“When you learn how to suffer, you suffer much less.”
―Thich Nhat Hanh

I owe this performance piece to a friend and extremely gifted performance artist and teacher Ana Barbour (1966 – 2017) of Café Reason – Butoh Dance Theater, Oxford.

In my early exploration of social sculpture practice, I grappled with extensive reading, feeling overwhelmed. I aimed to propose a question through an evocative, intersectional act using gestural communication—expressing with courage, honesty, and vulnerability. This act, a dormant question, was uncovered and revisited in a new environment, drawing from past memories shared with a new audience. Their interpretations highlighted unaddressed issues, fostering solidarity and empathy. The feedback emphasized the importance of exploring suffering in a non-judgmental space, connecting both the communicator and the audience.

Understanding and embracing our bodies is crucial; pleasure and self-love are transformative. An erotic connection empowers women, promoting positive well-being. Recognizing and celebrating oneself is vital for overall health and happiness.

Medium: Performance Action applying the Japanese Dance Theater Form ‘Butoh’ – Social Sculpture and connective practice. Year 2017, Oxford

SPARSH, which translates to “TOUCH” in Hindi, delves into the often overlooked realms of self-love and pleasure, particularly in the context of women. Unfortunately, these topics are frequently stigmatized or perceived as taboo when openly discussed. From my perspective, the body is a sacred temple, and prioritizing its well-being requires a holistic approach encompassing the mind, body, and spirit.


SPARSH, which translates to “TOUCH” in Hindi, delves into the often overlooked realms of self-love and pleasure, particularly in the context of women. Unfortunately, these topics are frequently stigmatized or perceived as taboo when openly discussed. From my perspective, the body is a sacred temple, and prioritizing its well-being requires a holistic approach encompassing the mind, body, and spirit.

The influence of social media often perpetuates the notion that a woman’s body needs constant perfection, implying that we are somehow inadequate as we are. Whether it’s the pressure to conform to societal standards regarding hairiness, sexual expression, or perceived desirability, these expectations can lead to feelings of shame, suppressed pain, trauma, and fear.

It is imperative that we develop a profound understanding of our own bodies, embracing what it truly means to be whole and sensual. Recognizing that pleasure is our birthright and that self-love can be a transformative force is key. Embracing an erotic connection with our bodies can be the most empowering state for women, fostering positivity and a genuine sense of well-being. Ultimately, acknowledging and celebrating ourselves is essential for our overall health and happiness.

This performance ‘SPARSH’ (Hindi word meaning TOUCH) is a fusion of the Japanese dance form ‘Butoh’ (a type of dance or silent theater which displays extreme visual images) and Indian ‘Rasa’ (Rasa means that which is being tasted or enjoyed). The work explores how the body fulfills a woman and supports her in navigating through the world with more eros, passion, confidence, and freedom of choice.

Sound is Acting

Tuning-in to my surroundings
One afternoon while I sat reading on a park bench, I began to carefully listen to sounds coming from my surrounding space. The pages of my book flipped by the wind, flock of birds bathing in the stream of water, the rustling of dried leaves, ringing bells of a church, the sound of a flask and tea being poured into a cup from someone sitting next to me, sound of a ball being kicked by children and their excitement. This open expanse had no barriers or acoustics yet these aural interconnected sounds of everyday life had a rhythm to it. Over the days I became more aware of my routine pattern of sounds. The structure of morning sounds included light switches, the kitchen exhaust fan, the toaster, toothbrush, flush, keyboard, water kettle, utensils in the sink and much more. I realized that we apparently hear these random sounds everyday but do we listen to them? These are perhaps the instruments that surround our day-to-day life and the sound emitted from them could be called the music of our life. My curiosity made me go deeper and research about this open framework of music.

