Lecture by Chaitanya Sambrani | Chaired by Geeta Kapur
This presentation is devoted to the late Tushar Joag’s motorcycle journey from Bombay to Shanghai as part of a West Heavens project and exhibition, Place.Time.Play: Contemporary Art from the West Heavens to the Middle Kingdom (2010). Having been a stranger to two-wheeled transport for 23 years, Joag undertook a mostly unescorted ride from the western coast of India, across the Himalayas and Tibet, to the eastern coast of China on a 350cc motorcycle with a sidecar. During his 53-day odyssey/pilgrimage (from 23 August to 13 October 2010), he travelled through cities, forests, farmlands, deserts, high mountain passes and frozen plateaus, making deliberate detours to locations affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam in India and the Three Gorges in China. The Quixotic foolhardiness of the enterprise is matched only by its momentous ambition in merging the journeys of Siddhartha Gautama (the historical Buddha) and Ernesto Che Guevara to enable first-hand research into conditions submerged by nationalistic claims of prosperity and progress. Speaking no Chinese and navigating by map and compass, the second half of Joag’s journey from the Nepal–Tibet border to the megalopolis of Shanghai was an exercise in sheer bravado and unflinching determination.
Now, a year after his untimely and sudden passing, this presentation hopes to knit some of Joag’s intentions into a discussion of endurance-oriented performance art, and the role of activism in contemporary cultural practice. Joag maintained a blog during his travels, openly while in India and Nepal, and via proxy emails to his family after crossing into the People’s Republic of China, posting 46 times from start to finish. The presentation will consider this blog and its accompanying photos as documentary evidence of a durational performance that was deliberately (and inevitably) staged out of the immediate reach of an art audience. It will also present annotations on the journey through the eyes of a motorcycle rider with some understanding of the logistics and perils of such a journey. Lastly, it will discuss the sculptural installation Joag produced during his two-week stay in Shanghai by dismantling the motorcycle that had carried him. Through this three-fold discussion, the presentation seeks to unpack the personal and political implications of Joag’s Riding Rocinante (the title he chose for the journey) and The Realization of Kanthaka (the sculptural installation exhibited in Shanghai).
Chaitanya Sambrani is an art historian, curator and teacher. An alumnus of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda (MA) and the Australian National University (PhD), he has taught courses on modernist and contemporary Asian art at the ANU since 2002. His curatorial projects include Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India (travelling exhibition: Australia, USA, Mexico, India, 2004–07), Place.Time.Play: Contemporary Art from the West Heavens to the Middle Kingdom (the first contemporary art exchange and exhibition involving Indian and Chinese artists, 2010) and Savanhdary Vongpoothorn: All that Arises (25-year survey of the Lao-Australian artist’s work, 2019). He is the principal author and editor of At Home in the World: The Art and Life of Gulammohammed Sheikh (2019). He is currently working on a study of international affiliations and cosmopolitan aspirations in the modern art of India and Indonesia.