Vichaar – Visualising Resistance Through Art : The Politics Of Dalit Art

In conversation with Miss Rajyashri Goody

“The growth of an artist has to be natural and free flowing and must not be compartmentalized with the intention to be political, in order to stay true to its purpose.”

In this edition of Vichaar, the team was in conversation with Miss Rajyashri Goody, a visual artist who talked about what art has meant to her in the current socio-political context we find ourselves in, specifically with respect to Dalit History and resistance. She expounded upon how art has helped her, as a Dalit woman, to learn more about the roots of her own culture, which has not been documented through the decades.

She spoke about how the growth of an artist has to be natural and free flowing and must not be compartmentalized with the intention to be political, in order to stay true to its purpose. She also elaborated about how the personal can be very political, but also the political is personal too- in that it is the narratives of individuals and families that is being discussed. 

She also spoke about the relationship between food and Dalit history, not in terms of her own personal views about Dalit cuisine, but about the kind of connection her ancestors have had with it. Writing about it has given her the liberty to intricately explore the nuances of food in the Dalit community, for instance, real issues like hunger and leftovers. With this, she aims to create a space for discussions about caste to actually emerge in contemporary times.

She then went on to speak about how she works with ceramics, as a medium that gives her the leeway to talk about ideas she is focusing on. She specifies that she does not aim to create her art for the purpose of consumption, but more for the purpose of expression. People belonging to other communities, can never truly understand the lived Dalit experiences simply by viewing a particular piece of Art or literature that aims to speak of it.

Discussing the processes of visualizing resistance through art, specifically in the current and historical context of the anti-caste movement, Ms. Goody informed us that any art can be a form of resistance in of itself. She emphasized that there is no “right or wrong” way when it comes to resisting the status-quo, and that art, by virtue of being an avenue of intentionality and freedom, especially for minority communities, can be a large web of whatever the one resisting defines it to be. Thus, resistance through art ends up taking a myriad of forms—whether it consists of, for instance, depicting the Dalit history of spirituality and conversion or even in the field of performing arts through popular or folk songs. In short, she went on to reaffirm that when it comes to caste-based injustices, any way of being able to express oneself and make a mark on society is enough resistance.

“People belonging to other communities, can never truly understand the lived Dalit experiences simply by viewing a particular piece of Art or literature that aims to speak of it.”

We also raised questions about whether art can become complicit in, rather than resisting against, the political and social injustices inflicted on Dalits and other marginalized castes in the hands of upper-caste creators, to which Ms. Goody responded by asserting that there will, of course, be examples of upper-caste artists who take up various topics and issues related to caste-based injustices. But she added that it may not be particularly useful to directly think about this phenomenon as a practice of ‘appropriation’ because it does contribute a certain level of mainstream exposure to important conversations.

She further asserted that since the caste system not only consist of Dalit people but also of Brahmin, Kshatriya, and other people, it can be important for upper-caste artists to critically interrogate the privileges of their own communities and challenge their own role in oppressive structures rather than always turning towards marginalized communities, which would add a much-need level of complexity in art practices.