooted in her belief to be determinedly different, making intrepid choices and the will to pursue the extraordinary.
Chitra Sundaram – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hEJP-hBwac
(FIG 4) Subhash Viman Gorania (Kathak & contemporary dancer) embodies the spirit of Aldous Huxley: ‘Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him’. From being an aspiring animation designer who had to bear the brunt of discrimination based on the colour of skin, he recollects the bold life-changing choices of becoming a quirky choreographer, undeterred by the wounds of parental bullying.
Subhash ‘Viman’ Gorania – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETMN1MCs1xc
(FIG 5) Suhani Dhanki, an actor and dancer stressed on the role of the Guru Shishya Parampara, drawing from the teachings of her Guru Dr Sandhya Purechaan that enables her to adhere to the principle of ‘Art has logic’ — a moral resource during times of crisis.
Suhani Dhanki – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWdzOq0adLI&t=4s