Research and Collaboration
I am a Sufi singer who was brought up with very traditional ideas about music. During my collaboration with Malcolm Atkins (a prolific music composer and performing artist based in Oxford) for musical performances in Oxford, I had discussed with him my thoughts about the harmony in sounds of daily objects. He then began enlightening me about the music of John Cage through several books, his compositions and even showed me how to write and read the graphic scores. This perception of music was completely unknown to me. I sensed immense freedom in the process of making the score and how this unique format was open to interpretation of the player. In his conception of ‘Indeterminacy’ (1957-1961), John Cage called it ‘Embracing the Open Form’

Experimenting with sound
“I begin to hear the old sounds, the ones I had thought worn out, worn out by intellectualization – I begin to hear the old sound as though they are not worn out. Obviously, they are not worn out. They are just as audible as new sounds; our thinking had worn them out. And if one stops thinking about them, suddenly they are fresh and new”.– John Cage

As per John Cage’s method, I was beginning to identify sounds by their frequency, timbre, duration and amplitude. I would also visit bus stops, railway stations, café’s/restaurants and marketplaces to enhance my understanding of sound. I closed my eyes and allowed my pencil to follow the sounds, which my ear picked up. Each drawing differed from the other depending on the location where it was documented.

While collaborating with Malcolm and experimenting with different objects we noticed that sound shudders, flows, tinkles, bubbles, the pitch is high and low, etc. depending on the object and its environment. I was very excited to discover a world of new possibilities with making music. He had introduced me to the group of Oxford Improvisers, a group of highly accomplished musicians and composers who met on Monday evenings to practice experimental music. After attending their sessions and collaborating with them, I gained further insights about the open process of music.

Developing a Phenomenological understanding through this work.
Our main inspirations while conceptualizing this work came from referring to John Cage’s lectures, ‘Lecture on Nothing’ and ‘Circus and Anarchy.’ The work was mainly conceived based on the perception of sound, a direct perception that is experiential. In this participative intervention the audience are the musicians, and an assembly of daily objects are perceived as instruments of life. The process of making music engages in openly exploring the essence of the objects without judging them for what they are in the real sense.


Collaborating Artist: Nivedita Saha and Malcom Atkins

Social Explorer

This a participatory process which creates a stimulating non-judgmental space for dialogue and idea-exchanges. It is a process of mapping where several interconnections can be made between thoughts and our journeys, separated by scenarios and time frames but together in context. There is a need for such a stimulating space to exist in the society today, where people could consciously address questions, share their experiences with honesty or even their vision among each other without any fear of being judged or criticized for their thinking.

This shared process allows the emergence of constellation of thoughts and ideas along with personal challenges in meeting them. It facilitates a space of awareness, responsibility and learning’s to discover how our individual issues are interconnected with bigger universal encounters.

This process co-creates dialogue that has the power to resolve conflicts by voicing out an array of questions and explore strategies towards solutions. The spatial emergence of shapes from the activation of thoughts through shared experiences demonstrates how connections are formed across both social and physical space. This exploratory method proposes the possibility to analyze the structure of various groups non-judgmentally. It investigates how individuals, places, and their surrounding objects interact with each other to shape their experience. This network of interconnections can be explored anywhere among different communities (corporates, artists, political activists, education institutions, womenfolk, students, etc.) to discover a ‘patterned groupness’ of fresh perspectives, intentions, relationships and ways of practice in the social realm.


Collaborating Artists : Nivedita Saha and Mariana Galan

This is it

A home, nests one’s thoughts, security, emotions, & aspirations, constrained only by individual’s means & local limitations. So often than not, we either cross the constraints or over play them. In both cases, we announce – “This is it”.

Where & how we dwell, tells volumes about our past & how we want to shape our future. UAE, where majority is an expat population, is the testimony of myriad of expat abodes, be it their transient home or a near permanent shelter.

I have known that just like me, folks who move from place to place learn to use their creativity to create stability. Despite the external chaos of starting from scratch we learn to seek adventure, curiosity and develop the ability to reinvent ourselves time and again. This personal space of nesting is almost ritualistic, built twig by twig, a sacred space for the body, soul, and spirit to call home.

The installation ‘This is it’…is my effort to explore the subject of call through the eyes of an Expat, such as many others and myself for instance. We are on the move looking for stability at many levels from a place. Being several years away from our homeland deciphering the meaning of home, which might be something more than a physical shelter and provides roots, identity, security, a sense of belonging and a place of emotional well-being.

