Nikhil Chopra is one of the great new voices of Indian Art. Chopra’s work explores the boundaries between performance, theatre, live art, sculpture, photography and drawing. His performance work frequently involves fictional characters that emerge from the artist’s past experiences and memories of India’s colonial history; it also looks at the differences between urban and rural experiences of India. Of the deeper consciousness of colonialism outside urban centres, he remarked in an interview for the Indian Highway exhibition at the Serpentine that “people from the cities are automatically assumed to be in charge” by those in the countryside, a relationship that was “a result of deep colonial repression”.
His performances are largely improvised and durational (they can last several days), with the large-scale drawings and props used left as remnants. But it is the performative process that is crucial: as he puts it, “I want the experience of a work to precede the object, and I want the making to be at the centre of it.”
Chopra’s most recent ‘character’ is Yog Raj Chitrakar and is based on his grandfather, an open-air landscape painter. Chitrakar, according to Chopra, “makes drawings that are larger than him, as if he were making an attempt to enter them”. The character draws what he sees: “Cities in transition, places at the cusp of change, the collision of history and the present, architecture and nature.” Being Yog Raj Chitrakar has further fed Chopra’s interest in performative drawings “It’s becoming very action-oriented. I’m on a wall and recreating in some sense my grandfather’s paintings, evoking memories and ghosts of the past.”
Chopra’s dream is to form a travelling troupe of artists to explore India in a truck capable of converting into a theatre, museum and exhibition space. In this trip, Chopra aims to transport the urban into the rural while being fully open to dialogue with whomever he encounters, in an attempt to reactivate the countryside.
This article was first published in the March 2009 issue.