(De) constructing Identities

(De) constructing Identities

By Pranamita Borgohain

Working over a diverse media and exploring alternative material, Birender Yadav's works put across strong visual annotations on identity, politics and class distinction in contemporary society, the plight and panorama of the working class. His works are innovative, multivalent and radical where he uses some local phrases and proverbs creating a critical visual poetry.

  • Birender Yadav

P B: Let's start with your childhood inspiration towards art. Your family background and upbringing has been in a very different setting, so what influenced you to pursue art?

BY: I was born in Ballia district, a predominantly rural province of Uttar Pradesh, India. Later we moved to a small place called Sijua in Dhanbad. It's a colony meant for the labours of Tata colliery. It is one of the main centers for manufacturing coal in India, where my father worked as a Blacksmith. He frequently needed to make diagrams using geometrical instruments to create appliances needed in coal excavations; soon I started helping him as I had a good command over drawings. I feel my father is also an artist, although untrained and unrecognized. He is good in drawings and an amazing sculptor who makes instruments with iron. Mr. Abdul Ajiz, a graduate of Kalabhavan, was the art teacher in my primary school who encouraged my passion for art.

Once while travelling I saw students involved in sketching at the Varanasi railway station which really fascinated me. I decided to pursue my further studies in art and fortunately I got through the entrance at the Banaras Hindu University which gave me the gateway to the art world.

PB:Would you like to share some of your experiences from your BFA days in BHU and how was it different from COA? How you have cultivated your training into a new language of your own?

BY: BHU was more of an academic schooling with rules and grammars which in fact helped me to build my foundation stronger. The first two years I enjoyed a lot as I did not have to study other subjects apart from painting. By the final year I started visiting Delhi to view the exhibitions in the capital and also visited the India Art Fair. With this encounter to diverse art forms, I led my next tread towards Delhi and joined COA for my masters.

In COA I had more freedom and a better connect to the contemporary art world. We had a group of friends visiting art galleries and exhibitions all through the capital. Our Head of the Department Mr. Abhimanue Vadakkoot Govindan also helped me to connect my local idioms with the contemporary world. After more than a year of struggle and experimentation I found a language which made me content for a while. For my MFA final display I created a series of sculptural instruments and tools in collaboration with my father.

  • Inspiration, Wood, Bronze and Aluminium
  • An axe on one's foot

PB: Your works address current social and political issues. Do you take reference from real stories/ situation/ person?

BKY: Yes I do take reference from news and social media. Being a responsible citizen and an art practitioner I cannot ignore the sociopolitical situation of the present world. My works refer to the real situation of the labours and farmers in our society where I question the representation and politics of class difference, the issues and plights of this working class community. My works are my mute protest against the inequality.

  • Process 'Angootha Chaap'

P.B: Please share your inspirations for local quotes or proverbs that you use in your art works or use them as the worktitle?

Most of these proverbs are quite invogue among the people of my locality, which they use in their day to day conversation e.g. Kala Akshar Bhaish Barabar, Apne Pair me kulhari Marna etc. Sometimes I picked it from the workers narration while interacting with them during my field work. For instance, the people I spoke with often showing me their palms, exclaiming that their fate and destiny is already pre-determined by God Jo naseeb me likha, the title of the piece developed was Lakeer ka Fakeer, comes from a Hindi proverb meaning 'someone who is complaint to the rules'. I interpret this proverb through the idea of line or lines (Lakeer), as lines of destiny of the labouring classes. When I use these proverbs I dont use to infer its direct meaning. My intention is to initiate the extension of their meaning and to intensify beyond their boundaries, to make a critic of these proverbs. For e.g. Sau sonar ki ek Lonar ki, which means 100 strokes of a goldsmith, is equal to one master stroke of a blacksmith. But in reality a goldsmith earns 100 with same effort whereas a blacksmith earns 1. I was looking for such twist in the tail.

Hath hai ki hathuada
  • Lakeer ke Fakeer

BKY: Please elaborate your work processes and how important is the medium for you? It seems you enjoy working in diverse media, so how do you choose these distinct materials like gun powder, iron, stone, wood, soil, readymade objects etc.

Everything evolves out of the concept first and gradually the ideas keep growing and keep on building one after another. Medium comes at a much later stage when the idea starts materializing and it needs a shape. Sometimes I chose material that is close to my working area or sometimes it depends on the feel of the work. For instance, if I am looking at a violent temperament and I am bursting with anger I might use gun powder. If I am struggling hard and going through stress I might use iron hammer to portray the heaviness of blow that I am feeling on my way. Right now I am working with the workers of a brick factory so I might use material that is close to the site or associated with them. Thus for me the medium and material is extremely important but it's not static.

  • Sau sunar ki, ek lohar ki

PB: Your works are mostly conceptual using unconventional mediums; does it affect your market or sustainability?

If Market means buying and selling, well then unconventional things cannot have conventional sell. So if you want to be unconventional you have to be brave and have courage. If you believe yourself and focused at what you desire, you wont be intimidated with these trifling circumstances. And above all you should have patience for others to understand and accept you.

  • Feet on Heat

BKY: In a quite short span of time, you had a solo show and exhibited in many important group shows across the nation. Recently you have received some international projects and awards. Please share with us the details. 

I am thankful to all the people who have kept hope and faith in my practice and have supported me from time to time. Currently I am working on "SURKHI" Art at a brick kiln, a part of Artreach India Community grant project where I am leading a yearlong series of workshops, primarily with children, to create artworks from the materials found around the site, building a sense of play and ownership through the objects they create. Together they will explore questions of identity, home and the sense of belonging through art, storytelling and games.

 I have been selected for Pro Helvetia studio residency 2019 where I will undertake a three months residency which will culminate into an exhibition in Zurich, Switzerland. I am also working on a solo project with a Mexican curator Frida Robles.

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