The Dark Mother

Myths and Legends: International Artist Biennial.
Print making Books Exhibition, BEND, Oregon—A6 

This biennial exhibit explores the traditional narratives explaining natural phenomena through symbolism; delves into the inspiring achievements of individuals passed down through the generations; and investigates the contemporary urban legend, a cautionary tale containing elements of mystery, humor, fear or horror. Artist books use the traditional book form as a departure point. Usually one-of-a-kind creations, artist books may use hand writing, calligraphy or letterpress, and typically include art elements such as paintings, photographs, collage, drawing, or prints. Artist books are often rendered in sculptural forms and encourage a different style of interaction from the viewer.

This international exhibit includes book artists from across the United States as well as India, United Arab Emirates and Canada. Artists were challenged to create a book on the theme of myths or legends (real or imagined). Juried by Laura Russell of 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, the resulting exhibit runs the gamut from native American stories out of Novia Scotia to an examination of the Indian goddess of the apocalypse, Kali.

Indian Goddess of apocalypse ‘Kali’ also called ‘The Dark Mother’ is a demon slayer. Kali in Sanskrit means ‘she who is black or death’. Her bluish-black complexion symbolizes comprehensive nature. Strong motherly figure embodying feminine energy, her primordial nudity depicts freedom from illusion. Multiple armed her fearful symmetry portrays the dance of death, wearing a garland of decapitated heads signifying action of karma; red lolling tongue consumes evil/good. Blood-dripping sword denotes knowledge abolishing false consciousness (the severed head). Worshiped on a new moon night her rituals involve Tantric iconography and symbolism.

Indian beliefs and superstitions are passed down from generation to generation. These faiths have sprung with an objective to protect from evil spirits, but some were based on scientific reasoning. It is universally witnessed that people of every caste, creed or community are superstitious. It is an integral part of human society. Though the Indian society is fast progressing, people are still superstitious and have a strong faith in these local beliefs.

Black kohl dot symbolic for evil eye in India whilst the blue evil eye symbolic to ward of every evil in the Middle Eastern culture. Scarab as a totem of good luck in Egypt whilst the belief that Horse shoe brings goof luck among Native Americans. Shubh- labh symbolizes prosperity in India vis a vis Chinese Coins in Chinese Culture symbolic of wealth and progress. Idol worship of lord Ganesha in India symbolic for happy new beginning, similarly, the laughing Buddha among South East Asians. Cross symbol in Christianity and Om symbol in Hinduism.

No matter which part of the world we tour, we find the natives nurturing certain beliefs and superstitions and India are no exception in this case. While some of them are quite hilarious, few others are really interesting, as many aspects of life are linked to them. Few beliefs even find their way into the Indian religious texts and scriptures.

Collaborating Artists: Nivedita Saha and Bela Bhatt

Lullaby

The lullaby has long reflected the complexities and nuances of mothering love and feminine introspection. The moon always brings a Lullaby on my lips…it brings hope, hope of tunes I always wanted to hum looking at the sleeping faces of my loved ones that glow with health and trust. The lullabies sung in most cultures around the world actually connect us with nature. While the moon rocks the ocean, the African carries the baby on the back to market, the Puerto Rican rocks the hamaca, the child in the United States rocks the teddy bear, the Indian sings a lowrie, the Chinese sings Yao lan chiú swinging the baby’s basket, the Native American rocks a birch bark cradle. Closing our eyes we all go on a musical raft to find hope, peace and angels that caress us with love.

This tradition goes way beyond just a melody for babies. The work elaborates the idea that lullabies are not just for children. They create attachments between people of all ages. It is one that connects us with our capacity of resolving our need with comfort, calming us in crises and gaining clarity in conflicts. In trying times we all need to go back to the child within us, nurture others and ourselves. We need to give ourselves permission to rest and progressively handle matters causing turbulence with care.

The project is a hand quilted sound and light installation with a soundscape of traditional lullabies from different cultures and dialects.

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