Thukral & Tagra (@thukralandtagra) work on new formats of public engagement and attempt to expand the scope of what art can do, furthermore emphasising what the practice can do in a virtual context through their archives and publications. They have offered socio-political commentary that is implicit in their aesthetic for the past twenty years. Lately, they seek to identify the practice as pedagogy through their collaborative Pollinator.io, an Interdisciplinary lab, which cultivates an inclusive learning ecosystem to achieve knowledge sharing through cross-pollination. T&T’s repertoire of games as both disruptive and playful, as well as a tool for art pedagogy and social awareness, has helped enlarge the scope of their art practice and deepen its relevance to the contemporary outside the white cube.
Through the artists’ works, one can witness four segments of their practice coming together: a) long-standing interest in socio-economics of society; b) growing concern for research and lexicon building into the current systems; and, c) a desire to cognize the urgency using the metaphorical vocabulary of games or play as a pedagogical tool, d) public engagement through an empathetic approach by applying artistic agency to question the status quo but also to offer hope.
All images courtesy: the artist
Bread, Circuses & I, 2022. Mixed-media installation, variable dimensions.
The project draws upon the recent uprisings of the farming community in India, highlighting its daily struggles with gender inequality, stagnating productivity, shrinking employment, food insecurity, privatisation, escalating indebtedness, and climate change. ‘Panem et circuses’ refers to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to citizens as well as the spectacular games and other forms of entertainment used as a strategy for prolonging the empire. Appropriating this anodyne logic to critique the neo-liberal regimes and the media economies that sustain them, Thukral & Tagra explore the potentialities of the internet, as well as modes of sociality such as gaming and breaking bread together, hinting at paradigm shifts that are quietly underway. At this intersection of old and new economies, the artists offer an opportunity to rest and reconfigure the status quo through a playful contest of tongue twisting verbal Kabaddi.
The contest form as well as the bread metaphor, echo the recent farmers’ protests in India against neo-liberalisation of the agrarian economy. The distress occasioned by the farm laws can be gleaned from the accompanying videos. Kisan Mukti March documents a moment from 2018 when over one lakh farmers marched into the capital, New Delhi to protest against the agrarian crisis in the country. The situation came to a head with the passing of the aforementioned laws in 2020. Surjeet Singh is dedicated to the eponymous hero who has been painstakingly reporting suicides for 130 villages from the Sangrur district of Punjab. Over the span of 10 years, the 50 year old man has visited around 2000 families of deceased farmers. These figures trouble the official statistics which consistently fail to account for the woes of their referents.