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DCAW: Understanding ‘Legal Alien’

‘Legal Alien’ is the only group show that is a part of the Delhi Contemporary Art Week. It features works of some of the stalwarts in the contemporary art. Here’s a peak into some of the works and the story behind the show's unique title.

Sangita Maity in her artwork used soil instead of colours.

The fifth edition of Delhi Contemporary Art Week (DCAW) has kicked off in Delhi from September 1 to 7. It is being held at the Old Building of Bikaner House. This year’s showcase features a group exhibition ‘Legal Alien’ being curated by Meera Menezes.

The exhibition explores the notion of alienation and looks at the possible factors that could lead to it. While some artists explore the theme of migration, whether across country borders or from rural to urban areas, that can generate this feeling, others ponder on what it means to be a citizen of a country and still feel like an alien.

The show’s title has been taken from the song ‘Englishmen in New York’ sung by the British singer, Sting.

Talking about it, Menezes says, “The song featured a sentence: ‘I am an alien, I am a Legal Alien’. Sting moved from England to New York and felt extremely lonely in the new city. Through the song, he has shared his plight.”

Though she connected the dots with Sting’s song, Menezes later realised that alienation comes in different forms. She read about the migratory crisis in Syria, the border tension between the US and Mexico and pandemic-led isolation and alienation.

“Syrians were moving to Europe to settle. There was border tension between the US and Mexico. Shortly after that, the pandemic happened. This led people to migrate to their home towns. Many people suffered sadness and loneliness. I felt that since the artists highlighted the notion of alienation and the factors that could lead to the same in their works, it was fair to title the show ‘Legal Alien’,” she added.

These artists created the works during the pandemic. They have touched upon the topics of isolation, migration, desolation and citizenship identity in the form of paintings, photographs as well as sculptures.

Sudipta Das used Dakche technique to highlight refugee problems.

For instance, Sudipta Das has highlighted refugee problems in her works. She has used the paper making/doll making technique called Dakche technique to show people living in refugee camps. The construction of a temporary shelter is depicted through the use of hand-made Hanji paper depict.

Arunkumar HG’s artworks talk about migration through the lives of agricultural workers. He has shown how agricultural workers leave their land in villages for a better livelihood in cities. The works are introspective and leave viewers to speculate whether the workers who move to cities in search of work feel accepted or integrated into a city or do they also witness alienation in a new city.

Meghana Gavireddygari has explored the theme of dispossession through ‘Law of land’. The work shows how possession of a paper cannot guarantee right on a property.

Sanket Viramgami has interrogated boundaries and the strife that accompanies their demarcation. He has attempted to show what a city looks to an outsider.

Sangita Maity has shown desolation through a set of four paintings. Her work talks about how people are forced to leave their land due to exploitation of resources. It also focuses on migration of people from Odisha. Unlike other artists who use colours to paint, Sangita took soil from Odisha as the medium to connect the idea with viewers.

Udaipur-based American artist Waswo X Waswo has collaborated with an Indian miniaturist R Vijay to depict loneliness. The work depicts how a person feels isolated and lonely despite being surrounded by life.

The show also features a series of photographs by different artists. Atul Bhalla’s photographic series talks about alienation that people face in their own country. His works highlight power hierarchies in South Africa.

“He has tried to point out that despite having large black communities in the country, whites are holding the land due to lack of land reforms. The white chair in the artwork illustrates power,” explains Menezes.

Sonia Mehra Chawla in her photographic work highlights how climate change can create refugees.

Another photographer Bharat Sikka has shown what it means to be a citizen of a country and still feel like an alien. He has captured the essence through a set of three photographs of a lone Kashmiri youth. The photographer, who went to Kashmir in 2013, realised how alienated Kashmiri youths felt at that time despite living in India and how lack of opportunities in the state made them sad.

Sonia Mehra Chawla in her photographic work highlight how climate change can create refugees. She has shown alienation and migration due to climate change in her work titled ‘Blue Shores of Silence’.

The show features 28 artists that have been chosen from seven participating galleries: Blueprint 12, Exhibit 320, Gallery Espace, Latitude 28, Nature Morte, Shrine Empire and Vadehra Art Gallery.

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