Art of Walking
In Collaboration with
Abhishek Thappar, Arijit Laik
The Art of Walking’ is a durational performance walk (3rd July – 15th July 2020) from Amsterdam to the refugee camps in Calais, France.The work raises awareness about the issues of migrant workers in India who are currently walking from big cities to their native villages. The pandemi
c didn't only fail the nation state but also showed us the broken capitalist structure. India is in an extreme lockdown, where migrant laborers don't have food to eat, house to live, public transport to go back home. The capitalistic structure built on their blood and sweat, is not taking responsibility. The socialist government of India seems to exist only on paper.
After waiting for a few weeks, people started walking, walking long distances, walking for days, weeks, months from 400 to 2200 km. Few died on the way, few lost their kids, few got killed by a train, few survived to reach home. A pregnant woman walking for 1300 km gave birth on the street, again walked for 300 km. These stories and images shook us. One of the reasons is that most of the migrant labours come from eastern Uttar Pradesh (Pankaj's birthplace) and Bihar. What does it mean to be a migrant artist in Europe, coming from an area, which is the land of millions of migrant labour? Can I or we represent them, or at least try to feel their pain? What does it mean to walk for 1500 km? What kind of state and system do we live in? All these questions occupy our minds day and night.
‘The Art of Walking’ seeks to highlight the issue of migrants in this so-called equal opportunity globalised world. This durational performance work of 10 - 12 days of walking covering a distance of 312 km will happen in 3 countries (Netherlands, Belgium, France) starting point in Amsterdam and end point at the refugee camps of Calais. The daily chores of stopping, resting, eating, sleeping are important elements in the work that creates space for reflection and documentation. At the end point we want to cook a meal for everyone. Eating together is a statement as well as an important action for us as migrant artists. From there, we will walk together with few people from the camp towards the ocean, from where we can see the UK.
As Indian passport holders, we can’t enter the UK without a visa, and all refugees are also not authorized to go. But we can see where we can’t reach. So we will perform the final ritual at the ocean looking towards the UK with the refugees in Calais, make a fire and generate heat at the border. This point at the sea is also a cathartic moment of impossibility/possibility. From this point they can try to see their family members, their dreams, their aspirations, their envisioned future. We want to be together in this space and time of endless waiting. This point is looking at a country in a globalised world, where equal opportunity should be a value. We believe that privilege to travel cannot be determined by the passport you accidentally get at birth. What does it mean for us and others to apply for a visa to visit that country or any country? What kind of relation is this? How justified is this? How hollow are the international laws and justice systems? Who decides these laws, and for whom? Who is our representative there? Where does modern states stand on the issue of migrants?
During the performance we will also meet and engage in conversations with a few migrant artists in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Few of these collaborators might join on the way for a few days. The performance will have a conversation with these collaborators about the issue around migration and our status. What does it mean to be a migrant artist and a migrant labour? How is the situation of migrant labour and migrant artists different? What is the relationship of labour and art?
ARTISTIC FRAMEWORK & MOTIVATION
While we were thinking about these questions, in the context of migrants and their status in Europe. Calais, France and its stories emerged. We thought about connecting the dots. As artists we want to create artwork that challenges existing artistic frameworks dealing with migration discourse & people. That is why we want to make it clear that ‘The Art of Walking’ is a work of art and not a protest, neither is it a charity or fund raising project and definitely not activism. The action of walking itself is a performance and should be received as artwork.
The artwork is created by us but is not an original work of ours. This is inspired by the millions of migrant labour walking back home. The artwork sees them as co-collaborators. The academia and art world rarely give references and royalty to them. As they are not in the powerful structure of academia and the art world. This work wants to give royalty to these makers and pay 80 percent of the money, which this artwork will make. This is the position of the artwork, as artists/labours, we will take 20 percent and we will pay the remaining 80 percent to the migrant labours. We don’t want to donate but want to pay their royalty fee. We will take money only from people/organisations/institutions, who would see this work as a pure work of art.
We have seen works about violence after the violence is done, about war after the aftermath, about climate after we have destroyed it. We believe that timing of the work creates a very important and different impact on the issue. This work at this time is a need, a response, a breath, a slap, a gesture of solidarity and a necessity. We want to create work around the issue now, want to talk, discuss, question, and exchange and not after these people die. We believe that artwork should create discourses not follow. ‘The Art of Walking’ will not wait for the art market/funding bodies or for that matter the UN to decide that this is an important issue. ‘The Art of Walking’ positions itself in the contemporary modern, post art market, post UN, post justice, post white savior work. It’s a work to create space for conversation and exercise an urgent role and function of art in the time of crisis.